Influential Changemakers: Disability Awareness Edition

A showcase of Changemakers with disabilities in the Film, Arts, Media and Entertainment industries.

For this instalment of the Influential Changemaker series, FAME LSA has partnered with the MULSS Disability Portfolio to give a platform to creatives with a disability.

The social exclusion of creative people with disabilities has meant that they are under-represented across the F(ilm), A(rts), M(edia), E(ntertainment) industries. We hope this series elevates some of the incredible creatives out there, and that you take it upon yourselves to engage with content by people living with a disability. Celebrate with us the contributions and achievements of people with a disability and promote further inclusion in the creative industries.

Disability in Film & Television

TERRIBLE PAULY: Streaming on ABC iView

A comedy series following “Terrible Pauly”, who has Cerebral Palsy, as he reviews common household products to see how accessible they are. Created by Regional Storyteller Scholarship recipient Angus Thompson.

CODA: Streaming on Apple+

Adapted from the 2014 French crowd-pleaser La Famille Bélier, CODA is an American coming-of-age comedy-drama film that follows a hearing teenage girl who is a child of deaf adults. Written and directed by Sian Heder, the film stars Emilia Jones as the hearing girl, Marlee Matlin and Troy Kotsur as her culturally deaf parents and Daniel Durant as her deaf brother.

As a CODA (Child of Deaf Adults), Ruby is the only hearing person in her deaf family. When the family’s fishing business is threatened, Ruby finds herself torn between pursuing her love of music and her fear of abandoning her parents.

THE LAST LEG: Streaming on Stan

It originally started as a show that launched alongside the 2012 Paralympics that showcased and revolved around discussions of disability and disabled sportspeople. Since then, it has evolved into a space where disability is acknowledged and obvious but is not necessarily always the topic of discussion or centre of attention, which is refreshing.

Often there can be pressure on people with disabilities to always speak on the topic of disability or “stay in their lane”; however, The Last Leg allows the presenters to “be themselves” whilst also just happening to have disabilities.

UNREST: Streaming on Netflix

Jennifer Brea studied as a PhD student at Harvard University when she caught a fever that left her bedridden. Despite her worsening condition, she was continually dismissed by doctors and turned to the online world for answers. Here, she found millions of others living with chronic fatigue syndrome, also known as M.E.

In this heart-wrenching documentary, Jennifer turns the camera on herself to capture her struggles, exploring how we treat people with illnesses we do not yet understand — how confronting the fragility of life teaches us its value and, ultimately, how we all need to find community and connection.

SPECIAL: Streaming on Netflix

Special is a comedy series that tells the story of Ryan, a 28-year-old gay man with cerebral palsy. He goes in search of independence by moving out of his mum’s house and getting an internship at an online publication.

When Ryan starts his internship, his colleagues think his dexterity issues and the way he walks were caused by a car accident and not cerebral palsy.

Ryan continues to keep quiet about his cerebral palsy and tries to embark on a normal life, creating content at work, making friends, going to parties and dating.

CRIP CAMP: Streaming on Netflix

Woodstock meets disability activism; Camp Jened New York was a hippie in a wheelchair’s dream and the place where the young spirits that drove America’s biggest disability rights movement, leading to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, was ignited.

The movie’s first half collates archival footage of the camp, shot by the journalism collective People’s Video Theater between 1970 and 1972. The second half shows a teen campers’ journey to adulthood, particularly highlighting the camper and incredible force of nature – Judy Heumann.

Activist and founder of Disabled in Action, we follow Judy and the entire disability community watching the unbelievable events that transpired during the Nixon and Carter administration, which led to government federally funded spaces (schools, libraries and hospitals) to be made accessible to people of all abilities for the first time.

If this passionate, fist-pumping, feel good tear jerker doesn’t make your compassion cells tingle, then probably nothing will.

MARGARITA WITH A STRAW: Streaming on Netflix

Margarita with a Straw is a 2014 Indian Hindi-language drama film directed by Shonali Bose. It stars Kalki Koechlin as an Indian teenager with cerebral palsy who relocates to America for her undergraduate education and comes of age following her complex relationship with a blind girl, played by Sayani Gupta.

Bose conceived the idea for the film in January 2011, during a conversation with Malini Chib—her cousin and a disability rights activist—about the latter’s desire to have a normal sex life.

Inspired by Chib’s story, Bose wrote the first draft of the film’s script. After winning a Sundance Mahindra Global Filmmaker Award for the draft, she modified the script to reflect her own perspective, incorporating several personal experiences into the narrative.

ARTISTS & ARTWORK

NIKKI HIND: Fashion Designer & Entrepreneur

Nikki is the founder of Blind Grit & is Australia’s first blind fashion designer. After being left permanently legally blind by a stroke and determined to be a positive presence and role model for her children, Hind began pursuing her lifelong dream of fashion design. Her talent and perseverance lead to the creation of her first collection, which was featured at Melbourne Fashion Week twice.

AARON MCPEAKE: Sculptor

In 2002, McPeake had to abandon a long career in stage lighting design due to losing most of his eyesight and returned to arts education and practice full-time. Although he is registered blind, the emphasis on touch and sound in his work is not intended to replace or compensate for the visual sense. It is more about enhancing the experience of those who encounter it; his work provides novel opportunities for haptic exploration.

He has been awarded a first-class Honours Degree in Arts, Design and Environment from Central Saint Martins (2005), Post-Graduate Certificate Learning and Teaching (2011) and a PhD from Chelsea (2012).

CAROLINE BOWDITCH: Artist & Choreographer

Glasgow based but Australian born performance artist and choreographer Caroline Bowditch describes herself as a performer, maker, teacher, speaker and mosquito buzzing in the ears of the arts industry in the UK and further afield.

Her consultancy work in accessibility and inclusivity includes ongoing work with Skånes Dansteater, Sweden and recently with Australian organisations Access2Arts, Arts Access and the Australia Council for the Arts.

ZION LEVY STEWART: Artist

Born in London, Zion spent his teenage years in Sydney, but his arrival in Mullumbimby coincided with his artistic flowering. He started sketching aged 20, with most of his subjects being the visitors of his family home in the small NSW town.

Twenty years later, he was an entrant in this year’s Archibald Portrait Prize. Zion has Down Syndrome and experiences difficulty communicating through the spoken word. His sketches, painted canvases and ceramics are now admired around the world, and hung in private collections in Australia, the UK and the US.

STUDIO ARTES

Studio ARTES is a not-for-profit that provides tailor-made creative activities and life skill programs for adults with disabilities. It offers a variety of programs based on life skills, performing arts and the visual arts that are facilitated by professional facilitators in visual arts, performing arts and creative life skills.

Established in 2000 and based in Sydney, it empowers men and women living with disabilities through creative development and expression. Through their work, Studio ARTES hopes to create opportunities for people living with intellectual disabilities, autism spectrum disorders, physical disabilities and down syndrome.

DISABILITY IN MEDIA

NAS CAMPANELLA: Journalist and Reporter

Having recently left her post as ABC Triple J’s resident newsreader, 26-year-old Nas Campanella is a lover of music, radio and writing, which led her to decide on a career in journalism at a young age.

In addition to not being able to see, Nas has Charcot-Marie-Tooth. As a result, she has a near-total lack of sensitivity in her fingertips and hands, meaning she can’t read braille. Instead, she used audiobooks and had HSC books translated into electronic text.

ALICE WONG: Activist, Writer & Podcast Host

Alice Wong is the founder and director of the Disability Visibility Project, a project dedicated to amplifying disability culture through collecting the oral histories of people with disabilities in the US.

She is also the editor of Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century, an anthology of essays by disabled people that inspired her widely popular podcast of the same name.

She strives to create a world reflective of its people, working not only to amplify disabled voices but to create discussion around American politics, health care, anti-Asian American sentiments and action in the wake of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

ADY BARKAN: Writer, Speaker, Lawyer and Political Activist

At age 35, with a 2-year-old son, Ady has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, a disease with no cure. But this hasn’t stopped him from protesting, getting arrested and using his body as a campaign tool, laying it in front of members of Congress, news cameras and activists to inspire action for progressive agendas in healthcare and human rights.

You can find his written interviews and podcast interviews on all major platforms. As one of our generation’s most significant minds and voices, his words are guaranteed to inspire you.

Though Barkan’s diagnosis and activism have taken a physical toll, he is only determined to amplify his voice further. He is currently fighting against large-scale funding cuts in-home and community-based services and continues to be a leading voice for ethical, accessible healthcare in the US.

CARLY FINDLAY: Writer, Speaker and Appearance Activist

Author of Say Hello and Growing Up Disabled in Australia, Carly Findlay, is a woman born with Ichthyosis, a rare genetic skin disorder. Through her publications, she spreads the message that disability doesn’t look one certain way but comes in diverse appearances, experiences and forms. In doing so she also seeks to fight the uninformed and sensationalized reporting on disabilities that is seen all too often in the media.

Carly is also a leading advocate for improved access to the fashion industry for those living with various disabilities. In 2018, Carly formed the first-ever disability-inclusive event as part of Melbourne Fashion Week, titled ‘Access to Fashion’. The event featured several models and fashion designers with disabilities. Through her activism, Carly encourages Australian fashion retailers to promote a more diverse and inclusive market.

PODCASTS

In You Little Ripper, Australian Paralympic legend Kurt Fearnley and co-host Georgie Tunny deliver a daily dose of Paralympics for the Tokyo Games, speaking to key athletes to bring home the spirit of the Paralympics.

We’ve Got This: Parenting with a Disability is a new series produced by Eliza Hull. The series explores the complexities that parenting with a disability brings, whilst also challenging the stigmas and stereotypes.

The I Can’t Stand Podcast is for everyone who has a question or just wondered about disability. No question is off-limits. Every question is important.

In this podcast A Nation Changed, Kurt Fearnley deep-dives into one of the greatest social reforms in Australia’s history – the NDIS. He talks to people who fought to change the system, those personally affected by the NDIS and those it’s failing.

Podcast One In Five explores some of the most complex issues facing people with disability today, gives voice to people with disability and asks about their experiences with employment, housing, the law, supporting families and early intervention.

DISABILITY IN ENTERTAINMENT

BRIDIE MCKIM: Actress

Born a triplet and growing up in Brisbane, Bridie discovered acting as a means to get attention from her competitive brother and sister.

Bridie has mild cerebral palsy, has represented the disabled community in the Cerebral Palsy League of Queensland, and in 2018 became the first disabled actor to play a lead role on Australian television on the ABC, ‘The Heights’.

ROSIE JONES: Comedian & Actress

Rosie is a comedian, writer, actor and much more!

She’s been on several TV shows, including 8 Out Of 10 Cats, The Last Leg and Comedy Central’s Roast Battle. She made her primetime debut as Serena in a Silent Witness two-part special.

Jones has ataxic cerebral palsy, which heavily impacts her speech and mobility. She is passionate about intersectionality – the interconnected nature of characteristics like disability, sexuality and race.

Rosie has several sitcoms in development and has also written on the second season of Netflix’ Sex Education.

MOLLY BURKE: Youtuber & Vlogger

Molly Burke uses her content to reconnect with a fashionista lifestyle she once immersed herself in before her blindness at the age of 14 due to the rare eye disease, Retinitis Pigmentosa.

Through her platform of nearly 2 million subscribers, she produces fun and lighthearted lifestyle content, from beauty tutorials to dispelling myths on blindness.

RACHAEL LEAHCAR: Singer

Rachael Wendy Bartholomew, known by her stage name Rachael Leahcar, is an Australian singer and songwriter born and raised in Adelaide, South Australia. She participated in the first season of The Voice Australia, coming in third place. Shortly after, she signed a record deal with Universal Music Australia.

Leahcar was born with retinitis pigmentosa and (as of 2012) is legally blind with only 10% visual function. She found her love of music at a very early age and has been singing and playing instruments ever since.

HANNAH GADSBY: Comedian, Writer, Actor

Hannah rose to prominence after winning the national final of the Raw Comedy competition for new comedians in 2006 and has since toured internationally and appeared on television and radio.

In 2018, the release by Netflix of a film version of Gadsby’s stand-up show, Nanette, expanded her international audience and received multiple accolades, including the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Variety Special and a Peabody Award. Starting in 2019, she toured internationally with her show Douglas.

Episode 8: Literary Agent and Publishing Consultant, Alexandra Adsett

INTRO

Leah Alysandratos (FAME Careers and Sponsorship Coordinator): Hello and welcome to the FAME Law Students’ Association’s podcast: The Brief. For the uninitiated, FAME sands for the Film, Art, Media, and Entertainment. The FAME LSA is a group of students from Melbourne Law School who are passionate about the arts and culture.

In this podcast series, we chat with lawyers and artists working in the creative industries, learning about their daily work, career development, and topical issues facing the industry.

In today’s episode, we chat to Alexandra Adsett, a Literary Agent and Publishing Consultant. She tells us the story of how she learnt to follow her dreams as a lover of books and writing, and teaches us not to be afraid of risks. She provides a fresh and unique perspective about how to navigate feeling unsure about your career prospects, learning to trust your gut when taking new adventures, and choosing your happiness first. Incredibly insightful of a completely different career path not often spoken about, being able to chat to Alexandra and be opened to the   prospects of the publishing and literary industry was nothing short of fascinating. As such, we hope you enjoy this episode.

Xiao-Xiao (FAME Ambassador): Welcome back to the Brief! My name is Xiao-Xiao Kingham and I am a FAME ambassador and today I’m here with Alex Adsett, literary agent and publishing consultant. How are you Alex? 

Alex: I’m good, thanks! Thanks for having me.

Xiao-Xiao: That’s great, we’re so glad to have you on. I guess we can jump right into it. Firstly, how did you become a literary agent and publishing consultant?

Alex: Okay, that’s a big question. I’ve been in the publishing industry 25 years now if you count my bookselling career, which I do. But because this has a law focus, law and the arts, I guess I started… I got into arts law at the University of Queensland ages ago and all I ever wanted to do was this subject I heard about which focused on science fiction and fantasy which I found out about in Year 9 and it became my life mission to get to university and do this one subject. I had no other ambition apart from this. And then I got the marks to get into Arts Law and then I thought, ‘Oh I may as well do law until I fail.’ And then five years later I hadn’t actually failed, I came out with a law degree. I figured, I actually found I really loved the study of law. I didn’t ever want to be a lawyer but I loved the intellectual rigour of it, I loved debating with people. I loved the argumentativeness. 

But in third year university, I always thought I would become a writer because that’s what mad readers do. There weren’t a lot of career paths for mad readers. In my third year of university an author came in and talked to the class about being a writer and I suddenly had two lightbulb moments. One was to be a writer you actually need to write, and I realised I wasn’t doing that! So maybe I wasn’t a writer. But also in the same talk the author gave this throwaway comment about her publisher and it honestly, that was the moment which changed my life because I realised that even though at this stage I was working at a bookstore, there was a whole career out there, of people and the industry of people who made books happen. And that is suddenly something I wanted to do with my life. At the end of third year arts law I took myself off to London and began applying for jobs in publishing in London while working… I got a job in the bookstore but applied for jobs, it took me six months to get my foot in the door at Simon & Schuster in London. And again it was a dream come true, it was a world of terribly paid people who’d love books, who got up in the morning and talked books all day and went to the pub at night because that’s London. And it’s what I wanted to do, I was so happy. But after three years there I really wanted to go back to Australia, finish my law degree and finish off some of those things before going back into publishing, that was the plan. 

But I found actually… and even though when I came back I was doing copyright law, I was focusing on more big picture publishing, comparative law and was loving it, I still didn’t really want to become a lawyer. But i ended up doing my PLT course, I ended up getting admitted again, you know. And the law is quite seductive in that way when you’re on a path with a bunch of other people who are very passionate about it, you start to question, ‘Oh maybe I should give it a go for a few years, maybe I should just go and be a lawyer.’ And I ended up becoming an associate to a Federal Magistrate for the worst five months of my life, and there was a real crossroads at this point where I was like, ‘Do I go into the law even though it’s something I never wanted to do?’ I felt like I should for some reason. Or do I go back to my love which is publishing. And I ended up getting a job at Penguin books in Melbourne, so I moved down from Brisbane down to Melbourne, and again, dream come true because my job down there was in rights and contracts and this was the bit of publishing that I found I really loved, even though I loved the whole industry. Because this was the bit where I was help – well I wasn’t helping, I was negotiating with authors for their contracts, I was drafting the contracts, I was doing some of the fiddly things, I was playing around with copyright and even though I was still a junior in the company, and I had this whole law degree behind me that sort of backed up and bolstered my knowledge, everything really practical day to day I learnt on the job at Penguin. My boss at Penguin was this terrifying but amazing woman called Peg who had never studied law, no law degree, but had been in the publishing industry doing contracts for a good 30 years. And there was nothing she didn’t know about publishing contracts. And learning from her was just the most incredible experience.

So I worked in Penguin for three years doing this job and kept missing the sunshine of Queensland. So I ended up moving back to Queenslaand and I got a job at Wiley, so they’re an academic and trade publisher. And I was contracts manager at Wiley. But the part of the industry I really loved, the trade bookselling, was sort of Sydney, Melbourne, London or New York. Those were the options if I wanted to be in the mix of it. So living in Brisbane, even though I had a publishing job, I actually started my own consultancy at the same time, helping authors who didn’t have an agent negotiate their contracts. So that was my side-business that started off really slowly – like one client a month. And then two clients a month. And then two clients a week. And then, you know, it started building to the point that I left my full time job in Wiley but my business was not big enough to support me. So, looking around I was like, well maybe now is the time to use my law degree and I ended up getting a 3 day a week as a lawyer for the first actual time as a lawyer with a practicing certificate for an in-house government organisation. And that again was a learning curve because… sorry I’m talking a real lot here, stop me.

Xiao-Xiao: No! Believe me, it’s fascinating.

Alex: And it’s because it was the first time I had a practicing certificate I’d really built up this idea of being a lawyer was something different and scary and I wasn’t good enough for it and then once I was doing this job for three days a week while following my passion the rest of the time I actually realised, ‘Oh look there’s actually not a lot of difference being an in-house lawyer with a practicing certificate then there is being a contracts manager for a publishing company,’ you know, because it’s negotiating, its contract, it’s getting your head around thorny issues. So it was really good to have done it, it was a really good experience and more than anything it gave me that boost of confidence to say, ‘Oh you know I can do this as well.’ But as my business, my consultancy business and literary agency grew, I went from a three day a week job as a lawyer to a two day a week job as a lawyer and I was really trying to work out if I could do one day a week and I ended up leaving all my corporate jobs. So for the past three years I’ve been a full time agent and consultant, and that’s I guess how I ended up in the position I’m in now!

Xiao-Xiao: Wow! That is the quite a history there.

Alex: My career!

Xiao-Xiao: Yeah! In a nutshell.

Alex: Wow, guys, that was a lot of talking.

Xiao-Xiao: No! We love it. It’s… I can’t believe how many different steps you’ve taken to get to where you are today and you’ve touched on so many different areas, I mean, your whole experience in the UK sounds a bit like a dream. Bookselling, a bit of publishing and working at Penguin, I don’t think a lot of people can say they’ve done that.

Alex: No, and it was Penguin when it was still Penguin. It’s not Penguin anymore, it’s Penguin Random House. So I’ve got in on the last few years when it was still one organisation. A lot of my jobs have been a dream and this is… there’s this thing that you shouldn’t really say you’re lucky but there’s a lot of luck involved. But you know, not just luck, it’s hard work and putting yourself out there and there is taking risks, you know the safe path would’ve been to go off and be a lawyer, the safe path would’ve been to stick one job and work in house. But there’s ways of keeping some sort of safety and having a part-time job is a nice safety net to have while following career paths in other ways and following your passion, but I keep looking back and I love what I do and i’m so passionate about my industry and I love also being my own boss now, it’s great. But I think if I had followed the same path, I would’ve probably been a lot more financially secure but I would’ve been miserable. And obviously not everyone would’ve been miserable but I would’ve been. I would’ve been so unhappy doing the normal thing. So while it’s sometimes been a little scary to jump off, even in my secure safety net in a way… while that’s still been scary, it would’ve been scarier to be stuck in a career I didn’t love.

Xiao-Xiao: Absolutely, well I think that’s such a great message for a lot of our listeners that safety isn’t always the best thing and you really have to go for things in order to get where you want to go.

Alex: And you know what, safety can sometimes be a bit of an illusion. Particularly we’ve seen this over the pandemic, I’ve looked around at friends in safe jobs, or you know, with bosses who pay their bills, who actually get a salary every month, which is really nice to get a salary every month, but that can also get snatched away from you, there can be redundancies, there can be companies that go out of business, things change, the world is not a safe place. While there is a lot of insecurity being your own boss and working for yourself, no one can take that away from me as well. Like even if I have to go off and end up getting… a you know, a job in a cafe or something to support myself, no one can take away my business because it is mine. And that gives me actually a safety net in terms of identity and career meaning that is almost, to me, invaluable.

Xiao-Xiao: Absolutely, I’m sure a lot of people strive for that and that connects with the question, in working for yourself, and I noticed earlier you said you love being your own boss, what exactly does that involve? I’m sure the safety net is a large part of it and a really great aspect of it.

Alex: Well…. A bit. There’s not a lot of safety net in working for yourself, except no one can take it away from you. Maybe I’m looking for a silver lining. Being an agent, or being in the publishing industry, you know you work with books and authors, being an agent in the publishing industry is a little side bubble of a job and my role is to sit between the authors and the publishers. Ostensibly, my job is to read hundreds and hundreds of bad manuscripts in order to find the good manuscripts and good authors and then when I find a good author or an author I really click with and work with, I take them on and then it’s my job to find the right publisher for them. So that’s officially what the job is but in reality the manuscript reading part of it gets really squished to the side, so I’m reading manuscripts at 11:30 on a Friday night, at 2 in the morning, at you know, Sunday afternoon. The manuscript reading part is very much squished because the rest of the job is taking care of the authors, it’s negotiating their contracts, it’s putting out fires, it’s talking them off ledges, it’s going into battle against the publisher if the publisher’s not doing the right thing. It’s millions and millions of emails. It’s also fun things like having coffee with publishers, having lunch with film producers, having, you know, Hollywood meetings, like that’s  the glamorous part of it, which is a very small part of it as well but… It’s going to launch parties and helping promote books that you love that are my books or just books, because I’m still a mad reader after 30 years, just raving about books that I’ve fallen in love with. So it is a job that I think matters because on a one on one level I’m helping make authors’ lives better and building their careers and on a big picture level I’m helping promote an arts industry and the importance of books to make a difference in the world. Whether that’s a romance book making somebody’s day better or a book that you know very deeply talking about the importance of press freedom or it’s a book talking about race and feminism, you know, these are books that can make a difference in the world.

Xiao-Xiao: And that’s so important, that’s why we desperately need books in the market. 

Alex: Yes!

Xiao-Xiao: Well, I mean… you touched on this earlier but your love for the creative industry, how did you find that compared against your work and the commercial law firms or that aspect to it, how does that work against your work in the publishing industry? 

Alex: Yeah, so every time I’ve had a job not in the publishing industry it’s really struck me… the lack of passion? I guess, in people? Like, I’m an enthusiastic person and I try to bring professionalism and a quality of work to whatever job you do, I certainly notice that I don’t bring the same passion and enthusiasm to water law or leasing arrangements as I do to a publishing contract. But one of the things I love about the publishing industry is you’re there because you love it, you know, if you’re there for the money you quickly get out because there isn’t much. But the law particularly attracts people who do love it and are passionate about it, particularly in areas of refugees and the arts and mental health and things like this, you do get people who very much are passionate about these topics and come for that reason.

But the law in general, because you know it is a career that can pay well, does attract people for the prestige, forthe money and that can be a trap I see. People either fall into that and start believing that’s all there is to a life, and if that makes you happy that’s fine. But there’s also people, and this has happened to friends of mine, they’ll go into the law thinking, ‘I’m going to do this for five or ten years, and I’ll build up a nest egg and then I’ll go follow my passion.’ But once you’re in that world it’s so hard to break out of and everytime I find myself in one of those roles I find myself thinking, ‘Oh I don’t want to get trapped’, and I start feeling enclosed. And I’m so grateful again that I have that passion on the side that I’m never going to let go of. So those for me are some of the differences. I’ve got friends in banking law, high up in banking law, who… it drives them bonkers how laissez faire about some aspects of contracting and you know – cause that’s the publishing industry and the arts. But then my trying to bring some rigour to contracts and contracting drives authors and publishers bonkers, because from their point of view I’m far too rigorous and too strict. So you have this whole spectrum of people who are trying to do contracting well but their definition of what is a good contract and what is a good clause.

Xiao-Xiao: Yeah, so just extending on that, how often do you find yourself encountering these legal aspects of things in your day to day life as a literary agent?

Alex: Oh! That is actually, that is my life. Within the publishing industry my role is not only to negotiate contracts for my authors as an agent but as a publishing consultant I help authors who don’t have an agent negotiate their contracts and in the publishing industry there is only… I’m the only agent-y person who does that and also the Australian Society of Authors have a contract service for authors who don’t have an agent as well. So there is the ASA and me and a handful of publishing lawyers who do this contracting service. So from that point of view, I’m almost it for helping authors negotiate contracts so I’m very much there. And I drive some publishers crazy, some I think have learnt to work with me, some can recognise that it’s me doing the negotiating even if I’m not the one talking to them because of the clauses that I asked changed. The authors will go in to negotiate and the publishers will go, ‘Oh, you’ve been talking to Alex,’ because I definitely am always asking for certain things that I feel are important that maybe no one else does. 

Xiao-Xiao: Very important role indeed, it seems.

Alex: I think so! Look, there are publishers out there who think I’m being too legalistic and that’s fine but they will still work with me and respect the work and often years later it will turn out to be indicated that the clauses that we put in place really did end up protecting the author in a big way. There are some publishers which I actually find, you know, disreputable in terms of they can be dismissive and actually try to talk the authors out of getting any advice at all. They’ll try to say look it doesn’t matter, there’s no point negotiating this, ‘Oh of course I would never act like that!’ Well if you’re never going to act like that, why don’t we change the clause to reflect that? So the more they object to someone coming in and negotiating with them, the more that starts to ring alarm bells. And a little bit of that is fine because the publishing industry is generally a good industry and to a certain point you’re right as in there’s very little litigation in the publishing industry it’s generally worked out in conversation and you talk issues through. But still the importance of having a really strong contract particularly when you’re dealing with a publisher who’s a million dollar company is so important for one little author to negotiate at the beginning where they have no chance of doing that at the end of the process.

Xiao-Xiao: Absolutely, and that’s so important I guess, protecting our creators especially in wake of the pandemic where a lot of people have been really suffering as a result of it and have seen the creative industry become a bit more stagnant. So it’s really great that you’re there to protect them and fight for the little guy, so to speak. 

Drawing on an earlier point, it’s so good to hear that you broke free of this commercial side of things. FAME is obviously an association designed to support law students who care about the creative industries and want to work in there in some respects and I’m sure a lot of our listeners really related to you in that they didn’t necessarily or don’t necessarily want to work in more traditional legal fields. Do you have any advice for these students, or even more specifically, those who wish to work in book publishing?

Alex: One thing is like, I volunteered in Arts Law, Arts Law Queensland when it existed and now it’s Arts Law nationally. So any law students who are interested in the Arts I do recommend volunteering with Arts-Law if they have openings. Finish your law degree I think, for all that I’m very dismissive…. Not dismissive I’m, I warn law students of the seductiveness of a career in the law of it, it kind of drags you in and pulls you in of just one more thing, one more thing. So be careful of that but still finish your degree, it’s a great degree to do and I guess over my career people, people outside law really respect law degrees. So it’s easy kudos, well it’s not easy to do a law degree, but people outside of the law respect it and it very much helps in terms of self confidence because when I’m negotiating, particularly as a woman, you go in and you can negotiate and sometimes older men are very condescending. Like, ‘Oh I don’t think that clause means what you’re saying it means,’ or, ‘Don’t worry yourself about that, that would never happen.’ And then you get to go in and go, ‘Well excuse me, I have this many years experience, I have a law degree, I have done this. The clause means exactly what I’m saying it means and I want to protect my author from it.’ Having that to back you up really helps. 

But if, once you finish your studies, you’re looking for a career in the arts, throw yourself in as well. So not just volunteering at Arts Law but volunteer at your local writers festival, get involved in podcasts, start reviews, you know, getting a job in a bookstore is a really great first step. There are post-grad degrees you can do to get into the arts, to get into publishing. They can be hard to get into and they can definitely help because it is a hard industry to get into because there are a lot of people, happily, who want careers that they love and work in an industry that they’re passionate about. So you can do some of the post-grad things but also really get involved. Go along to book launches with your favourite authors, get on social media and get yourself involved in debates and conversation about the books that you love. It’s an industry that can be hard to break into but we’re all so open to people who are passionate about reading so throw yourself into it and find yourself a tribe is hugely important I think, and fun! The thing is at the end of the day if it takes you years to get into it and you end up following some other rabbit hole of passion, and that’s wonderful as well, but the more you throw yourself into it the more you will find your tribe and that is a really rich and rewarding things in and of itself.

Xiao-Xiao: Yeah well get involved, I guess that’s kind of the core message there which-

Alex: Yeah

Xiao-Xiao: -which, is great since I’m sure anyone who’s really invested in books and book publishing surely it’ll be quite easy to try to attend these lovely book launches and meet authors, which is such a great experience to have, truly.

Alex: And read! Buy books because if we don’t have a bookselling industry we’re not going to have a publishing industry.

Xiao-Xiao: Support booksellers!

Alex: Yes, buy books! But also going to launches, gosh, one of the good and bad things of covid is that a lot of book launches have moved online, onto zoom. So it takes nothing to just jump on and while you’re cooking dinner be part of a launch and listen to the questions that are being asked and pay attention to the publishers who are also attending. Yeah its, in some ways, in many ways it’s become so much harder to connect in real life in the industry and yet doors have opened because we have moved to zoom for so much and so many events. So yeah, get involved.

Xiao-Xiao: Absolutely, just as a sidetrack perhaps, do you think the covid pandemic has taken a big hit for better or for worse in publishing?

Alex: Oh… big question. In Australia it’s really hurt any debut authors. So any authors who’ve come out in the last 12-18 months. Apart from a couple of examples where there have been breakthrough successes, new authors have really struggled, they’ve really taken a hit. But more generally though, book sales are up and publishers are doing quite well. So people are reading more during the pandemic, they are buying more books, it’s just the books they’re buying are the word of mouth books, the award-winners so the books that have already generated a certain level of buzz which is why the new authors are really hurting. So if anyone really wants to help here go out and find a debut author that’s released their first book in the last 18 months and buy it. I can give you a booklist! 

That’s Australia though, our industry is still ticking quite well. Overseas though, they’re really hurting, they’ve taken such a bigger hit than we have. Like talking to colleagues in America and the UK and all through Europe it’s a huge struggle because their bookshops have been closed for so much longer and more people have been buying online, you’ve got publishers sitting at home in very small apartments, they’re not up and running yet whereas we here are. And my heart’s breaking for colleagues overseas for one thing but also on a really selfish level, the Australian publishing industry does generate a lot of its income by selling rights overseas. So a big part of what I do as an agent is try to sell my books, once I’ve sold them in Australia I’ll try to sell them in the US or the UK, sell them into China and Europe, translate them in Europe. And because all of those industries at the moment feel like they’re almost on their knees, that’s harder for us to sell our Australian books overseas.

Xiao-Xiao: Absolutely, well that’s fascinating and so disheartening to hear that this international scene is taking a bigger hit. Well, hopefully we’ll get up and running in no time.

Alex: I know, I hope so. I hope we get back to getting international book fairs, I hope we get back to travelling in terms of those meetings and selling rights, yeah. Globally, I think it’s really tough at the moment but we’re so lucky in Australia that our industry is ticking over quite nicely.

Xiao-Xiao: Yeah! Well that’s good to hear at least and sorry for that side-ball question!

Alex: No, no! I mean it’s a great question and it’s something that we’re all sort of, our whole industry’s kind of grappling with at the moment.

Xiao-Xiao: Yes, absolutely. Well then, what are some of the challenges and highlights in your career as a literary agent, can I ask?

Alex: Yeah, I mean challenges… the lack of money I guess in the publishing industry, it’s not a lucrative career and part of that is because so many people want to work there, the industry itself can get away with not paying that much. The tyranny of distance is a big one. So I’m up in Queensland whereas most of my publishing colleagues are in Sydney and in Melbourne. And I couldn’t do that unless I had worked in Melbourne for many years first and to get those contacts. But also when I really started my business in a big way up here, it was also the start of social media as well. So a big part of how I stay connected is through social media. So I actually quite like the isolation being up here because it means I can connect online, I can fly down for events, back when we could fly, and then I can come back to the sunshine and beaches of Queensland and actually do my work. 

The competing, in terms of challenges, the competing with other forms of media are tough, so competing with Netflix and with people going online and spending time on Tiktok instead of reading a book but that’s life, that’s the competition that we’re always going to have. And a huge challenge facing the industry is a lack of diversity and that’s something I think we’re really trying to grapple with at the moment, finally. Overdue. But that’s both in terms of the diversity of the authors being published but also more than anything the people in the publishing houses. It is vastly, you know, white, as white middle-class as an industry and we’re trying… Australia’s lagging so far behind the UK in this in terms of trying to build diversity in the industry but it is something that at least publishishers are looking at now so… It’s still problematic and it’s difficult but we’re trying I think is the message there in terms of diversity.

Xiao-Xiao: Absolutely and it’s so great, I feel like during the past year, especially in the aftermath of the Black Lives Matter discourse last year, I feel like perhaps we’re seeing more interest in these books that touch on diversity. I know your own White Tears, Brown Scars that you worked on like that’s a really fascinating one and it’s so great to see so much more interest in this and own voice writers, which are so important.

Alex: I know and look, it is a passion of mine because I know how privileged I am, being a white middle-class woman in this industry, to try to find voices that are amazing and haven’t been represented well and I’m so proud of having some of the best authors of colour in Australia. Like I represent Lisa Fuller who is an incredible indigenous author of Young Adult and Middle Grade fiction, I’ve got Melissa Lucashenko, Dave Hartley, yeah. I’m just so proud of my authors.

Xiao-Xiao: Oh I loved Ghost Bird!

Alex: Ugh, isn’t it amazing?

Xiao-Xiao It really is, yeah. I guess that connects to, were there any particular projects that you’ve worked on that have been especially memorable for you at all?

Alex: Oh, I mean I’m passionate about all my books! Ghost Bird though is one, I wasn’t the agent when that first got published but that’s… and this is what I do as a mad reader. If I find a book that I absolutely fall in love with, I stalk the author and I make the author be friends with me and then I maybe sometimes convince them, if they don’t have an agent that maybe they want an agent. That maybe they don’t need an agent but if they do need an agent maybe I should be that agent. And that’s what I did with poor Lisa, she didn’t stand a chance. I was very passionate about that book, so now I’m her agent.

But one of the project books that I’ve done it’s by Trent Jamieson, illustrated by Rovina Cai. So it’s a picture book, it’s called the Giant and the Sea and it’s just gorgeous. Rovina is one of the most talented illustrators we have in Australia, she’s just genius and Trent Jamieson is a dear friend, very well respected award-winning science fiction, fantasy writer and this was his first picture book. So it’s got themes of climate change, themes of resilience and courage, a little bit of science fiction and then with Rovina’s illustrations this book took years. We had to wait for Rovina to have an available slot to do the illustrations for it and it’s come out and I’m just so proud of a book like this.

Xiao-Xiao: It’s beautiful.

Alex: And all of my books, like we’ve just had a book called The Beautiful Fall by Hugh Breakey published about love and identity and memory loss, yeah. I’ve got a crime book coming out by an author called Dinuka McKenzie in February that’s just, you know, brilliant. I don’t know, I love books I get very excited by all of them!

Xiao-Xiao: I don’t blame you! Those are some really great ones to look out for… I mean, the Boy, the Giant just behind you is a gorgeous one, the illustrations ugh! Really lovely. That’s so great to hear, I think that really wraps it up! Just to end everything though, do you have any favourite TV shows, movies or books you’d like to recommend?

Alex: All of them! Okay, so I’ve currently just finished the most incredible book and this has got to be one of the biggest perks of the industry is that I sometimes convince publishers and booksellers to let me have the early copies that come in. So I’ve just read an early copy of the new Naomi Novik it’s called Scholomance, book 2 in the Scholomance series. It has just blown my mind, I love it. So if everyone’s a Naomi Novik fan, go read book 1 in the Scholomance series because it’s amazing. 

I don’t watch as much TV as I used to because really my life has tunnel visioned down to books and I’m not saying it’s a good thing but I’m currently obsessed with the BBC series ‘A Discovery of Witches’. I didn’t actually love the books but the tv series is just gorgeous, it’s a vampire witch romance thing and it’s terrible but also brilliant. Huge crush on the main actors, so that’s what I’ve been watching obsessively is this vampire-witch romance tv series.

Xiao-Xiao: Sounds good!

Alex: But if that’s what you want, if you need some escapism, beautiful, pretty, romantic escapism, I can highly recommend it.

Xiao-Xiao: I feel like that’s something that people will need… and you don’t usually hear movies- oh TV shows being better than the books, that’s unusual!

Alex: Yes, I know! I could not stand the books but it’s a huge bestseller so many many people out there do love the series of books, yeah.

Xiao-Xiao: There we go! Naomi Novik and A Discovery of Witches, you heard it here first.

Alex: Yep, those are my reccs, yes!

Xiao-Xiao: Lovely! Well thank you so much, Alex, for joining us here on The Brief today it’s been so great to hear from you.

Alex: Oh it’s so nice to chat and really I am very passionate about talking to law students about careers in the arts. At the moment I have three interns and two of them are third-year law students and I’m really… I’m trying to do that catch and release program, I’m trying to pull you out of law, as worthy as it is, and go, ‘Here, here is a career in the Arts! Where you’ll be very happy but very poor.’ 

Xiao-Xiao: I feel like a lot of law students will definitely welcome it. 

Alex: Good, but also… my final message would be to follow your dreams and that’s…. Like it feels riskier in so many other ways but if it ends up with a really exciting and fun life like, what else have we got? Go and do it!

Xiao-Xiao: Such an important message, especially to a lot of law students that may not necessarily know what they want to do in the future. That’s been so great to hear though, thank you so much Alex, again.

Alex: No, absolute pleasure, thanks for having me on! Good luck everybody!

OUTRO

Leah Alysandratos (FAME Careers and Sponsorship Coordinator): You’ve been listening to The Brief with FAME LSA. This episode was hosted by Xiao-Xiao Kingham. The theme song and sound was produced by Leah Alysandratos. A very big thank you to Alexandra Adsett for chatting with us. Special thanks to Xiao-Xiao Kingham for producing the transcript available on our website. Thanks also to all past and present FAME LSA committee members and ambassadors for their support. And thanks to you for listening! 

If you want to hear or learn more about FAME LSA, like us on Facebook and Instagram, or visit our website at famelsa.com. If you’re a lawyer working in the film, art, media, publishing or entertainment space and want to get involved with FAME, we’d love to hear from you. Send us an email at the new address, careers@famelsa.com..

USA Edition Issue 3: (C)opyright Chronicles with Mandi Brooksbank

Note: This interview was conducted at the end of 2020.

The (C)opyright Chronicles is a series of interviews with creatives from different backgrounds, focusing on their practical experience of copyright law. We’re kicking off our 2021 (C)opyright Chronicles with a USA Edition!

For the third and final installment in this series, Dion from FAME chatted to Mandi Brooksbank from Entertainment One.

Mandi is an LA-based entertainment law attorney who grew up performing and has always been a part of the creative industries. Mandi has first-hand insight into working in the film and television industry, and she currently works at Entertainment One as the Director of Television Business and Legal Affairs. Her role allows her to combine aspects of project development and production, and she has some excellent insights for those curious about this intersection!

To start, could you please introduce yourself and briefly describe what you do at eOne?

My name is Mandi Brooksbank, and I am a Los Angeles based entertainment attorney. I grew up performing as a pianist, harpist and singer and have had a love for theatre and the arts from an early age which strongly influenced my path to the film and television industry. I received my B.S. in the Business for the Cinematic Arts program at the University of Southern California and my J.D. from the Southwestern Law School two year SCALE program. I currently work at Entertainment One as Director of Television Business and Legal Affairs, which means I negotiate and paper the deals for key creative talent (i.e. producers, writers, directors, actors) in connection with eOne’s television projects. 

(Picture: Pexels)

What does a regular day on the job look like for you? What are the most common forms of legal tasks that you have to deal with? Who are you mainly dealing with?

Every day is unique in its own way. Sometimes I’m able to get through my to do list, but most days there are different fires that pop up and need immediate attention. The different areas of my job can be classified into two buckets: development and production. With development, I am tasked with negotiating deals for projects our creative executives are interested in pursuing. As a studio, we work to acquire projects and key creative talent attached to those projects which we then present to buyers in the hopes of selling the project to a buyer/network, producing and distributing. The other half of my job is managing those projects that are already underway which includes problem solving with our production executives on issues that pop up on the group and handling things like chain of title, on going talent deals, clearance issues and advising on a number of miscellaneous issues that occur throughout the process of shooting. 

To address it up front, how has the pandemic affected the work you do and how have you adapted to the COVID-normal?

I have to say I feel very fortunate to work in a position where I have been able to work remotely during this time. Just like everyone else, COVID has presented its unique personal challenges for myself. Workwise I find virtual meetings to not be as effective as in person communication. That said, it is encouraging to see the industry and those I am working with both in and out of eOne to be accommodating, encouraging and supportive of each other during this difficult year. While productions were mostly halted until recently, there was surprisingly still a lot of work coming in with respect to development deals and preparation for when productions would be up and running again. The most interesting changes I’ve seen thus far that have affected the industry are with respect to the majority of insurance policies not covering Covid relating losses and the strict safety requirements now in place on most productions due to guild regulations. It is a new reality that all film and entertainment companies are acing and working through. The most important thing though is to keep our cast and crew as healthy and safe as possible. 

What does it mean to ‘run legal point’ for producers? How is the work you do with them unique from what we would usually associate with stereotypical ‘lawyering’?

Running legal point means that you are the point person in charge of all things legal related with respect to a film/tv production. This generally means negotiating and papering the talent deals, dealing with copyright, intellectual property and personal rights issues, assisting with licensing and the acquisition of music rights as needed, securing insurance for a production, assisting to aquire and negotiate distribution and ultimately being an advisor for your producer whenever they have questions or any personnel, creative or other issues arise throughout the film/television making process. Essentially, you are looked at to be a problem solver and trusted advisor. I find entertainment work to be unique from other types of law because being a lawyer in this industry requires more than just reviewing legal issues. 

In almost all cases that I’ve experiences, it can be more valuable to have a true understanding of the industry from a business perspective rather than a pure legal perspective. The entertainment industry is very particular and heavily relies upon industry custom and practice, so just having an understanding of the legal issues before you is not always enough. The most effective way to be successful is to be able to advise of a practical level with the goal of making a situation possible rather than having a perfect legal solution for the problem at hand. 

What has been the most interesting/unique/difficult case to have come across your desk?

That’s a tough one, I’ve been lucky to work on many exciting projects in my career thus far. If I had to choose, one of the most fun and somewhat challenging projects was working on the Netflix docuseries Tiger King. From the first time I reviewed raw footage, I knew this was a very special, hilarious and also dark work that I could not wait for the public to see. For those of you who have seen the show, you know that the characters throughout the series were very over the top and flamboyant so much so that legally it was challenging to fact check and clear the project for issues of personal rights. Although challenging, the editing and production team behind the show were very thorough and a pleasure to work with.

(Picture: Netflix)

How do mergers in the entertainment industry differ from other industries, if at all?

From a business and legal perspective, I don’t believe mergers of entertainment companies are different from mergers of companies in other industries. The main difference may be that many non-entertainment related companies have a new found interest in the entertainment space especially as it has become more expansive in new media with the abundance of different platforms to entertain and spread a message.  

How does legal work for live theater productions differ from legal work for filmed content? Is it easier or harder to deal with?

The business and legal aspects of live theater deals are actually quite unique, niche and very different than a typical film/tv deal. The biggest difference stems from a legal issue. Under U.S. copyright a copyright for a live performance cannot be assigned over to a single entity in the same way you are able to assign copyright ownership over for an audio-visual work. Because of this difference, it creates new standards of ownership which in turn creates new standards of how ownership is handled and transferred from one theatrical production to the next. I would say it is a bit more difficult to deal with just because the standards are so different and there are just a handful of real players in this sector. That said, I’ve always found the theater reps to be very friendly, accommodating and willing to do what is necessary with a show must go on mentality! 

What skills and attributes do you think are key that we as students should be looking to develop?

From personal experience and also from working with legal interns over the years some of the qualities I find to be the most important include being proactive, being prepared, active listening and having an eagerness to learn. When hiring junior attorneys, there is an understanding that much of what you speacilize in occurs on the job rather than getting true training from law school. This isn’t something to worry about, but the more prepared you are and your ability to show how you can be dependable and go the extra mile with respect to your research and knowledge of the issue you’ve been tasked to handle will set you far above your peers. 

Most people have an inflated conception of the entertainment industry. Are there any misconceptions about entertainment law that you feel is important to dispel or discuss?

I think there is this perception of entertainment being this sexy glamorous industry full of parties and notoriety. While there may be the occasional industry party, if you speak to anyone who is involved in this industry you will find that it is full of extremely hardworking and passionate people. I find this industry best suited for myself as I’ve always been a part of show business in one way or another. For me, I couldn’t see myself doing anything else. That said, just like any other legal profession, legal jobs in the entertainment industry are filled with long hours, stress and hard work. But, it is always rewarding to be a part of a greater vision and help important and underrepresented voices be heard on the most influential platforms of our society. And that is why this work is so fulfilling. 

Episode 7: Intellectual Property Lawyer Lachlan Sadler

INTRO

Leah Alysandratos (FAME Careers and Sponsorship Coordinator): Hello and welcome to the FAME Law Students’ Association’s podcast: The Brief. For the uninitiated, FAME sands for the Film, Art, Media, and Entertainment. The FAME LSA is a group of students from Melbourne Law School who are passionate about the arts and culture.

In this podcast series, we chat with lawyers and artists working in the creative industries, learning about their daily work, career development, and topical issues facing the industry.

In today’s episode, we chat to Lachlan Sadler from Davies Collison Cave, a Melbourne Law School alumnus. Lachlan has significant experience in the world of trademark and patent litigation, and is highly knowledgeable in intellectual property law. Lachlan tells us the story of how he went from music reviews and journalism, into the law, and along the way, provided invaluable insight and advice into how to navigate law school, tips and tricks to feel confident in your work and career trajectory, and why the skills you learn now will translate into the workforce. As we go into the assessment-heavy part of the semester, we hope you enjoy this incredibly helpful and warming episode.

Leah: To begin with I wanted to first ask you, can you tell us what drew you into practising commercial law and specifically law in the arts, marketing, and media sectors?

Lachlan: So towards the end of high school and during my undergraduate degree I was obsessed with music and ran my own music websites. I fancied myself becoming a music journalist sometime down the line and that’s what caused me to do my undergrad as a media communications degree at Melbourne, with one eye on doing that. I was interested in the media law aspects of it as well and studied that as a part of that undergrad. 

Towards the end of my undergrad degree I started developing quite severe tinnitus caused by going to so many music gigs, so that closed the door to the music journalism group that I’ve been eyeing.

I had also been keeping an eye on law as a possible future as something that I’ve been interested in and studied during high school and then as I said, that subject during the undergrad degree, and I saw this area of law in particular as a way of kind of combining those interests that I had in in music, in the arts, in those type of industries, and applying that to the legal context. So as a result of that I ended up going through the JD at Melbourne and then ended up with the current role in intellectual property law. 

Leah: Fantastic, it’s really interesting to hear because a lot of the people involved in FAME do come from similar creatively rooted backgrounds – even myself, I come from the VCA, I did the Bachelor of Music, so I can definitely relate when it comes to wanting to pursue that kind of line of music journalism and then realising maybe the world hasn’t got me destined for that at the moment, it’s really fascinating. 

As a Melbourne JD graduate would you be able to share with us some of the experiences and opportunities you engaged in while studying that helps direct this career path, for example, competitions you engaged in or anything else?

Lachlan:  To be honest I didn’t do a huge amount of those extracurricular activities throughout the postgrad degree. I really did focus on things outside of uni, things like the music website that I kept up and when I wasn’t able to do that, my transition into writing reviews of movies often and things like that, personal hobbies that are tangentially relevant to the career but certainly not the competition law and mooting and all those things. 

I found that it gave me some interesting things to put on my resume when it came time to do those clerkship applications and I think I really benefited from that. And I think it does show that there’s not that one size fits all approach, not everyone is going to want to be doing all these opportunities that are thrown at you throughout uni, it can be a bit overwhelming at times. So for the people who do that, it’s fantastic, but for some they aren’t necessarily interesting, and there’s certainly other routes you can take. For me, they are doing those more personal hobbies, and I actually found it really beneficial having that opening discussion when I got to the stage of interviews and having something interesting to talk about within the industry really helped. 

I will say that I did the clerkship programme in my penultimate year and that was very helpful so I definitely would recommend for people that are interested in pursuing the commercial law avenue for their career that that is a really good way of getting some practical experience. I went for a few different clerkships and ended up at a few different firms and it gives you a really good idea of how the day-to-day life of being a lawyer works, so not only is it a useful way of getting your foot in the door for an employer, but also in terms of determining whether you want to do this for rest of your professional career. I think it’s very helpful.

Leah: That is really comforting advice for someone like me who has not yet (because I’m in first year) been able to engage in many of those competitions or scholarship opportunities, but as someone who has a lot of personal creative hobbies and things that they like to do, knowing that that can still really help that process of getting a job or experience in the application is really nice to know, because you wouldn’t think of it.

Lachlan: That’s obviously not to say that some firms aren’t going to be interested in someone that doesn’t have that type of experience and doesn’t have the top grades, everyone is going to be looking for something different but certainly there are those different routes open for people. 

I certainly felt throughout my uni sometimes that it’s represented as this one pathway for you, which is doing all this extra curricular activity, volunteering, doing the clerkships, becoming a paralegal, doing all this work and that’s the only way to be successful and the only way to get a job in this highly competitive environment. I mean that definitely works for some people but won’t work for other people and it certainly isn’t that one size fits all approach it’s sometimes made out to be.

Leah: That makes me feel so much better, that really helps. 

Moving on to a different topic now, you do have experience in trademark and patent litigation before the federal court in Melbourne and Sydney, that’s really exciting. Many of our student listeners do think about going down litigation advocacy routes as they engage in these competitions at law school, as I’m sure you remember. Are there practical aspects of this work that you’ve picked up on in the job and is there something that you don’t learn in law school that might be important to be conscious of when working litigation?

Lachlan: I personally haven’t done any advocacy work. I’ve appeared as instructing solicitor in a few trials in Sydney and Melbourne. The thing you really don’t realise when you’re studying this case law right now is just how much work that goes into these things. My first trial was a half-day hearing – so nothing really and certainly nothing compared to some of these patent disputes that can be weeks and weeks and weeks in court – and even just that half-day was a monumental amount of work, both in terms of legal work and just organisational work. So I think the faster you come to terms with just how much is involved in getting these cases running, the better it is for you in terms of practical skills that you don’t really think about uni.

I think the biggest thing for me is a junior solicitor a lot of your work is shadow writing material that gets sent out by a partner or that gets sent out to barristers to be settled, so you’re not ultimately the person signing off on it as the junior, and I think there’s a real skill there in developing your writing style to match the expectations and the style of the person who is going to be ultimately sending that advice or that correspondence. We didn’t really cover that during my university work at all but it’s a very important skill that you need to pick up on quite quickly. Particularly in bigger firms doing work for multiple partners you really do need to compartmentalise your work for each partner and think ‘this person likes it worked on this way so I need to adapt my style for that’, but then you’ll get some work from someone else and it needs to shift a bit, and that’s quite a difficult skill that took me a while to get my head around. So I think if there’s any way that people can work on that and come to terms with that quickly, it will definitely help in those early days as a junior lawyer. 

Leah: I had no idea that was part of the job, that’s really interesting, so you really have to be working on your time management skills as well and that adaptability aspect comes in there.  

Lachlan: Time management skills are another really big thing and in that regard just communicating effectively as well, every junior lawyer has been in the position of just having too much work and knowing that they’re going to be delivering something later than they would like to.

I think the important thing there is just learning early on that you it can be a difficult conversation to have with a partner, particularly if you’re new and just starting somewhere, it can be a bit intimidating, but it’s always better better to communicate that clearly and as soon as possible that you won’t be able to meet those expectations. Explain why, put in an alternate timeline or suggest someone else who might be able to help in your absence.

I learned very quickly that you don’t do anyone favours by trying to rush through all this work and get it done quickly, you really want to be doing a careful job with everything and a big part of that is communicating effectively to the people doing that work. 

Leah: It’s one thing to be punctual and on the ball all the time but it’s another, an arguably slightly more important thing, to be transparent about being able to make those time frames and those obligations and making sure they know where your capacity is at, but still doing your best to spider. It’s interesting that there’s a weird balance there, you don’t want to be burning the candle at both ends if you don’t have to be.

Lachlan: That’s right, during the first clerkship I did, my mentor there described it quite well to me, they said that it takes a little bit of bravery now to avoid a lot of uncomfortable situations later. It’s just picking up the phone or making that quick call and any partner is going to be completely understanding in that position, so it’s just having the confidence to do that early on and avoiding the problems that can be caused by rushing the job.

Leah: That’s a great piece of advice actually, I’ll have to save that quote you just said, it’s really helpful. 

On the topic of these sort of skills, with your current work in intellectual property, what would you consider to be the essential skills and qualities of an IP lawyer and any more advice you have for law students interested in intellectual property, trademark, and commercial law, other than some of that time management and transparency with seniors – what else would you say are some essential qualities and skills?

Lachlan: It’s quite interesting that the science undergrad degree is seen as a prerequisite. I know some firms advertise it as a necessary prerequisite, other firms advertise it as a want to have but not necessary attribute in people they are looking to hire. I don’t have a science background obviously, I mentioned I did that journalism undergrad degree which hasn’t been that helpful, it touches on some similar areas but certainly hasn’t been as helpful as a science degree, for example, would be when you’re staring down at a complicated pharmaceutical patent or chemical patent or something like that. 

That was certainly one of my concerns going into into IP without that science background but the good thing I’ve discovered anyway is that the benefit of working there is that if there’s ever anything you don’t understand, which is bound to happen, there’s going to be an expert in that area who is either working on the matter or works for the same firm or someone you can get in touch with who will be able to explain to you quite clearly. It’s also beneficial in some regards to have no science background because often part of the case will be needing to explain these concepts to someone without a science background so you can be a useful sounding board there. But certainly to people who are looking to get into IP a science degree is very very helpful, particularly when you are faced with one of the biggest areas for IP which is  pharmaceutical patents (because that’s where a lot of the litigation work is, because that’s where a lot of the money is), a science degree is enormously helpful there. But I don’t have a science degree and have worked on some pharmaceutical cases. Some of the senior principals at my firm don’t have science degrees but are some of the most well respected pharmaceutical patent practitioners in Australia, so there really isn’t that limitation there as it might appear when you’re looking to apply for clerkships and see a lot of forms asking whether you have that science degree or not. So there’s that aspect of it in terms of useful legal skills.

I think now the most important things are just a good grasp of the fundamentals because it is a relatively complex area of law. I’d say you have not only the technical aspects of, for example, dealing with pharmaceutical products or these complicated patents, but then you have relatively complex law and pretty fast developing law as well. There have been some major changes that come through even since I started and I’m always amazed at the number of times we’ve run a case involving a section of legislation that just hasn’t been litigated before and no one seems to really know what it means, so having that solid foundation of interpretation of statutes. One of my other cases involved a lot of admin law, there’s a lot of property law involved, although a different type of property, and certainly a lot of contracts. A lot of cases are run on a dual basis of breach of contract and some type of IP action so all these subjects that are studied during uni that I didn’t think I would have any need for whatsoever have proven really helpful.  So certainly, the stronger your grasp with that can be you’ll be in good stead throughout a career in IP Law. 

Leah: Interesting, so definitely don’t underestimate the core subjects you have to undertake because there’s a reason why they’re core subjects, they just come up everywhere.

Lachlan: That’s exactly right, I didn’t expect that. Some of those subjects that I didn’t think would be any use have been some of the most useful ones. I did trademarks as an elective at Melbourne Uni and that kind of cemented my real interest in this area, it was a really fascinating subject and very well taught there as well, but I actually didn’t end up doing the patent subject – it’s just the way my course structure ended up. I was planning on doing it in semester one and it was offered in semester two instead. Obviously if you’re interested in Victorian IP law do these elective subjects but if, for whatever reason, you miss out on it it’s also not the end of the world, and you pick up on that law very very quickly once you end up in the field just out of necessity. 

Leah: And like you said, you seem to have a lot of support and guidance from seniors in your experience, so don’t be afraid to go to them if you want that help, you’re not going to look dumb, they’re there for you, that’s really nice to know as well. 

Lachlan: These people have so much experience and often are very very willing to share that experience with you. It doesn’t have to be senior partners but even other relatively junior lawyers who have been in the field for three or four years will have a lot of interesting experience as well. We work with a lot of patent attorneys and trademark attorneys and they’re people who specialise just in this area obviously so they have a huge amount of knowledge, so it’s very helpful having those resources to draw on. Although one of my first purchases was a patents law textbook because I felt I needed to catch up a bit 

Leah: I love that, I love the humility behind that. That’s very fair though, it’s not as if you’re going to retain every single piece of specific knowledge from every single subject you did that might be relative to what you’re doing one day at work, so I think it’s very fair to buy a few textbooks. You do often seen in the background of some teachers zooms that they’ve got all these textbooks on bookshelves 

Lachlan: It’s a very well worn textbook now. 

Leah: My next question I had for you was if you had any more suggestions for students trying to balance their studies, especially when trying to build their experience to enter the workplace? I know a lot of students and myself that are searching for positions where you volunteer in legal community centres, a lot of students are looking for legal assistants and paralegal jobs, there are others going for clerkships. For those that will be working at the same time as studying, do you have any particular words of wisdom for that time management and that life work balance?

Lachlan: It’s really tricky and as I said, I wasn’t someone who jumped head first into some of those opportunities and I think it really is just a case of finding what works for you. Don’t get caught up in needing to do every single thing, people are going to get burned out doing that before they have even started their career. Find a balance that works for you. Find a combination of focusing on your lectures and on your classes because good grades are still an important aspect of the job application in this industry, so find time to focus on that. Enjoy the social aspects of uni, which I kind of took for granted at the time. If you’re someone who enjoys the moots and the mock interviews and all that, that stuff looks great on the resume, any legal experience whatsoever looks great, but it really is just about knowing that there isn’t that one size fits all approach and it really is finding something that works for you and that you’re going to enjoy doing it and going to be able to live with doing it throughout the course of your career. 

Then when it comes time to apply for clerkships or job interviews, the benefit of doing that as well is that you’re likely more likely to end up at a firm that values what you value as well and how you want to be spending your time, rather than if you try to put up this false pretence throughout uni, doing all these things that don’t interest you. You won’t end up doing a great job with them and the type of firm that’s going to be attracted to you is probably somewhere where you might not necessarily want to work. So as cliche as it sounds, find a balance of doing what you enjoy combined with the things that you just have to do in order to get a leg up in the industry, and then be honest with your clerkship applications or whatever it comes to. I think if you’ve done a good job of that, there will be firms out there that absolutely value things like running this organisation or, in my case, reviewing movies or running a music website, those things that aren’t traditional legal pulls in the resume. Employers out there really do value that.

Leah: As you just said, there’s never a need to feel guilty or upset if you’re setting a bit of time aside to do something related to your hobby and related to you as a person and your interests, because you’re doing that for yourself but coincidentally it can become an asset to your applications as they see a bit of personality behind the grades and the competitions and the extra experience. It’s almost a leg up in a different way, like you said before, which is really nice to know. It’s comforting to know that you don’t have to fit this perfect mould that you feel a constant pressure to be inside perfectly. 

Lachlan: Any way you can find the line combining the things that you know you’re really passionate about and interested in with the legal industry, and drawing some links between that, is a really great way of going about making resumes stand out. 

I think if you’re interested in helping out the community there’s a huge range of pro bono opportunities out there you can do whilst you’re still in law school. 

For me it was things like you know writing articles about music law issues, for example. Combine those interests and just any way you can pull those strings together in a way that makes you desirable  to an employer, while still keeping yourself interested in doing the things you love and things you really enjoy, I think is a great approach to university.

Leah: Do you see yourself pursuing, later on down the track of your career, jobs that are rooted more in music law and all those interests that you have, or you quite enjoying where you’ve come to now, that has sort of collected them together?

Lachlan: Very, very happy with where I am now. I don’t do a huge amount of that type of music and movie law but there are matters here and there. I’ve done some advice that involves those aspects of law and certainly have had the opportunity to speak on those types of areas and explore those areas more, like trying to grow business in those areas, and I’m very grateful for that. 

But the areas like the trademark law and patent law, which have some overlap with media law but aren’t necessarily the same thing, I’ve proven to really enjoy even if that wasn’t what pulled me towards this industry and this career in the first place. I find that in these types of areas, once you get kind of a hold on the basics, some of the complexities are really fascinating and the way all those laws are developing to take into account what we’re seeing now with streaming and online developments, piracy, and things like that are really fascinating. I find the area as a whole very interesting and I do a wide range of work across the area, including some transactional behind-the-scenes stuff and a bit of litigation work as well. So for the foreseeable future I’m very happy keeping that balance.

Leah: So even if it isn’t the original motivational pull from the very beginning, it’s still uncovered all these areas that you really enjoy working on, that’s really nice. It’s not just adapting, it’s just ‘I purely enjoy this and everything it’s opened me up too’.

Lachlan: And then as I said, the trademarks subject I studied at university was quite big in that regard, and that was probably my favourite subject I did throughout uni and certainly a big factor in leading to that career path. I had no experience whatsoever with patents, haven’t read a patent before I started the job but it is one of those really interesting areas of law, where you’re working with cutting edge inventions and interesting inventors and everything. I’m grateful for the fact that I can walk through the office and see these bizarre contraptions and inventions sitting on everyone’s desks, it’s a very interesting area to be working in, very much enjoying it.

Leah: Now I’m just imagining these big, weird looking inventions on peoples desks.

Lachlan: It’s a combination of that and dodgy trade goods that have been trademarked or something like that just lying around the office, so pretty interesting walking through in the morning. 

Leah: I think you’ve convinced me to take Trademarks now, I think I’m going to pop it in my study plan.

I only had one more question for you and this is a fun one that we ask everyone, but can you tell us what your favourite legal movie or TV show is?

Lachlan: I feel like criminal law gets all the cool movies. Some of my favourite movies are the classic criminal law movies – Judgement at Nuremberg, Witness for the Prosecution, Anatomy of a Murder, 12 Angry Men, absolute favourites. In terms of civil law, there was a recent movie, Dark Waters, about several lawsuits in America where the lawyers are the good guys which is always nice to see. I grew up on a healthy diet of Boston Legal

Leah: Every single lawyer has mentioned Boston Legal, every single one. 

Lachlan: Our first university class they had everyone go around the room and mention their favourite lawyer, either fictional or non-fictional, there’s an even split between James Spader’s character from Boston Legal, Alan Shaw, and characters from Suits. 

Leah: Of course, it’s either Boston Legal or Suits, it depends on which generation you come from or which generation you’re influenced by, I love it. 

Thank you so much for joining us today Lachlan, this has been a great interview and you really comforted me with a lot of your advice. As a first year student from a non conventional legal background it’s really great to hear I don’t have to fit a mould so thank you. 

Lachlan: No worries at all, my pleasure, thanks for having me.

OUTRO

Leah: You’ve been listening to The Brief with FAME LSA. This episode was hosted by Leah Alysandratos. The theme song and sound was produced by Leah Alysandratos. A very big thank you to Delwyn Everard for chatting with us and please check out her podcast, Running the Show, for more. Special thanks to Matthew Healy, Caiti Galwey, and Catherine Chincarini for producing the transcript available on our website. Thanks also to all past and present FAME LSA committee members and ambassadors for their support. And thanks to you for listening! 

If you want to hear or learn more about FAME LSA, like us on Facebook and Instagram, or visit our website at famelsa.com. If you’re a lawyer working in the film, art, media, publishing or entertainment space and want to get involved with FAME, we’d love to hear from you. Send us an email at general.famelsa@gmail.com.

USA Edition Issue 2: (C)opyright Chronicles with Sonal Jain

Note: This interview was conducted at the end of 2020.

The (C)opyright Chronicles is a series of interviews with creatives from different backgrounds, focusing on their practical experience of copyright law. We’re kicking off our 2021 (C)opyright Chronicles with a USA Edition!

For the second installment in this series, Dion from FAME chatted to Sonal Jain from IMAX.

Sonal is an entertainment law attorney with extensive experience in theatrical marketing and copyright litigation. She is licensed to practice in the states of New York and California and after practicing in capital markets and corporate law, she transitioned to the entertainment industry. She currently works with IMAX’s Business and Legal Affairs group, and enjoys working the collaboration and dynamism that accompanies the role.

Would you please introduce yourself and briefly describe the work that you do at IMAX. 

I practiced as a corporate lawyer at Davis Polk & Wardwell, and later at Torys LLP, in New York City. My practice focused on capital markets, credit financing and corporate governance. I advised investment banks, consumer lending institutions and Fortune 500 companies.  Five years later, I transitioned to the entertainment industry and landed at Twentieth Century Fox’s Legal Affairs Division in Los Angeles. 

As the lead lawyer for Fox’s International Theatrical Distribution and Marketing divisions, I counseled executives on a broad range of theatrical matters, including: distribution agreements, licensing deals, social media marketing, media buying and planning and exhibitor relationships. I also advised on issues involving IP rights, privacy, litigation, tax, compliance and non-disclosure issues. After 7 years at Fox, I joined IMAX’s Business and Legal Affairs group in January 2020. I support IMAX’s theatrical distribution, post-production and marketing groups. It’s been a great experience thus far. I’m enjoying working on the exhibition side of the industry, while still closely collaborating with all the studios on behalf of IMAX. 

What does a regular day look like for you, who are you mostly dealing with?

I would say there is no “regular” or “typical” day! This is one of my favorite aspects of the job as there are always new issues that arise on a daily basis — as an in-house lawyer, you’re required to develop legal solutions that will address both your clients issues and also protect your company from legal risk.  At IMAX, I work very closely with and support the distribution, post-production and marketing business units (aka “my clients”).  I’ve also had the opportunity to support the company’s human resources and corporate business units, as well as collaborating with the finance and tax departments.  In helping my clients with their deals, I also regularly work with my counterparts at the major Hollywood studios.  For example, a theatrical distribution deal would involve the following team: IMAX distribution business team, IMAX legal counsel (me), studio’s distribution business team, and studio’s legal team.

To address it upfront, how have you adapted to a COVID-normal? 

As we’ve all seen, COVID-19 has had a dramatic impact on all industries, including the entertainment industry.  The theatrical and exhibition business, in particular, has been hit quite hard.  Cinemas around the world have closed, opened, re-closed or continue to remain closed. We’ve seen studios move their major tentpole releases from 2020 to 2021/2022.  The North American box office has seen a significant decline, with major markets such as Los Angeles and New York City still closed.  However, it’s been comforting to see the box office rebound in international markets — specifically in China, which is on track to become the biggest film exhibition market in the world this year. It’s been great to see that the demand for cinema-going is as high as ever (once health restrictions were lifted) and that consumers are excited to get back to the theaters.   During these uncertain and unprecedented times, I’ve tried to maintain a positive attitude, stay connected with co-workers while we continue to work from home (via Zoom, Slack, email, phone calls, text, you name it!), and focus on helping my clients.  Though it will take time, I look forward to the day that the theatrical business regains its full strength. 

The transition from the corporate law sector to the entertainment industry would have been a huge transition. What were the biggest similarities, differences and challenges that you found between these two largely different areas in the legal industry?

The biggest difference between practicing corporate law in a law firm and working in-house in the entertainment industry has been the ability to learn about the inner-workings of a particular business/industry — by going in-house, you really have the opportunity to focus on your company’s business, goals and strategy.  At a law firm, given the nature of the work, it was difficult to work with colleagues outside of a specific practice area.  Working in-house allows an attorney to regularly collaborate with business divisions and other lawyers, gain management responsibilities and learn about the compliance and regulatory aspects of a business.  And of course, there are no billable hours for in-house attorneys!  In terms of similarities, I would say that the core of an attorney’s job remains the same — identify legal issues and provide solutions to best help your clients. 

Have you always wanted to work in the entertainment industry? Do you find it to be more enjoyable/interesting than your former work in capital markets, credit financing and corporate governance?

I have always been a fan of cinema.  Every Saturday night growing up, my family and I would either visit the cinema or rent a movie.  We watched everything from western classics to the latest blockbuster action movie. As a law firm associate, I loved finding an escape at the movie theater — film is an immersive story-telling experience that allows you to be transported to an alternate reality.  While I enjoyed my law firm experience, I was looking to transition to a field that was more tangible in a way that corporate law was not and given my interest in cinema, the entertainment industry was a natural fit.  It’s exciting to see a film in the theater or a film trailer on YouTube and know that you played a part in making that film come to life!  While at the law firms, I focused on gaining general corporate experience, as well as experience in specialized practice areas.  I believe my experience as a well-rounded corporate lawyer helped me to transition to an in-house counsel position in the entertainment industry.

Has there been a client you worked with that you found particularly enjoyable, interesting, or unforgettable?

While at Fox, I was very fortunate to counsel the incredible and creative international theatrical marketing team.  The marketing team had brilliant ideas, as evidenced by the marketing campaigns for Deadpool and Bohemian Rhapsody.  It was a joy to work on such interesting and innovative projects. 

What skills and attributes do you think are key that we as students should be looking to develop to crack into entertainment law?

To break into the entertainment law field, you should try to gain as much entertainment law experience in any way possible — whether it means working on a pro-bono entertainment project at your law firm, joining your law school’s entertainment law society, networking with law school alumnae who are in the entertainment industry, etc.  For law students in particular, it’s very helpful to have a strong understanding of contractual and intellectual property law. 

Stock photos obtained from pexel.com

USA Edition Issue 1: (C)opyright Chronicles with Greg Lush

Note: This interview was conducted at the end of 2020.

The (C)opyright Chronicles is a series of interviews with creatives from different backgrounds, focusing on their practical experience of copyright law. We’re kicking off our 2021 (C)opyright Chronicles with a USA Edition!

For our first installment in this series, Dion from FAME chatted to Greg Lush from Disney.

Greg is an intellectual property and entertainment law attorney with extensive experience in copyright and marketing litigation. He completed his JD in California and his legal career has taken him from a small litigation firm to three of the major Hollywood studios. He currently works with Disney’s studio marketing division following the acquisition of 20th Century Fox and provides advise on legal issues related to marketing materials and content.

To start, why don’t you introduce yourself and briefly outline what you do at Disney.

I am an intellectual property and entertainment law attorney with experience in a number of areas such as consumer product and promotion licensing, marketing vendor agreements, sweepstakes, influencer engagement, rights management, clearances, credits, and copyright litigation.  My legal career has taken me from a small litigation firm to three of the major Hollywood studios.  I earned my bachelor’s degree at American University in Washington, DC and my Juris Doctor at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law in Los Angeles, CA.  When I’m not working, I love puzzles, trivia games, reading about history, cooking new recipes, and pushing for higher outputs on my Peloton.

At Disney, I support the studio marketing team.  I primarily handle tie-in license agreements, which are copromotions between a third-party brand and the studio to promote an upcoming release.  Marketing services can include a wide variety of tasks like negotiating product placement agreements, vendor agreements to provide advertising support and creative content production, live event agreements (like drive-in screenings which have become very popular again due to social distancing), and reviewing advertising pieces like commercials, banner ads, emails, social posts, and sweepstakes rules.

While at Fox, I was very fortunate to counsel the incredible and creative international theatrical marketing team.  The marketing team had brilliant ideas, as evidenced by the marketing campaigns for Deadpool and Bohemian Rhapsody.  It was a joy to work on such interesting and innovative projects. 

What does a regular day look like for you? What are the most common legal tasks that you have to deal with?

Most of my time is spent on contract drafting and negotiation.  I will receive a letter of intent or other type of initiation message from the business unit to begin drafting an agreement.  Like every company, we have templates to use but the deal terms of each agreement will vary.  The draft is then issued to the other side and typically comes back with redlines.  From there, it is my job to review the redlines, communicate the changes to the business unit and collect their feedback, elevate and traffic any unique questions to the appropriate group within the company (such as labor counsel, IP counsel, privacy, and risk management), and then negotiate the redlines with the other side.  I must ensure that the agreement protects our interests while still securing a deal that works for us and makes the arrangement worthwhile.

At Disney, my client is the studio marketing business unit.  That said, an interesting note about in-house lawyers, especially at large companies, is that we also have a duty to the company as a whole and must take care to keep those interests in mind when advising the business unit.  What may be good for my business unit may harm another.  I always have to be mindful of how my work may impact the rest of the company.

To address it upfront, how have you adapted to a COVID-normal?

I have adapted well although it took time.  I enjoy going into the office so I had a hard time working from home.  I used to work from my kitchen table in an unorganized manner hoping the arrangement was temporary, but I finally got a small desk and some basic office equipment and life has been much better.  I also like the increased use of video calls.  Oddly enough, I see my clients and colleagues more than before. 

I came to Disney through its acquisition of Fox and was reshuffled into the marketing group, but I still work out of the Fox lot while my clients and colleagues are at the Disney lot.  I rarely saw my new team and clients but now I see them much more because of video calls.  I’ve also found that without a commute I have a lot more time to exercise and have taken advantage of it.

Could you explain in a bit more depth how third-party tie-ins operate? What significant legal hurdles are involved in this arrangement?

Tie-ins are licensing arrangements whereby a third-party brand gets to leverage a movie in its advertising by including movie artwork and clips in advertising assets like commercials, emails, banner ads, social posts, websites, and other various marketing activations. The third party will include cobranded ads in its paid media advertising and other marketing activities around the release date for the movie, and in exchange the cobranded ads will have call-to-action messaging for the movie (i.e., “See [Movie] in Theaters [Date]”). The third-party brand will attract the film audience to its products and will see increased engagement during the promotional term, and the studio will reach the brand’s audience.

There are a number of issues that frequently come up when negotiating a tie-in promotion deal.  Each promotion has to be addressed on a case by case basis since no two promotions are alike.  To illustrate a few issues:

  1. Approval Rights – The studio will always want to approve in its sole discretion every use of movie content by the brand.  Brands will ask for a reasonable right of approval and that the approvals not be unreasonably withheld since they have deadlines to meet and risk losing out on media they have already paid for.
  2. Indemnities – Since the brand is running the promotion, the studio wants the brand to indemnify the studio in the event the studio is harmed as a result of the brand’s actions.  Many brands want to put caps on liability and exclude certain claims from liability.
  3. Termination Rights and Morals Clauses – The studio wants the right to terminate in the event that the brand does something that, while not necessarily illegal, could cause social backlash.  Brands are going to be wary about what could trigger a termination on morals grounds since they invest time and money into promotions and want to make sure that investment is protected, and morals have an element of subjectiveness.
  4. Ownership – Because tie-in promotion ads are inherently cobranded, ownership of these ads is often contested.  Who really owns a co-branded ad?  The key baseline is always that no rights to the studio’s intellectual property can be granted to the brand beyond the limited license.
  5. Insurance – we have baseline insurance requirements to make sure that if the brand does run into a problem, they have the insurance to cover it.  If a brand does not have insurance that meets our minimum requirements, we have to run a risk assessment.
  6. Release Date Changes – This is a new one since it used to be that once a movie was slated, the release date would never change.  COVID upended all of this.  Negotiating what happens if the release date changes requires creative solutions.
Tiffany’s x Death on the Nile Tie-In Source: Hollywood Reporter; Rob Youngson/20th Century Studios

What has been the most interesting/unique deal to come across your desk?

I am currently working on a software as a service agreement for a cloud database, which is a new but exciting challenge.  I am expected to be able to assist my business unit with whatever their needs are, and sometimes the deals are outside my usual practice.  I have not handled a software as a service agreement before but it is a fun challenge and will broaden my area of expertise.

Have deals ever fallen through because of legal conflicts or ramifications?

I have not experienced this.  There have certainly been close calls and last-minute negotiations, but I have found a resolution in every case so far.  I need to keep in mind that by the time I get a deal, the business units for each side have reached a preliminary understanding on the deal terms and are likely both taking steps anticipating the contract will get finalized.  While there are a few things I can stand firm on in a negotiation, my job is to find the solution and not stubbornly stick to a position that will blow up the deal.  Business units will understand if there’s a legal issue that I need to fight for, but will be very frustrated if that kills the deal.  This tension goes back to what I was saying earlier about needing to balance the interests of the business unit with the interests of the company as a whole.

Has your career trajectory been how you imagined it? Is there a defined career path in this kind of field?

I imagined being where I am now but my trajectory was not as I had imagined, mostly because I had no plan other than to keep my eyes open for opportunities and take advantage.  I bombed my on-campus interviews so the traditional path of working for a big firm for a few years then transitioning in-house was out.  I spent my summers in law school primarily in dependency court (courts that handle child custody matters) and a small litigation firm, but I was always applying for in-house opportunities.  I finally landed an internship at Universal for my last year of law school.  After law school, I did not have a job lined up and was desperate so I took the first one I was offered which was litigating copyright claims at a small firm.  I did not have a strong desire to litigate then, but I thought that the copyright angle could help position me later.  I then took a risk and left that job after a few months to take a one-year temporary position back at Universal, hoping that could be my foot in the door to a full-time job.  Long and stressful story short, that did eventually turn into a full-time job, but not until the last minute and I even gambled further by not taking the only job I was offered prior to the end of that one year.

There is no sure career path to becoming an in-house lawyer or working for a studio.  As I mentioned, the traditional path is to work for a big firm for a few years and then transition.  Sometimes it is possible to turn an internship into an out of school job.  A lot of the time the path is like mine where you keep your options open and take risks.  In any path, I would say that the keys are preparation, persistence, and luck.  You can prepare yourself by taking law school classes relevant to entertainment law and in-house roles, joining relevant clubs and bar associations, and writing articles for a school journal or blog in the practice area.  You have to be persistent with your search and networking for opportunities – I applied for every internship I could find and had applied to Universal each cycle (summer, spring, and fall) for two years before I got an interview.  The hard truth is that there will always be an element of luck involved, but this is not luck that just happens –preparation and persistence lay the foundation for luck to strike.  I was lucky to get my temp job and then lucky again for it to turn into a full-time job, but I had prepared and worked hard to maximize my odds.

What skills and attributes do you think are key that we as students should be looking to develop to crack into entertainment law?

I think law students can do three things to help prepare and position for entertainment law.  First, take advantage of offerings from the school to build a foundation and demonstrate interest, such as enrolling in relevant course work (intellectual property, contract drafting and negotiation, etc.) and joining relevant organizations and clinics.  Check if your university will let you take classes at other schools like the business or film school to get a nonlegal perspective on a topic (for example, I took a class about the talent agency business through USC’s film school).  Second, constantly watch for internship opportunities and apply where you can.  It might take a while to land something but keep trying – anything you can do to get your foot in the door.  Third, students may get special pricing or even free membership to bar associations which often have specialized practice area groups.  These groups collect and post topical news stories and host networking events.

Most people have an inflated conception of the entertainment industry. Is this also the case for entertainment law? Are there any misconceptions that you would like to dispel?

I think it all depends on who the audience is, but in my experience many people think of entertainment law in terms of movie deal-making or having something to do generally with intellectual property.  While movie deal-making and “something to do with intellectual property” are certainly areas of entertainment law, the reality is that entertainment law encompasses a wide variety of practice areas and specialties.  A sampling includes production, finance, litigation, labor and employment (who also have to manage guild rules and relationships), privacy (which gets more complicated by the day with each new regional privacy law), distribution, acquisition, and marketing. 

On top of that, you could be a lawyer for a theme park, direct-to-consumer streaming platform, or consumer product arm.  The work also varies by size of the entity.  A large studio is going to have specialized legal teams for each line of business but a smaller company is going to need someone with a wide range of expertise.  You could spend your whole career never working a movie deal or handling intellectual property matters.

Stock photos obtained from pexel.com

Episode 6: Arts Lawyer & Social Justice Advocate Delwyn Everard

INTRO

LEAH ALYSANDRATOS (FAME Careers and Sponsorship Coordinator): Hello and welcome to the FAME Law Students’ Association’s podcast: The Brief. For the uninitiated, FAME sands for the Film, Art, Media, and Entertainment. The FAME LSA is a group of students from Melbourne Law School who are passionate about the arts and culture.

In this podcast series, we chat with lawyers and artists working in the creative industries, learning about their daily work, career development, and topical issues facing the industry.

In today’s episode, we chat to Delwyn Everard who works deeply within the creative industries and advocates for the protection of Indigenous culture. Delwyn shares her story of New York in 1980s, and how instrumental her experience there was in who she is now as a lawyer. She delves into the intricacies of copyright law and how intellectual property protections do not adequately help Indigenous art. She shares her opinion on the AFL Indigenous flag controversy and provides eye-widening wisdom, especially about the value behind truly appreciating art and creators. In recognition of International Women’s Day, we hope that you enjoy this episode.

SAMARA: Well, thank you very much for joining us, Delwyn! To start us off today, could you please tell us what drew you to studying and practising law, specifically in the arts?

DELWYN: I’ve always just loved words, debates, and stories. I was a voracious reader as a child, I was hopeless at sports, and I  always had my nose in a book. I was quite argumentative, a debater in school. All those things I think we’re not bad practise for law actually! I love the thrill of an argument, and I love unpacking a story, and listening to others, and following a narrative. I think all of those things led me to the law.  In terms of the arts, I actually enrolled in architecture, and then I thought about journalism. I had always been interested in the arts. My mum used to take me to a lot of theatre as a little girl. I was very lucky. Not so much the visual arts, I hadn’t had much exposure to that as a child. 

I went to the University of Western Australia and they didn’t have any IP units or anything that related to the arts. So having decided to study law, because I liked words and story, there wasn’t that much of a focus on the arts. But I did a Masters at Columbia University, in New York, when I finished school. That blew me away – hundreds of subjects to choose from. I did a Copyright Moral Rights unitThere was an amazing unit called Law In Theatre, which was half law students and half theatre students, and basically over the course of the subject, w e negotiated a hypothetical Broadway play, so that got me very interested in the arts.

My first job in New York did not have anything to do with IP but when I came back to Australia I worked at Allens in the litigation department and I was lucky enough to work with some really fabulous IP lawyers, and I did a lot of patent work. So, having done no science at school I then started to learn about biochemistry and mechanical engineering, and things like that. And again, that is about stories, talking to inventors, you find out what gave them their  ‘a-ha’ moment, so I got very interested in that. about how their mechanism came about. I did some music copyright at Allen, and then I went and joined a small boutique IP firm attached to a patent attorney firm, Sprusons. I did a lot more IP there but it was still very science-y but now a lot more trademark. And that is actually quite creative too, you learn how businesses build brands, their clever marketing, brand stories; it ends up distinguishing services and goods which are practically identical.

And then, must be just over ten years ago, I just needed a change. I had been in private practise for a long time. I took a bit of time off, I had teenage kids at the time, and I just thought I needed to be a much better mother and do tuck shop. I hated it.

But, I then rang the Arts Law Centre to volunteer, and the Director said “Oh come have a coffee Delwyn!” for coffee. Suddenly I had a job,and I stayed there for ten years, and so that is when I really got into that area of IP, so away more from the science and trademarks and patents, and into the arts. It was particularly wonderful to be working for creatives who really needed legal advice, not big business, but first time filmmakers, actors, and dancers, people writing stories and not yet sure, you know, of how they were going to go. It is so much more than IP too – it was all aspects of being an artist, and I really loved that. About two years ago I left the Arts Law Centre. I thought I was going to do something really different, I was waiting for that next, big, different career to come along. But I just had people contacting me, saying “Delwyn, can you help me?”, and suddenly I was doing what I’d always done and I realised how much I loved it. So now that is my practice! It’s a bit of a meandering story,  I didn’t start out with the intention of being an arts lawyer, it just happened. 

SAMARA: That is a wonderful story, and I think what is very interesting  is the role of story throughout all of that career journey that you’ve shared with us, in that, story is so important to the law, regardless of whether you’re working in a traditionally conceived creative space, or if you are able to see the creative side of IP, patents, and in science as well, it is really interesting. That subject you mentioned about law and theatre at Columbia sounds very interesting. Touching on your experience working in the US, what do you think you gained from that that has equipped you for your current practice, or your career since that point in time? 

DELWYN: Columbia is an amazing law school, I have to say that. The thing it did mostly was open my eyes to the enormous breadth of practise opportunities within the law having come from, as I said, back in the ‘80s when the offerings at law schools in Australia, certainly in Western Australia, were quite narrow. To go to a wonderful university like that that had so much choice and so much variety. 

I did a Human Rights subject taught by a professor that marched with Martin Luther King . They had all of these amazing community workshop subjects where you could intern at a refugee community legal centre, or tenancy advice, and  all of that counted as a subject.

My daughter has just done law and I know now that universities offer this here in Australia, but they did not have that then, so that is just incredibly exciting, and it really did make me appreciate then that I didn’t have to just think in the narrow terms of what I studied, or what the first law firm I went to might be doing.  If there was an area I could keep looking for that…for those opportunities. 

The other thing about working in New York – so my first legal job was at a Wall Street firm – Number 1 Wall Street – great address, a firm called Hughes, Hubbard & Reed, which was a litigation firm. And I think what that gave me was just that they had such high standards, and they expected everyone to deliver right from day one. I never did anything boring, it was always very exciting, and I felt a responsibility to work hard and meet those high expectations. We worked with amazing clients and directly with partners. It was very exciting, and I think the discipline of that and intellectual rigour in the demanding environment of New York at that point in a firm like that really set me up well to come back to Australia, and I think that discipline carried throughout my entire practice.

The other thing that’s really stayed with me from those days is that back then, working in a big wall street firm, you absolutely had to do pro bono. It didn’t matter how many hours you worked, or what your budget was. If you weren’t making a solid and meaningful contribution in helping those who are disadvantaged, then you just weren’t meeting the firm’s expectations.

SAMARA: Wow.

DELWYN: This was certainly not the case when I got back to Australia, and not really the case throughout my whole career, actually as a lawyer in Australia. I think it is really important in legal practice. It is a very big part of what I do now, obviously at the Arts Law Centre, it was all pro bono just about! But I think it is really important, and I think  it helps you understand the value you have as a lawyer. When you stop and think about how much you built last month or wherever you’ve met the expectations of partners, you’ve got a responsibility to the community you live in to use your skills and the amazing education you have to help others. So that is really important to me. 

SAMARA: It is very interesting to hear that it was so strong to that culture in New York. I think it is different…I hope it is different in Australia now, that pro bono culture.

DELWYN: I think it is, certainly at the Arts Law Centre. I’ve worked with a lot of different firms who contribute pro bono expertise and time and skills to projects that the Arts Law Centre was working on. They were all really quite amazing. So, I think it is a much better part now than when I just came back to Australia. 

SAMARA: Yeah! The Arts Law Centre sounds incredible. We’ve had a couple of lawyers mention that that’s where they do their pro bono work and does really positive things for artists. So I think that has inspired a few of us at FAME to want to learn more about it.

DELWYN: Good!

SAMARA: Relatedly to some of those points you mentioned about what you learnt from working at the firm in New York about having very high standards and discipline. We wondered what you considered to be the key skills and qualities required to be a lawyer? Whether that be generally or specifically in IP, trademark, and copyright law. Something that our student listeners might want to consider thinking about as they move through their course and start picking up work experience or extracurriculars. 

DELWYN: Well, thinking about, I mean I guess it is interesting to think about it being an arts lawyer as opposed to  a lawyer more generally. Because I think the most important thing is to love the arts yourself and stay engaged with it, really. You know, I know lawyers that perform in bands, make films, write books. Not everyone has those skills but certainly you’ve got to love the arts. And I think all lawyers, but particularly important in the arts, I think need communication skills. Artists don’t always think in that more linear, logical fashion, which is the way that lawyers need to approach problems. That’s not to say that they can’t find creative and lateral solutions. But some artists are very interested in copyright. Most creatives, whether they’re filmmakers, or writers, or musicians, are much more interested in their own practice. They are only interested in copyright or the law to the extent of law as much as it impacts them. True, of lots of clients, actually. So they don’t need to know about the law, they need you to know about the law. They want to know how it impacts on their practice. What should they do now? What should they do next? What’s the solution to their problem? And certainly, communicating with people in the creative sectors who think very much creatively and outside the square,   that means that it is really important to understand their creative practice before you give them a solution. I don’t know if I said that very eloquently.

SAMARA: It makes complete sense.

DELWYN. Yeah. So I think they’re really important skills, and I think more practically, becoming an entertainment lawyer, or an arts lawyer, or an IP lawyer, is quite a small specialised field. IP more generally, less so. But the areas of probably science and technology have more big business and bigger clients and more opportunities there. When you get into the arts, it is quite a small field.

SAMARA: Mmmm.

DELWYN: They tend to be more smaller firms and sole practitioners, which is why I think you should stay engaged with the arts,  because the smaller firms and sole practitioners are often falling into that category and that will appeal to them just as much as having studied those subjects and worked  in that area. Because what’s important is understanding the creatives that you’re going to be delivering advice to. 

SAMARA: It’s brilliant advice and really highlights the fact that you need to be able to empathise with those clients to give them the right service.

DELWYN: Mmmm.

SAMARA: You mentioned technology which I wanted to ask you whether, because you’ve noted on your website that it is important to meet the challenges of a dynamic digital age, what major technological disruptions have you been observing in the arts space? And how does this affect how you provide advice or advocate on behalf of the arts and cultural sector? 

DELWYN: The most obvious is the one that is keeping both of you in your rooms at the moment, the coronavirus pandemic. That has impacted the arts terribly. The arts is fundamentally a gig economy. Most creatives see their creative practice as delivery to a live audience, in a gallery, or in a theatre, or in a cinema, or in a pub for live music. So, all of a sudden that’s gone, and that has made huge differences, even behind the scenes such as making a film. I have a filmmaker client that is meant to be shooting right now in Melbourne and that can’t happen.

That has been enormously disruptive. One of the things I’m just thinking of is that the arts, however, are just so extraordinarily creative. I don’t know if you’ve watched the little Lucy Jurack and Eddie Perfect YouTube series. So they [were] in lockdown in Melbourne and they made an entire mini film series…

SAMARA: Oh, amazing!

DELWYN: …about falling in love during lockdown using zoom and from within their own houses and posted it up. It  is really very clever. I have seen so many examples of the arts being agile and flexible and adapting and creating. The Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair went entirely online this year which seems so sad because it is such a wonderful event that brings Aboriginal artists from all over the country together for this amazing fair. And yet talking to arts centres afterwards, some of them had sold more than they did in previous years because they did such an amazing job at delivering and promoting the entire thing online. 

But in terms of giving advice, it requires just a lot more flexibility and actually understanding of digital platforms and the different sorts of contractual arrangements that will be required. They are all things that…I don’t know that it’s required… different sort of legal solutions so much. To some extent, I’ve spent a lot more time looking at digital platforms and giving advice in that area rather than the more traditional types of contractual arrangements that might have had to be made. 

But, the other technological disruption that to me is the one that is more difficult in a sense is probably the fact that the Copyright Act is just not really well adapted to cope with all the changes of the digital age. So it’s got that list that it must be a musical work, or it must be a dramatic work. Whereas so many things are combinations of both those things. It is not really well adapted to deal with the creativity that the digital age has opened up for creatives. That is a challenge for lawyers, I think, so you’re constantly trying to use…the Copyright Act does not necessarily go far enough, or doesn’t deal with a particular situation, so a contract becomes really important.

I think that rather than just amendment by amendment to the Copyright Act, maybe something more needs to be done that looks at it in a different way, especially as we live in an age when everyone, to some extent, is a creator on social media. There is this enormous culture of borrowing which is at odds with the way the Copyright Act looks at things and that needs to be dealt with. 

SAMARA: Very interesting. Copyright is not something that I’ve had an opportunity to learn a lot about yet in the JD, but we have been picking up on some copyright issues just generally at FAME. Actually, we started a little blog focussed on copyright, so it would be very interesting to get some of your thoughts. 

Clearly there needs to be change about law. On the topic of copyright, we wanted to hear your perspective on the indigenous flag copyright issue.  We understand that since its creation, it’s been shrouded in copyright disputes but has recently, I think in the past year, attracted a bit of attention from when the AFL didn’t include it in the Indigenous round. Do you think that the Copyright Act, or is there any legislative reform, generally that could be applied to protect Indigneous intellectual property better than it currently does?

DELWYN: I do, I have some views on the flag, I am happy to chat about those if you like,

SAMARA: Yeah, please!

DELWYN: So, I think the Copyright Act protects visual artworks reasonably well, and that’s what the flag is. The current controversy with the Aboriginal flag; there is a number of aspects to that. First, I think it is a missed opportunity for leadership from the Federal Government, and to some extent a missed opportunity for leadership by the AFL, and the reason I say that is because I’m a copyright purist. The flag was designed by a Luritja man named Harold Thomas, an Aborignal activist, and he licensed the copyright, as I understand it, to a couple of flag manufacturers so that every single Aboriginal flag that has been manufactured since he drew that flag has earned him a little royalty. I believe that he has never really, until recently, any other sort of licensing opportunities, although as the copyright owner, he is absolutely entitled to. Our whole system of copyright is based on the principle that as the artist and creator, he is the one entitled to generate commercial returns from it in recognition of his creativity. That’s how copyright works. He hasn’t traditionally, I understand, sought to get licenses from clothing and I think that’s largely because many of the clothing that bears the Aborignal flag is clothing that is made and used by Aborignial community groups. Harold doesn’t seem to have pursued those groups, no doubt, and I’m guessing, because he’s an Aboriginal activist and an Aborginal man and he loves the fact that Aborignal People and Torres Strait Islander Peoples  of Australia want to use that flag. 

I think the AFL is a bit different. I think if the AFL makes millions and millions of dollars, and it wants to use the flag, I see absolutely no reason why it shouldn’t pay for that privilege. And I don’t think that is necessarily a Human Rights or cultural issue for the AFL. If it wants to put the flag on the jerseys they should pay for it, just as it pays, I guess, all of the artists that create the jerseys for the Indigenous rounds. But I think what’s happened is that in the last year, Harold Thomas has started, and he may need the money, I don’t know how he earns his living, to look at earning some licensing revenue from clothing. He’s done that by sublicensing that, I think, to the company that has been in the news, WAM Clothing, but I assume that’s on the basis that any royalties they collect, he gets some of those royalties.  

So there is all of that, I think that he’s entitled to be paid for the use of his artwork.  If, and I think that this should happen, the Aboriginal flag has become such an important emblem for Australia and for Aborignal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, then it needs to be available more widely, then the Federal Government should be buying the copyright from him and making it available, and that would show leadership.

SAMARA: I wonder how many know about the origins of the flag, because personally I only learnt recently that it was Harold who created it, and I think that having that understanding completely brings to light what you mentioned of the fact that the artists, and we obviously care a lot about artists being paid for their work, and being paid appropriately and sufficiently. So yeah, thank you for sharing your thoughts on that. Hopefully the Federal Government might kick something up from that.

Aside from the Indigenous flag, do you see other ways that we should be protecting intellectual and cultural property for Indigenous Australians? Is that again something the Federal government needs to be leading more so?

DELWYN: Yes, and I think the Federal Government is starting to look at that, which I think is fantastic. So, this is probably another problem with the Copyright Act. We have that  list of types of works and subject matter that is protected by the Copyright Act. We have musical works, and films, and artistic works. They are all rights that are held by individuals and they are time limited, in the sense that the copyright protection is generally limited to the life of the creator plus a period of time, seventy years. But in terms of Indigenous Culture, that is an ineffective mechanism to protect ancient rock art, or particular styles of Indigneous painting, traditional cultural expression, like the crosshatching, ceremony, language…all of those things. It can to some extent protect those things, obviously the amazing painting being produced by Aboriginal artists throughout Australia are well protected by copyright, but there are lots of other aspects of Indigenous culture that aren’t adequately protected. It is the oldest living culture in the world, it is so precious. It is why when tourists come to Australia, that is what they want to understand and experience; that Indigenous culture. It seems crazy to me that we don’t do more to protect it. 

I think up until now there’s been a belief that copyright’s enough, but I think now it’s becoming clear that copyright isn’t enough, or patents or any of the other types of IP protection that are available under Australian law

Australia is a signatory to the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and there is a growing belief that to actually implement the level of protection that that requires, which means giving Indigneous Peoples control over their cultural heritage, forms of cultural expression, it requires, what is called sui generis legislation I think, and the Federal Government is currently looking at that as I understand. They are engaging in a consultative process. The House of Representatives Standing Committee just released a report about authentic art and the Federal Government’s response to that  has been to accept some of its recommendations, but in particular one that looks at engaging in a process to look at how better to protect Indigenous culture. I am really optimistic about that, and I think that’s a wonderful step in the right direction.

SAMARA: That sounds very positive. I think if we’ve learnt something it’s that clearly the law is inadequate, in a lot of circumstances, and perhaps should look at, I suppose, seeing how it applies to not just sticking to that common law tradition, and thinking a bit more broadly about its application. It is really, really interesting. 

To finish our podcast today though, Delwyn, can you tell us your favourite legal movie or tv show we should be watching?

DELWYN: Ooh, well, it is hard to go past To Kill A Mockingbird, I know it’s an old one, but it’s a beautiful one. Another old movie I love is The Accused, with Jodie Foster and Kelly McGillis in it. I love a movie with strong women in it, and I think that was ahead of its time. I do have a weakness for Rake, I have to say. 

SAMARA: Rake is an excellent TV show. I think there is not enough Australian TV that we can really sink our teeth into, well at least that’s what I find, but Rake is just exceptional. I haven’t seen The Accused. That sounds really good!

DELWYN: Oh, you should definitely watch that! I think it’s from, maybe the ‘80s, but Jodie Foster is amazing in it.

SAMARA: Yeah excellent, and To Kill A Mockingbird is a classic! Very good film and book. Well, thank you so much for joining us, Delwyn. It has been very, very interesting and a pleasure to learn about your career.

DELWYN: Yeah, my absolute pleasure!

OUTRO

Leah: You’ve been listening to The Brief with FAME LSA. This episode was hosted by Samara Jones. The theme song and sound was produced by Leah Alysandratos. A very big thank you to Delwyn Everard for chatting with us and please check out her podcast, Running the Show, for more. Special thanks to Samara Jones and Leah Alysandratos for producing the transcript available on our website. Thanks also to all past and present FAME LSA committee members and ambassadors for their support. And thanks to you for listening! 

If you want to hear or learn more about FAME LSA, like us on Facebook and Instagram, or visit our website at famelsa.com. If you’re a lawyer working in the film, art, media, publishing or entertainment space and want to get involved with FAME, we’d love to hear from you. Send us an email at general.famelsa@gmail.com.

Episode 4: Fox Sports Legal Counsel Calli Tsipidis

INTRO

SAMARA JONES (FAME Careers and Sponsorship Coordinator): Hello and welcome to the FAME Law Students’ Associations’ podcast: The Brief. For the uninitiated, FAME stands for Film, Art, Media, and Entertainment. FAME LSA is a group of students from Melbourne Law School who are passionate about the arts and culture. In this podcast series we chat with the lawyers and artists working in the creative industries, learning about their daily work, career development and topical issues facing the industry.

COCO GARNER DAVIS (FAME Co-President): In today’s very special collaborative episode, FAME President Coco Garner Davis, and Melbourne Sports Law Association’s Vice President, Sonja Santa Maria, talk to Calli Tsipidis, a lawyer working as Legal Counsel at Fox Sports. 

SONJA SANTA MARIA (MSLA Vice President): Calli discusses the world of sports law, shedding light upon the challenges of working as an in-house lawyer and how thinking flexibly is a necessary part of the job. 

COCO: Additionally, as the Chair of CAMLA Young Lawyers Committee, Calli shares important insight in the value of networking and putting yourself out there to meet members of the legal community. We hope you enjoy!

Alright, so, welcome Calli to today’s episode of ‘The Brief’. So, I guess to start off we’ll get struck right into it. Tell us about yourself and what drew you to the in-house position at Fox Sports?

CALLI TSIPIDIS: Thanks for having me guys. It’s really lovely to have a chat with you. Just quickly, a little bit about me. So, I finished University in 2017. So not that long ago actually. I did a combined commerce/law degree at Macquarie Uni up here in Sydney and I suppose the key thing to know about me is that I love sports and working at Fox Sports, and in-house in a sports media organisation, is something that I’m so lucky to be a part of. When I was at University, I took Sports Law as an elective and I did a six-month internship at Football Federation Australia, whilst I was doing my practical legal training. But at the same time, I was working at a mid-tier law firm in property and commercial litigation. So, I suppose when I was wrapping up my studies I was quite ready for a couple of years, if not more, working in private practice. However, very fortunate, the job at Fox Sports opened up just after I completed my PLT. I was very grateful for the opportunity and I put my best foot forward and I haven’t looked back since. So, yeah, I suppose what really drew me to the in-house position was the ability to combine my legal career with my passion in sports and I think every day I am able to do that in my job which is great.

COCO: Yeah, that’s amazing. Wow.

SONJA: And what would you consider to be the essential skills and qualities for a successful lawyer working in-house for the media?

CALLI: So, I think it is probably best to split that into two. So, I think in-house and media are a little bit different and it might be good to split the two. So, in terms of in-house, I think a really important skill is to know who your clients are. So, when you’re working in-house your clients are your different business units. For me, I work with our, mainly, our marketing, production, partnerships and content teams, but I am always there for the other business units if they need. So, I suppose an essential skill for working in-house – doesn’t matter in what kind of industry – is to ensure you’re balancing your legal advice with the commercial interests of the business. So, whether that’s working for a construction company, working for, you know, media, working in broadcasting, you keep the, you know, considerations of the business, the commercial interests, at the forefront of your mind when you’re providing advice and that will, a lot of the time, inform the kind of advice you give them. Obviously, always making sure you’re dotting the ‘i’s and crossing the ‘t’s with the legal side as well, but the commercial interest will often advise – sorry – inform your advice in what the business ends up doing. For media specifically, you’re always on the go and every day is different. I can’t remember two days that have been the same since I started at Fox. So, I suppose, the big one – as an essential skill working in media – is flexibility; being able to drop everything and work on time-sensitive matters. Flexibility in terms of working to different people’s styles. Some people are quite formal, some people are very casual, and you have the extremities and everything in between. And I suppose the other important thing for media – working in media – is, because you’re working on, you know, lots of different things and every day is different, having attention to detail. A lot of the time, it’s quick turnarounds on projects. So, to make sure you’re comfortable with what you’re providing and you’re able to provide it quickly as the business needs it by making sure that you’re doing, you know, the best work that you can and you’ve got strong attention to detail because small mistakes sometimes turn into business decisions. So, keep that communication flow open and if you’ve made a mistake – and I say this for anyone – make sure you own up to it, work on it with the business, you know, it’s not a big deal. So, be honest with the business. If you’re not sure of something, ask your colleagues for questions. Ask people for more information because sometimes they don’t know to give you all the information so you can provide them with all the advice. So, ask lots of questions I think is a good one, doesn’t matter where you work.

COCO: I feel like that’s such real advice. That’s such a fear going into – 

CALLI: Yeah.

COCO: – into working is like oh my god I’m going to screw up in some way or another. So, I guess going on your kind of that – your experience that you spoke about. I mean, it’s so varied. Especially, since you only graduated in 2017. That’s insane. Having had both experience in-house and in a firm, what would you say are the key differences between the two? 

CALLI: I think I’ve touched on a couple, but I will mention again because I think this is probably the most important one – its, you’re giving commercial not just legal advice. So, sometimes the business will ask you a question that they think is legal, but really, it’s a commercial decision. So, they might think that ‘Oh, there are legal obligations here’, but at the end of the day it’s a business decision that they need to make. So, you’re wearing two hats. When you’re working in a firm, you’re wearing the legal hat. So, whilst it’s great to ask the business questions sometimes about, you know, the commercial parts of what you’re working on, a lot of the time they just want black letter; ‘How can I do this?’, ‘Advise whether I can or cannot do this’. Whereas, in-house, you can say, ‘I understand you want to do this project, you want to, you know, do this specific thing. We don’t think you should do it this way, how about you do it this slightly different way?’. And you provide them with ideas on how they can still get the same outcome, but perhaps through a different channel or different path. So, I think that’s a big difference. I think it’s probably a good quality to take to your client, if you did work in private practice as well. But a lot of the time it’s that black letter law advice versus – you know – I’m giving commercial and legal advice at the same time. Another big difference: you work as a generalist I think a lot of the time in-house, not as a specialist. So, in one day I’ll work on so many different projects touching different areas of the law. So, I’ll advise on something small, like reviewing a marketing asset. I’ll review three or four different contracts but for different parts of the business. So, a sports broadcast contract; a production contract with graphics for example; independent contract agreement with some of our on-screen talent and then I’ll work on a competition terms and conditions. So, it’s really different all the time, which is fantastic because you get to learn a lot, but you – unless you are at a more senior level, I think you don’t really specialise in one thing unless it’s a really big team and they’ve got you looking after a specific area. And I guess the other one is what I mentioned before about your relationships with your client. Your clients are your colleagues at the same time as being people who need you for legal advice. So, it’s great because in-house, my friends are my colleagues and they’re my clients as well. So, I can go have lunch with them – some of my friends from marketing – and then, you know, earlier that day or later that day we’re chatting about a project that they’re working on and they need legal advice. So, I understand that people have, in private practice, relationships with their clients, in this situation with them all the time and the important thing, I suppose, is to balance your relationship with them to make sure that you’re giving them the advice that they need. Looking out for their commercial interests, but making sure you’re giving them the legal advice they need as well. 

COCO: Amazing. 

SONJA: That sounds absolutely amazing in terms of the diverse work you can do as as Counsel at Fox Sports. Could you briefly just talk to us about the process of sports broadcasting contracting? So, for example, who initiates these deals and what are some of the challenges?

CALLI: I do not get to work on the very big broadcast deals that everyone probably hears about in the news. If I do, it’s very little bits here and there. So, I’ll leave that for the pros, but I can talk you through the general process and, you know, some of the smaller deals that I get to work on with that team. Fox Sports are really fortunate. We’ve got so much great content and there’s lots of different deals that happen. So, generally, it depends on the relationship with the governing bodies. So, with the small deals, a lot of the time you’ve got governing bodies or content creators that reach out to us as a broadcaster and say, ‘Hey, you’ve got this great platform, we’ve got this great content, would you be willing to pay for the content to show on your channel?’. Sometimes, they just want it on our channels to broadcast and they don’t require a fee. So, a lot of the time it is our content acquisitions team who has the relationships with all of these providers. They have the conversation with the external parties and then our acquisitions team speaks with us, the legal team, about how we go about documenting it. So, a lot of the time what happens is: we’ve got our template contracts, the draft ones, ready to go and sometimes you’ve got the third parties that have their own. Depending on, I guess, the value of the deal, we’ll either use one of theirs or one of ours. If it’s a bigger deal, more likely that they will prepare the draft and we’ll review it. If it’s a smaller deal, depending on the body, we’ll probably provide them with our draft. So, I suppose our acquisitions team and the third-party content provider work through all the commercial elements of the deal. So, you know, what programs are we getting? What are the fees? What’s the payment structure like? How can we use this content? Can we clip it up? Can we pop it into our additional programs? Are we able to use it for promotional materials? How long have we got it for? Is it live/non-live? And then they work with our programming teams to see where it can slot into our scheduling times and – which is really important if its live content and non-live as well – we need to make sure its shown at a good time because people don’t want to watch events from three years ago necessarily, unless it’s a classic. And then, the other big one is working with the production teams. So, if it’s a local or overseas production, is the expectation that we will be producing it? So, will we be sending camera crew and our personnel on site to produce it? Or will they just be sending us the feed which goes to our towers? Or will they be sending us just a recording of it? So, they’re the kind of commercial considerations and then obviously there’s this big back-end legal terms and conditions that come with it. And that’s where we talk about our obligations around, you know, what happens if there’s a cancellation? Think COVID – you know, what happens in that situation? What about flexibility in terms of production? Do we have minimum obligations? Do we have flexibility if there are changes to scheduling? Those sorts of things, and then your indemnities and warranties and all of that fun, boilerplate kind of stuff as well. So, a lot of the time, I suppose the challenge is that you’re either working with a governing body or a third party that’s from overseas and their expectations are sometimes different to what ours are, in terms of some of those boilerplate areas. In terms of commercial terms, that’s quite well handled by our commercial teams, and they work through a lot of those considerations with the third party. For us, I suppose, a challenge sometimes is aligning expectations of a third party with ours in terms of those legal obligations and requirements and making sure that we’re all on the same page. And then, I suppose, as with any contract, not just sports broadcasting, it’s about risk. So, is this likely to arise? Is this likely to affect us? What are the potential outcomes and consequences? What do we want to take a risk on? And those kinds of ones where you’re more comfortable to take a risk, you might not ask for the amendment or you might not push it. Those where you are definitely not comfortable, which – it’s the same sort of things for every contract that you’re aware of because you work on them more often, you push your case a bit and work on negotiating with the third party to get to that happy middle ground. 

COCO: Yeah, awesome. Well, I guess building on that kind of – the risk aspect, and when everything was put on hold, when sport was put on hold, in the middle of the year, start of the year – the whole year – for COVID-19, how did that affect your work? I mean, I know I was punching the air when the hub got up and running and the AFL was back. How was your work in particular affected?

CALLI: Yeah, I was punching the air too. I was so excited. It was so great when sports came back, I have to say. And I believe the A-League was the last kind of sport to stop and I remember watching that game with bated breath knowing that this could be it. So, I suppose in a practical sense, I’m working from home still and there’s a couple of days during the week where I do go in. I suppose working with a broadcaster there was a real focus on making sure that people that were working on the live broadcast were kept safe. So, they’ve stayed on site the whole time.

COCO: Oh wow.

CALLI: Yeah, which is fantastic for, you know, everyone who watches our content. Risky I suppose for them because they haven’t really had to change much of their day, they just have to take those extra precautions. But for the rest of us, it was learning how to work differently and to work with all of our, you know, partner organisations differently. Everyone was facing so many different challenges, and no-one was facing the same ones. So, whilst our challenges were about: what content are we going to be able to show? Are we going to have anything to show? Are we just going to be showing old matches? Do we keep all of our live ancillary content like our news and magazine programming going? And our partner organisations were thinking: well, how are we going to get paid for the content we provide when we don’t have any content to provide? So, the real, I suppose, challenge was making sure that we were working with our partners, that we all worked together within the business and with all our partner entities together towards a united goal which is always to keep everyone safe but to try and bring sports content back because that’s what everyone really wanted. So, in terms of how it affected the actual content: as you touched on, we had quite a significant period of time where there was no live sport and it slowly came back. So, I suppose there was so much work that went on during that interim period where there was no sport to bring. You know, I suppose we had like pop-up events come up where we did showcases of great moments in history and, you know, we had to come up with new ideas. So, what can we get to keep people watching? We had some great shows like we had this NRL live show, where we had – every morning for a couple hours – we had all of our NRL commentators come in and chat about issues that were arising at that point in time, which weren’t too many because they were all off-field. But talking about classic moments, ridiculing old matches with new commentators which was really fun to see some of those classic matches gets shown again with a different commentary, which I think would have been a dream gig for some people. Even me, I thought ‘Oh, I would love to be doing that!’. So that was really fun. So, I suppose it was just being – like I said before – about being flexible. Being really flexible to try new things, keeping our audiences interested and helping our governing bodies who are our partner organisations get their sports back up and running and supporting them as best we could. Whether that’s through changing our rights deals and working through different obligations to try and support each other differently or whether it was just, you know, telling them, ‘We’re here, go work out what’s best for you.’ Moving things around so we’ve got the hubs now for AFL, the NRL had this hub as well. A-League worked through a hub. And as you would have seen perhaps with ESPN as well, even our overseas broadcast partners – all of the NBA finals have taken place in one kind of area and it is a new world. So, making sure that – if you look at that as an example – that we were able to support all the sporting bodies here to do the same thing. And thankfully, we’ve gotten through nearly all of our footy code seasons, which has been great, and we are around the corner from finals. And if I think back to March, April, it wasn’t looking likely that we were going to get anyone back out on the fields again. It’s been a really great accomplishment and a testament I think to everyone who works so hard on everything. 

COCO: Yeah, absolutely. 

SONJA: Yeah and speaking of changes and being adaptable; we’ve seen a lot of things happen in 2020. Not just with the COVID situation but we have also seen sports increasingly become a platform for advocating various causes. Especially in the US at the moment with, for example, athletes taking a knee during the national anthem. Do you have any thoughts on the role that sports media play in relation to activism on the field. So, I mean, should we keep politics out of sports and what are some of the legal challenges associated with dealing with this?

CALLI: That’s a really good question, very topical as well. I think, and this is my personal opinion, I think sport has a really unique ability to speak about issues that affect the wider community, whether they’re political issues or not. So, I think the fact that sports bring so many people together for that united purpose of watching a sporting event, getting behind your team, I think it has that ability to unite people. So, I think it’s a great platform, not just to help advocate issues, to bring people together on certain issues, rather than cause divides. And I think some people perhaps perceive sport as a tool, a political tool, to help drive home a certain issue or a certain agenda item. I don’t think that’s how it should be used. I think it’s great to raise awareness and I really – I’m loving what the NBA players are doing at the moment. The taking the knee issue is obviously something that has been a big issue in the NFL over the last few years and you’ve seen governing bodies and chairmen of clubs really go against players to do that. But I really love what the NBA is doing currently and it’s not – you know – it’s still all about the sport and using the sport to unite people, but I love that players are able to advocate issues that they’re passionate about by putting it on the back of their guernseys. Whether it’s Black Lives Matter, whether it’s ending poverty – you’ve seen various things popped on people’s guernseys and I think that’s a great way to do it. Where it’s not understated to the point it is just something done as a token kind of – it’s not tokenistic. It’s something that they’re showing that – you know what, it’s there on people’s guernseys, you’re going to see it for the entire game, but we are not going to draw too much attention to it to use it as a tool. So, I think that’s probably the best way that sport should do it. In terms of challenges, I know that there are quite a few legal challenges with, I suppose, using sports as a tool for bringing home political messages or other kinds, but I think the really important challenge is the commercial challenge. And I think this is just – I’m bringing back the exact same issue about working in-house but I think it can cause a lot of issues with broadcasters and governing bodies and teams where, if a team is really in support of an issue, but the broadcaster isn’t, for example, then the governing bodies in this really awkward position where they have to balance interests. If the broadcaster’s not happy, are they, you know, going to withhold payment, for example? If the team isn’t happy, are they going to show up to games? So, I think the real issue there is making sure that all of the parties are happy. Which is why I think what the NBA has done has been really good, because it’s not making it such a big issue that it’s something that either party would overtly be objecting to because it’s taking away from the purpose of the contract at the end of the day. And the other thing I think that’s the challenge is – for some sports, not all of them – if you’re bringing to light all these political issues, I think it brings to light the fact that that a lot of sports governance and integrity within the organisations has been up in the air and quite questionable for some, you know, sporting bodies of late. And there’s a lot of high-profile instances where you see, you know, reputation damage and the public’s trust is gone within these sporting organisations. So, its pot calling kettle black I think sometimes as well. So, take care of what’s going on inside your organisation. Be a good voice, facilitate that dialogue but don’t use it as a political tool I think, you know. People go to sport to see sport, so it’s nice to, I think, give it a nod but don’t overdo it necessarily. 

COCO: Yeah, such a good point. And kind of – I agree with what you’re saying with the NBA because they’ve made it so individual to the player. Where the individual players – the issue that they are most passionate about can be represented on their guernsey. It also makes for a great guernsey. I know Colin Kaepernick’s number seven just sold out within minutes.

CALLI: Yeah and that’s interesting too because I suppose, is that commercialising the issue a bit at all?

COCO: Oh, yeah. 

CALLI: Does that take away from it? I don’t know, it’s very interesting. 

COCO: Yeah, it’s such a huge topic at the moment. So interesting. I guess, yeah, moving on from that – on the media kind of aspect in your side hustles, how did you become involved in CAMLA? Which we all love, the students love, and we have all gone to the events and love it. How did you get involved and what’s that been like? 

CALLI: Thanks for your support guys, it’s always great. And I think as an aside, before I get too much into it, the fact that we are living in a remote world is great because it means that all of our colleagues and friends from interstate can now join in to our events, which were previously in person. So CAMLA is just, for those of you first time playing along, CAMLA is the Communication and Media Law Association. So, we’re a New South Wales based kind of entity and what we do is, it’s a bunch of lawyers and we come together, and we hold seminars on different legal events in the communication/media law space. We release a quarterly publication, and we hold networking events and the like for people working within the industry. So, it’s not just legal professionals. We’ve got people from political backgrounds, broadcasting backgrounds, journalists and the like, all coming together for these kinds of events and to, I suppose, stay in touch with what’s new in the world of communication and media law. I became involved in CAMLA when I started working at Fox Sports, which was fantastic. I went to my first ever CAMLA event, it was a speed mentoring event where I got to meet so many fantastic people either at my level or at a more senior level and got to network with them on the evening. And I haven’t really stopped going to those events since. There’s some great seminars that they hold every year and I got to go to a couple of those and I thought, ‘You know what? I really like what this organisation does, I’d like to get involved’. So, I was on the committee, the CAMLA Young Lawyers Committee, which is aimed at law students and young professionals working in the area, so, five years or less sort of experience. And earlier this year I was very fortunate to be, you know, nominated as chair of the Young Lawyers Committee. I have a fantastic team, there’s about 15 of us that all work together to bring all those events to light. Whether it’s our speed networking event, whether it’s our in-person networking event or our 101 webinars, we all work together to, I suppose, bring those kinds of events together. We contribute to the communications law bulletin and we work on our own sort of projects, which – there’s a couple in the works that will be great for our interstate listeners, so keep an eye out. It’s been a really great experience and something that I can’t, I suppose, promote enough is networking with people who work in the industry even if it’s – I think some people misconstrue networking as an ability to try and get yourself ahead in your career. I think, for me, networking is not just using, you know, connections that you have for your career purposes but to understand a bit more about what’s involved in the industry. For myself, I came out of a completely different area, straight out of Uni, working in private practice and now to working in-house. It’s great to know what other people who work in the space do for a day to day. Whether it’s private practice – I hear what some of the projects that some of my CAMLA colleagues work on and I think, ‘That’s incredible’. I couldn’t do that because theirs is more – you know – we go to them when we need expert advice on certain matters, whereas we are the ones dealing with the day to day kind of issues. So, it’s great to bounce ideas off sometimes, to understand what it’s like if you’re looking for a career change. If I wanted to move to private practice I’d chat to some of my CAMLA colleagues and say, ‘Can you tell me, what is it like? Because I love communications and media law. What’s it like working in that space in private practice’? And it’s a great way to just make – to develop friendships and not just networks and you get to learn quite a bit as well. So, last week we had a 101 on suppression and non-publication orders – not something that I work in at all on a day to day, but I learnt so much just from doing a Q & A with a couple of specialists in the area. So, it’s fantastic from that aspect as well and if there’s similar organisations or committees in Melbourne, I couldn’t be a bigger advocate for you guys to join or at least attend some events. They’re great.

SONJA: Definitely. I think it’s definitely beneficial to have insight from anyone in the industry or just in general to understand the different aspects involved. Could you share some of your challenges and highlights of your career so far, please?

CALLI: Sure. I’m very fortunate, I have quite a few highlights, but I think I’ll start with the challenges first, we can end it on a high.

SONJA: Okay.

CALLI: In terms of challenges, I think you guys touched on a couple already in terms of COVID and that was a very challenging time for, not just our business, but for the industry generally and the whole world. So, that’s been a big challenge and I think everyone learnt quite a bit through it. And coming out the other side and having this fantastic, you know, sports content that’s still going and all these great projects that we did to try and keep the momentum going and keep the interest there – that was the challenge, but it was a great learning experience. In a more practical sense, a challenge that I face in my day to day is that I work across the entire Foxtel group. So, whilst a lot of what I do is in the sporting world, I’m part of the Foxtel legal team. So, not only do I work on the Fox Sports products, but I help work with Foxtel products. Including our Foxtel for Business products and I work for Stream Motion who are our – they are our streaming service. So, they operate Kayo Sports, Binge and our Watch AFL and Watch NRL which are international streaming products. So, it’s a fantastic role, but it can be really challenging because I work for all these different business units, for all those different entities, and I want to support all of their ideas but I have to help juggle business interest, keep in line with our legal and regulatory obligations, advise around relationships with, you know, our contractual relationships and the like. And I need to make sure the businesses are talking to one another and collaborating. Sometimes, they don’t speak to one another because they are working on different projects. So, sometimes it’s important to say to the Kayo team, ‘Hey, have you spoken to the Foxtel Sports team about how you’re executing this’? Because sometimes there are clashes. Sometimes they are coming up with the same idea and I want to make sure that they know that. So, that’s a bit of a challenge but it keeps me on my toes which is great. And the fact that I get to be involved in, you know, so many different aspects of different businesses is just – it’s a fantastic opportunity. In terms of highlights, I’ll just give you guys my top three because I love what I do so I could go on for ages – but a couple of big ones for you. So, I – as part of my Fox Sports legal team from back in the day before we were a merged team – I was one of the lawyers that advised on and assisted with the build of Kayo Sports, which is Australia’s multi-sports streaming platform. That was at the end of 2017 when we started and it launched in, kind of, early 2018. So, I got thrown into that very early on in my time at Fox Sports and Kayo is a fantastic product. It was a big challenge because there was so much I needed to learn in such a short space of time and your workload kind of doubles straight away. So, I suppose, being part of that process and seeing the outcome and seeing the great product that Kayo is today is a game changer. I love it. I use it all the time. That’s a great pleasure to see the product and use the product now and say, ‘Hey, I helped build that’. Or I see bits and I’m like, ‘Oh, I advised on that’. It’s really cool. I think – oh yeah, recently as well Kayo did a pay-per-view event. That was the first one it ever did, and I got to work really close with the team on that so that was fantastic. And it was great initiative too because, as you guys would know, a lot of people were in lockdown for that fight and you’d normally go to a friend’s house or go to the pub to watch it. So, it’s great to give to people the opportunity to watch it and not need, you know, a Foxtel box at home to watch it. So that was really great. I also got to work on the build of Binge and I suppose, having the knowledge of Kayo, it was – I dare say – I don’t want to say a lot easier, but it was a lot simpler in some ways because the product base was kind of there and it was just working on customer flows and journeys and communication, like draft comms templates. I suppose, taking all of my knowledge and using it in a drama, entertainment and movies context, not a Sports context, which is a little bit different, something that I don’t normally get to do. So, that was really cool. And, I suppose, just a general highlight, which is not – don’t get to do it as much now because it’s in the office but I get to be around my favourite thing all day which is sports and people talking about sports. Not just games on the weekend but, okay, so we broadcast this match and, how can we make it better? And even though I don’t get to work on all that stuff, just hearing it, being around it and having the ability to put my two cents in for something that I love and watch every weekend is so fantastic. It’s pretty cool when you’re in the office, you go down for a coffee and there’s your favourite, you know, player or your heroes over there, getting a coffee and having a chat with someone. It’s very surreal, definitely was when I first started and I can say, it does not get any easier. I still get starstruck, I’ve just tried to reign it in a little bit. So, it’s pretty cool.

COCO: Yeah, that’s so cool. Definitely, very different, to kind of, the image of a private practice. 

CALLI: Yes. 

COCO: So, pretty exciting. And if you could give one key piece of advice to a law student hoping to follow your footsteps, and see their favourite sports players at coffee each day, what would it be?

CALLI: I think, when I was in probably your shoes I was very resigned to the fact that I had to take a certain path and I had to do things a certain way. But, if an opportunity knocks, take it. Introduce yourself to that person, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to, you know, put in an expression of interest in an organisation that you’d be keen to work at. Even if it’s just to have a coffee with someone to ask them what it’s like to work there. You’d be surprised how open people are to chatting to you, to giving you some advice, to introducing you to people or keeping you in mind, you know, next time there’s a job availability or if their friend works somewhere that might be good for you. So, take opportunities, don’t be afraid to ask questions and don’t be afraid to approach people because if I had known that I would have felt so much more comfortable leaving University and thinking about where my path could take me. Where I am now, I would not be if it was not for the fact that I, you know, tried different things. I went for an internship when I was already working for somewhere else. I took the opportunity and that was of great benefit because, you know, I wouldn’t be where I am now if I hadn’t done that. So, be brave and be bold and don’t be afraid. 

COCO: Good advice.

SONJA: Great pieces of advice, definitely relevant right now. Especially with the employment market for legal students coming out of COVID – it’s not that great at the moment. 

CALLI: Yeah, challenges. But look if there’s an entity that you’re interested in working for, just start a conversation with someone. It never hurts and, you know, I think senior people that work in those organisations are really flattered when young people do want to talk to them because you sometimes get into the flow and its everyday work and you don’t think that anyone is interested in what you do. But so many people are, which is – it’s very flattering but if you can use that knowledge – and I’m sure a lot of people would say the same thing – If I could use my knowledge to help, that’s great. I’d rather do that than just keep it all within me. So, yeah, don’t be afraid guys. 

SONJA: Definitely. And a final question: being Melbourne based we love our AFL, so which AFLW or AFL team do you back? Very important question. 

CALLI: It is a very important question. Don’t judge me, I am from Sydney, so I have to say the Swans. Although, a bit disappointing this season. It’s been interesting though because, I feel like, whatever you would have envisaged before the season started, there was such a big change. Like, look at Brisbane this season, West Coast couldn’t play when they were outside of WA and some of your Melbourne house teams have kept going well. So, you know, COVID – anything happens. But yeah, I have to say the Swannies and I’ve got my scarf in my drawer next to me. And I have been fortunate to get to go to some Swannies games but, you know, like, I’m always open to cheering for another team if it’s a great game. But yeah, Swans all the way. 

COCO: Love it. Well, thank you so much for joining us Calli, that was awesome and I’m sure our students will glean so much from what you’ve said. 

CALLI: Thank you so much for having me and yeah, good luck with everything guys. And you know, ask the questions and reach out to me if you ever want to have a chat. I’m more than happy to. 

COCO: You’ve been listening to ‘The Brief’ in collaboration with Melbourne Sports Law Association. This episode was hosted by Coco Garner Davis and Sonja Santa Maria. The theme song and sound was produced by Leah Alysandratos. A very big thank you to Call Tsipidis for chatting with us. Special thanks to Ashley Stocco for producing the transcript. Thanks also to all the FAME LSA committee members and ambassadors for their support, as well as Melbourne Sports Law Association’s for their support and the opportunity to collaborate. And thanks to YOU for listening. If you want to hear or learn more about FAME LSA, like us on Facebook and Instagram, and visit our website at famelsa.com. If you’re a lawyer working in the film, art, media, publishing, entertainment, or even sports space, or want to get involved with FAME, we would love to hear from you. Send us an email at general.famelsa@gmail.com

SONJA: Anyone interested in sports law and finding relevant opportunities, please ensure you follow Melbourne Sports Law Association on Facebook and visit our website.

Episode 5: Solicitor & Trademarks Attorney Sarah Ramsey-Caudle

INTRO

LEAH ALYSANDRATOS (FAME Careers and Sponsorship Coordinator): Hello and welcome to the FAME Law Students’ Association’s podcast: The Brief. For the uninitiated, FAME sands for the Film, Art, Media, and Entertainment. The FAME LSA is a group of students from Melbourne Law School who are passionate about the arts and culture.

In this podcast series, we chat with lawyers and artists working in the creative industries, learning about their daily work, career development, and topical issues facing the industry.

In today’s episode, Matthew interviews Sarah Ramsey-Caudle, a solicitor and trademarks attorney at Studio Legal, which is a boutique law firm specializing in protecting the creative Industries. As a person with a deep passion for design, Sarah uses her personal experience to express the importance behind having a genuine interest in your clients work. Moreover, as a Melbourne Law School alumnus, Sarah is one of the younger guests indulging our listeners with fresh advice as to how to understand your legal future and provides a real perspective on a Covid-19 transformed world. We hope you enjoy this episode. 

MATTHEW HEALY (FAME External Engagement Officer) : Hi, Sarah. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and where you work? 

SARAH RAMSEY – CAUDLE: Okay, I am Sarah Ramsey-Caudle and I work as a solicitor and trademarks attorney at Studio Legal, which is a fun little Boutique firm based in Windsor in Melbourne who represent clients predominantly in the creative industries. 

MATT: And what do you do at Studio Legal? What does your day to day look like?

SARAH:  It’s a really busy fast-paced little practice. So I do work across both the IP and Commercial practices, but I tend to have more of an IP focus, to be honest. So most of my work is in trademarks, copyright and designs and then I also do a little bit of commercial contracting for the more sort of IP heavy businesses.

So, the trademark side of things there’s a lot of trademark prosecution. So lots of trademark applications and sort of managing those all the way through to registration with IP Australia and dealing with anything that happens along the way like adverse reports or oppositions and that sort of thing. I also have a lot of copyright infringement matters, which I really like so that’s sort of my bread and butter. I guess a bit of ad hoc advice too, which is cool.  

We have a pretty varied client base at Studio Legal, which is amazing. So we’ve got people from all different sorts of industries and different sizes and stages of the business. So even though I’m doing a lot of the same work every day, it’s quite different. Most days are not really the same because it’s sort of involving different businesses in different industries. So it keeps me on my toes.

MATT: It’s almost a trick question. The response from everyone is that no day is the same. 

SARAH: Yeah. It really isn’t like it. Really. Yeah, I have can have the most like amazing day planned and it just will never happen. I’ve had to let go of my planning.

Matt: Something our members and other students love to hear about are the stepping stones that get you where you are today. We were just wanting to know what was your path to the law?

Sarah: So it’s a little bit random. I actually hadn’t really thought about a career in law, to begin with. I actually wanted to be a journalist.  I first started doing law/journalism as a double degree, but that degree was sort of you do a year straight journalism and then a year straight law. Journalism didn’t really grab me and the law was just to kind of an add on thing I suppose. 

It was a few years out of school that I came to the law. I had someone really close to me go through a reasonably public case which went to trial and Supreme Court of South Australia. So I grew up in Adelaide. I kind of took on a bit of a support person role for them during that process and that was really my first experience with the law. I guess for someone who’s not necessarily familiar with the law or it can be really complicated and confusing and to be honest pretty intimidating actually. 

So in that experience, I got an appreciation for and saw firsthand just how much trust and reliance people put in lawyers to help them navigate these things. So without giving too much of a cliche answer, I think that that was definitely a major drawcard. I love the idea of being able to do that for people. I guess aside from obviously how stressful and awful it was for the person involved I actually really enjoyed the process of being involved and sort of following it along and I’ve got on really well with the barrister. He said, ‘you know, you really getting this to be thought about doing law’ and I said, ‘oh, well, actually I started a law degree but I didn’t ever really get to it and it hasn’t even really thought too much about it’. And I’d actually let the law side of things go and I was sort of just going on with journalism at that point. So he said you should think about it. Then a few days later I sort of switched it over and was back doing law. 

But yeah, I guess in terms of the creative industries, I’ve always wanted to have a career that feels, you know, authentic for me. Something that I genuinely enjoy. Having a job just for the sake of it or just as a means to an end was never really something that appealed to me. So I always was pretty clear from the get-go that I wanted to be able to use my law degree in a way that aligns with this. I love fashion and art and design and beauty and all of those things so I had had some experience in those fields. So I think that was really where I developed an understanding of how important IP is in that space and how commercially valuable IP assets are and that’s what really sort of drew me to IP as a practice area. So yeah, and I sort of just did my law degree and ended up in insolvency actually straight out of uni figure. Figured out pretty quickly that wasn’t for me. And then I guess since then I sort of, you know been doing things to set me up to get a position like I’ve got now so doing more broad commercial roles as they came up, moving interstate and doing a master’s to get that specialized knowledge in the area.

Matt: I guess you’re proving the point that it’s easier to find your place if you really do have a passion for it. 

Sarah: Oh, yeah, for sure. Yeah. 

Matt: I just might bring you back to what you said about your creative experiences. Can you talk a bit more on them? 

Sarah: Yeah, so when I was straight out of school, I didn’t really 100% know what I wanted to do. I was sort of playing around with journalism and ended up doing Commerce degree somehow. I’m not sure how that happened. So in that time I was I guess a bit starved of creativity and I ended up doing makeup actually and I worked for Chanel as a makeup artist and that was sort of my little creative outlet. I’ve worked in fashion as well in styling and that sort of thing was always my creative outlet. Working with reasonably big well-known brands was really cool.

Matt: A good mix of the corporate space and the art space all in one

Sarah: Exactly right. I love art, I don’t do art but I really love it. Like I love going to galleries and seeing exhibitions and stuff like that and design. So I just love working with my like artist and design clients. 

Matt: I guess that allows you to defend and appreciate and come to it with an opinion yourself as well.

Sarah:  Yeah, definitely and it’s really cool like every time so often at Studio Legal some work come through and I’m like ‘oh my god, I love that. I love that business. Or his art’. Super exciting. That’s when you really do have that genuine passion for it an interest in your clients and what they do it makes you a better lawyer for sure. 

Matt:  Thank you for that summary Sarah. I know it’s long but it’s so important to hear those stepping stones and what brings you to those places. What do you consider to be essential skills and qualities for a successful lawyer working with clients from trademarks and copyrights perspective. 

Sarah: I think for trademarks definitely commercial acumen is really really important. You have to be able to really understand your clients business. Not sure how familiar you guys are with trademarks but obviously trademarks is a subset of IP. It’s all about protecting a brand and so you can’t just sort of have a trademark point blank, you have to have a trademark very specifically in relation to goods and services that you’re offering under that brand and so to be able to really come up with a good strategy and execute it and actively sort of defend your client’s branding you have to really have that understanding of what they’re doing with that branding. So I think that’s really important. 

And then copyright I think is more is more human. It’s more about people skills and empathy I think. At least from my experience and I’ve only had a few years under my belt,  the key thing for me that I’ve noticed in copyright cases, particularly those infringement matters where someone’s copyright has been infringed, is it’s not about money. They really don’t care about that, that’s very much a secondary consideration. So much personality and passion and soul that goes into creations and for artists, it’s an extension of themselves in a way and to have that copied, it’s almost like a violation of themselves and it’s really quite distressing for them. So having that empathy and valuing how important that is is really important because you know, I’ve had some people that are so they’ve dealt with lawyers and they sort of don’t really get it like this. For a lot of clients it’s actually about the apology and a public apology for copying their work and not attributing it and I guess that says why you’ve got moral rights in the copyright act as well as those that economic rights as well. 

So I think for a copyright lawyer if you don’t appreciate creativity and how much of someone’s soul goes into their work I think that’s really important. 

Matt: I know you said you’ve only been a lawyer for a very short period of time, but the reason your success and the reason for your current position and passion are that you have involved yourself and you have a personal interest for a long time. As a very recent MLS graduate, what do you think law students can do now while studying to realistically equip themselves for a career in the creative legal industries?

SarahOne thing that really I really wish I had done was put more emphasis on plain English drafting. I think there is such an emphasis in law school. It’s obviously a reasonably prestigious profession when it’s quite academic and there’s always sort of language that sounds really fancy and that’s amazing. But like in the creative industry like they’re just don’t care. Just say it how Especially when you’re drafting contracts, for example, we have this amazing photographer client. I love her work. She does really cool things with really big brands in Australia and we put together this contract for her and we sort of thought it was quite short. But it was too long! It such a skill to be able to transform convoluted and really unnecessary clauses into very short sharp, shiny and easily digestible language.

Matt: But also unambiguous and clear.

Sarah: Exactly. Often times you’re almost having to translate legal language which you know, you go through a law degree and you become so familiar with these sort of terms, but you forget that for someone who’s never come across the wall before, they just want to know basically, just cut to the chase. 

Matt: So clarity is so important and it’s important for clients especially. So how can we are students practice that clarity? 

Sarah: So I guess, it’s always easier said than done but try and get as much a real-world experience as you can like. I always think school doesn’t prepare you for your uni and your uni doesn’t prepare you for practice. You learn so much, but there’s so much more to practicing as a lawyer than what you sort of learn in theory a community. So even if it’s internships or you know, unpaid PLT placement, shadowing someone. Get as much as you possibly can and see how it works in real life so that you can sort of have that in your mind when you’re at Uni. So it was helpful for me when I was at Uni because I was working in these industries and I was sort of coming across, you know, skincare patents every day or, you know, I worked in a for a fashion label and there was an ongoing design infringement dispute. Being able to apply what you’re learning in a real-world example is important. So I’d encourage people to really prioritize that.

Don’t neglect or play down your creative flare. It’s just as important if not more. All of my colleagues are all DJ’s. It’s so important. It’s important to honour that side of yourself and nd prioritize it just as much as you prioritize your academic things. 

There are so many law students. There are so few jobs. Then you narrow that down so that niche part of the law being IP and the creative industries. If you’ve got a  lawyer who’s also a DJ or also Fashion Stylist or also an artist or also a designer you’re going to go with the lawyer plus Real World experience. 

Matt: It’s not about having extra things and bells and bells and whistles

Sarah: No, it’s about understanding. I think it just comes down to that genuine understanding and genuine interest and passion. I think that’s so important. There is a sort of misconception or outdated way of thinking that things like fashion and beauty and those sort of typically feminine things are, you know, superfluous or surface level and don’t necessarily go hand in hand with being a lawyer. When I was in my final year of law school my mentor put me in touch with someone very high up in the profession who specializes in IP. She’s on the bench. I was so excited because I have this meeting with her and I was just going to pick her brain about IP and how to get into the profession and all of those things and I left feeling really deflated because she said to me ‘you’re going to have to work three times as hard to get people to take you seriously because you know, you look a certain way you dress a certain way, you’re into fashion into makeup, very feminine bubbly and you sort of have that kind of persona. You’re going to have to work extra hard to get people to take you seriously.’

I remember thinking maybe not maybe I’m not cut out to be a lawyer. Maybe I shouldn’t be a lawyer. Maybe this isn’t for me. I think I mentioned earlier but I was always very clear that I wanted to practice law in a way that works for me and it felt genuine and that I genuinely enjoy. No one should have to sort of try and amend themselves or play themselves down to fit into, you know, a stereotype. The fact that I love fashion and all those things but that doesn’t make me any less good of a lawyer. I think in the area that I practice in it probably helps me be a great lawyer for my clients. I think particularly young females probably hide their femininity a little bit and most really feminine interests out of fear that it’s a little bit too fluffy and not serious and legal. 

Matt: I hope there’s a change in that conversation around embracing who you are no matter who you are. And that what makes you a good lawyer is not your gender scope or where you fit on a spectrum. It’s how hard you work and how passionate you are field of law. I wanted to thank you for telling us that story and I think it’s really important for young people to hear. 

Sarah: I think it is special and it’s the same for men. It’s not even it’s not just a female thing. It’s like if you are a guy and you’re into fashion and you’re in I don’t know film production or you’re an artist or you’re into music, like don’t lay down that side of yourself. Honour that side of yourself and prioritize it because it’s important.

Samara: No, I thank you for that because I think there’s a bit of confusion from what I hear from other women at the law school about expectations around that sort of thing. Whether we do need to present ourselves as more feminine or less feminine and what happens if we don’t wear makeup to work.

Matt: Returning back to what you do at studio legal. How have you had to adapt to covid?

Sarah: Obviously about all working from home and you know to transition to zoom and meetings instead of coffee meetings. I think most people have adapted really well to this virtual meeting way of life.

I think we always sort of still try and prioritize face-to-face as much as we can. So instead of just email or phone, we do like to jump on a Zoom call, even to put a face to the name and connect with our clients as best we can. Going to court via Microsoft Teams is really weird. That’s one thing that I’m still not sure how I feel about it.

I’m just so used to going into court and getting a bit nervous and making sure that like you bow at the right time and sit and stand at the right time and like. I just feel a bit strange on Teams, you look nice from here up and you’re wondering if the judge knows I’m in my pyjamas!

Matt: Has it had an impact on formality?

Sarah: It’s made things so much more seamless. I was having this conversation with our barrister the other day, it could take up sometimes a whole day just to have a case management hearing. And it’s really good. Now you can just have the case management hearing it’s over and done in half an hour. It’s so much more efficient and cost-effective for clients, so I think it is really actually beneficial in that way, but it’s just weird being in court in your pyjamas. I still actually still put my life after work clothes on! 

Matt: I can only imagine. I was actually listening to a judge and he was saying he’s getting so much more work done. Writing judgments the quickest that he’s ever written them because he doesn’t have the two hours of travel

Sarah: I actually think I’ve been I think we all have been way more productive at home. I love a chat with colleagues but at home, it’s so much less distraction and you can actually just sit down and make get all of your work done. It’s been actually quite good for productivity. 

Matt: What parts of covid normal do you see going forward and what of those benefits do you think will carry forward?

Sarah: Yeah, I will be interesting to see what happens with the courts and whether they will keep these sort of yeah virtual court hearings for the more administrative cases. I’d like to see that continue. I mean, for example, most IP cases as you know are in the federal courts and the IP specialist judges based in Sydney. So I think that’s something I would like to see continued. I think it’s great for lawyers and for clients. Because now there’s not that sort of barrier to connecting you can connect virtually, we’re servicing clients all around Australia. So our business has actually grown.

There’s not that pressure to have an in-person meeting anything. Now you can organize a zoom call, you can do work remotely and you don’t need to have that sort of physical presence necessarily. 

Matt: There was always that sense that the legal industry was one of those that couldn’t do it online. You just need that face-to-face and it’s so invigorating to know that we can do it. 

Sarah: Oh we can absolutely do it. Absolutely. I mean, I think there definitely be more flexible workplace arrangements for the law because now they have seen that we can work effectively from home. So I think that that’s going to be really positive particularly for you know, lawyers, men and women who have a young family, you know, I think where law firms will be hesitant to sort of allow working from home. I think for Studio legal and  I hope industry-wide as well, but I guess going to be a big shake-up for the legal industry. 

Matt: As a talented IP lawyer, where would you like to progress within the industry? Where do you see yourself going? 

Sarah: Well, thank you. That’s very flattering. To be honest. I actually just really love what I’m doing at the moment. I’m really just sort of relishing the role that I’m in at the moment. I’m still very early on in my career. I’m really just enjoying where I’m at. And you know learning from the more senior lawyers who have this really specialized knowledge and hopefully I will progress through the firm in the sort of near future, but I guess beyond the sort of immediate few years. I mean, who knows? I just feel like I’m in the right space and I feel happy and fulfilled in my work. So I guess I’ll just see what opportunities come my way and how it all progresses and make my decisions based on that.

I think like most people who are lawyers are very planned with their lives.I used to be very like that perhaps to a fault. But now I’m kind of just happy to let my career unfold as it will because I know that I’m in the right space as I said and that’s something I’m really grateful for because I think it’s reasonably rare to find your thing so early. Especially in the law. 

Matt: Thank you so much, Sarah. I just have one question for you. So what’s your favourite legal movie / TV show? 

Sarah: Oh, I could be very cliche here and say Suits because I do love Suits but my actually my favourite legal movie ever… Pelican Brief. Have you seen that movie with Julia Roberts? It’s a good one. Honestly, it’s really really good. 

Matt: Thank you so much, Sarah, for your time. 

Sarah: You’re so welcome. Thank you for having me. 

OUTRO

Leah: You’ve been listening to The Brief with FAME LSA. This episode was hosted by Matthew Healy and Samara Jones. The theme song and sound was produced by Leah Alysandratos. A very big thankyou to Sarah Ramsey-Coudle for chatting with us. A special thanks to Samara Jones for producing the transcript which is available on our website. Thanks also to all the FAME LSA committee members and ambassadors for their support. And thanks to you for listening! 

If you want to hear or learn more about FAME LSA, like us on Facebook and Instagram, or visit our website at famelsa.com. If you’re a lawyer working in the film, art, media, publishing or entertainment space and want to get involved with FAME, we’d love to hear from you. Send us an email at general.famelsa@gmail.com.

Behind the Curtain – with Stephen Curtis

As the Arts Industry bends in the wake of government funding cuts and covid-normal operations, Production Designers for stage and screen are facing new challenges. Additionally, designers are having to navigate a shifting culture in their contractual relationships with theatre companies. 

FAME LSA’s Laura McKenzie sat down with Stephen Curtis of the Australian Production Design Guild (APDG) to talk about shifting relationships between production designers and theatre companies, against the broader backdrop of Australia’s arts Industry.

Can you tell me about the work that production designers do and the usual terms of their employment with theatre companies?

The APDG represents both live performance and screen designers in Australia. I am Chair of the chapter of the Guild that represents live performance designers working in the fields of drama, dance, physical theatre, events and musical theatre. We conceive the world of the production on stage – how it looks, works and what it means. We work closely with the director to dream up everything you see on stage; the sets, costumes and lighting for the production. We then follow through to manage the making of the production with the theatre technicians and costume and set makers, right up to opening night. 

Live performance designers in Australia generally work freelance as sole traders and are contracted to the production company. Occasionally a designer might be on staff as an employee of the company. Some film designers also work within their own companies.   

Freelance live performance designers have traditionally had a very strong creative relationship with the company, working closely with them and their staff to make the production. It has been creatively symbiotic, where both the company and the designer are mutually dependent. Although we are technically not part of the company, we are working very closely within it. This relationship has worked very well for both the designers and the companies – we have been able to support each other to make the best possible production. 

Image: Cursed! Currently showing at Belvoir Theatre with set design by Stephen Curtis. Lynette Curran, Sacha Horler and Chenoa Deemal, image by Daniel Boud https://belvoir.com.au/productions/cursed/#CjnymqycvMw

How has this relationship shifted in recent times? 

Designers are noticing more and more that companies are trying to define us legalistically as ‘contractors’. While we do work under contract to the company, our working relationship is quite different to what we might think of as a normal contractor. For example, we work with the company’s staff to make the show, within the schedule the company sets, and are realistically working under their management. 

When the Guild has asked companies why they are wanting to define designers as contractors their response tends to be around fear of liability. I think many areas of industrial relations are being affected by this shift of liability and risk back on to the worker. By defining us as ‘contractors’ we would be expected to have our own liability and other insurance covers. Some companies are even trying to use the contractor definition to withhold paying the employer superannuation contribution. 

Do you think that the increasing strain put on the Arts Industry is contributing to theatre companies taking a stricter approach to enforcing definitions of ‘contractor’?

Yes, I do. Every arts company is under financial pressure, and even more so with reduced audience numbers due to COVID requirements to keep audiences socially distanced. But I don’t think this shifting of liability is really a financial matter. It’s more one of risk-aversion. Ironically the risk is not actually a significant one for the company, since the designer is covered by their insurances anyway when we are working in their premises, and most of the legal liability issues are specifically addressed in the contract. I think the change in culture probably comes more from the increasingly corporatized nature of the workplace and their desire to eliminate any potential legal ambiguity of obligation. But this is the same ‘happy ambiguity’ that is the key to the success of the co-creative relationship between companies and designers.

Image: The Secret River Set design, by Stephen Curtis from The Sydney Theatre Company

As a member of the Australian Production Design Guild, you often come across cases of young designers grappling with these contracts and what to do. What has been the Guild’s advice?

Yes, young designers especially are being thrown by these new clauses in contracts. We advise designers that these ‘contractor’ obligations are new obligations. We encourage them to go back to the company and ask why they are being asked to define themselves as a contractor. I have done this quite successfully – where the general manager listened to the argument of our mutual dependency and we were able to negotiate a fair and mutually beneficial outcome.  

We also advise that designers need to make their own decisions about risk-management and decide what professional insurance covers they need. For example, they might  decide to take out cover for when they are working in their own studios where they might not be covered by the company’s insurances. 

And finally, we advise that if they intend to sign the contract and accept the new liability obligations then they should add this cost to their fee. This is a new cost to the designer, and if the company is going to treat us like a contractor, then we need to add this new cost to our fees as a plumber or consultant would. 

What do you think could settle the confusion around the terms on which to engage Product Designers and set the new precedent for these relations going forward?

The Guild has informally sought legal advice and have learned that this area of law is very unclear. It would probably have to go to a test case in the Fair Work Commission to determine our legal status and contractor liabilities. These cases are notoriously very dependent on the fine detail of the employer/employee relationship. 

It is also possible that the legal environment is shifting a little under pressure from Gig-economy workers, and we may see some reversal to the hard-nosed pattern of employers shifting responsibility to their workers. I am hopeful! 

ImageL Georgia Adamson, Madeleine Madden, Frances Djulibing and Ningali Lawford-Wolf in Sydney Theatre Company’s The Secret River. Photograph by Heidrun Löhr/Sydney Theatre Company from The Guardian. Set design by Stephen Curtis.

The APDG manages to do a lot of advocacy and advising for production designers largely without engaging a lawyer. In what scenarios have you engaged a lawyer’s help? Do you feel there is more room for legal assistance and if so, what factors prevent the guild from accessing that support? 

The Guild is not a union and most live performance designers do not feel the MEAA Award really covers them. Most of the APDG’s advocacy work is in the form of advising designers on potential options of negotiation, and occasionally acting as an intermediary for them with the company. Theatre is a bit like a big family, and I have found most companies relatively amenable to negotiating a fair position when faced with a fair argument. When companies don’t do the right thing, word gets out pretty quickly. 

We have sought legal advice on the two key resource documents the Guild has put together for designers: the Standard Live Performance Design Agreement, and the Live Performance Guidelines. On both occasions this advice was provided pro bono. We also have an account with the Arts Law Centre.

We are a volunteer organisation and try to keep our costs down so that membership subscriptions can be contained. So, employing a legal team to fight the contractor definition in the Fair Work Commission has not really been an option for us. Should an opportunity for legal help arise in an affordable mechanism , we’d be excited to pursue that.

Finally, despite Melbourne’s lockdown,you’re currently working in Sydney on the set design for a show planned to begin in October! Can you tell me about this show and how it has adapted to the restrictions of the pandemic? 

I really feel for our Victorian members. We speak to a group of them every week to check in, and they are remaining stoic. Some have found ways to use the lockdown to plan future projects, but some have been really knocked by the collapse of the theatre industry. We were one of the first industries to lock down and will probably be one of the last to open back up. But there are some signs of theatres opening again. The first was in South Australia – STCSA opened Gaslight a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve started rehearsals for a new First Nations comedy at Belvoir in Sydney. Some of the creative team will be zooming in remotely, which will be a challenge. The audience will need to socially distance and wear masks, so the house will be at a fraction of the normal capacity. It will be very strange, but there is a tremendous will from us all to make it work.