February 7, 2019
Job Talk: Career Paths, Entertainment Law
The entertainment business undoubtedly would be non-existent without the legal and business minds that shape its landscape and keep the cameras rolling. Hollywood is not a fairytale land where motion pictures/television programs magically develop when talent walks in the room. There are intense negotiations, contract drafting, marketing, production work, etc. that the entertainment-loving community doesn’t fully appreciate. Entertainment lawyers, agents, and executives may not bask in the stardom and get the recognition they deserve, however, Hollywood's biggest actors and influencers would never see their day on screen without their extraordinary work efforts.
Southwestern has been known to develop successful entertainment lawyers, being consistently ranked in the Hollywood Reporter's "America's Top Ten Entertainment Law Schools." One Southwestern Alum who has quickly made a name for himself is Michael Ashjian, Associate Counsel for the television business and legal affairs department at Endeavor Content.
You want a career in a talent agency?
Michael always wanted to work for a talent agency, so prior to joining Endeavor Content, he spent two years in the business affairs department at William Morris Endeavor’s (WME). He explained that for those interested in pursuing a career in a talent agency, it's important to pick from the two distinct paths for lawyers within the agency: the agent training program or business and legal affairs department. First, Michael explained that agents find and represent deals. Agents are the mouthpiece of their client, their sole purpose is to represent the interests of the talent. They constantly are shopping their clients around town to ensure they remain employed and work to cultivate creative packages to initiate projects. Michael emphasized the path to an agency is not for the faint of heart. Aspiring agents must receive a college degree, and the first and most notorious stop is in the mailroom (not covered in law school). Next, a hopeful agent trainee will have to claw their way onto an agent’s assistant's desk, where they will typically remain for several years. After grinding away, often in multiple departments, the assistant can be promoted to a coordinator of a specific department, where they will work under the supervision of other agents and manage the department's deal flow. Then, if you meet all the criteria and performance expectations as a coordinator, congratulations! You are an agent! Now the real work begins, as agents are at the beckoning call of their client 24/7.
On the contrary, Michael started directly in the business affairs department, and primarily handled the representation agreements for the entire agency, along with supporting the motion picture business affairs group. Currently, in his position at Endeavor Content, Michael's role consists of business and legal affairs for television projects as part of the company’s advisory services independent producers and production companies. That means drafting and negotiating agreements for above the line talent agreements, writer agreements, and producer agreements. Michael is in constant contact with Endeavor's physical production team, finance, and creative executives to make sure all business and legal aspects of the project are moving forward correctly and properly. The path to business affairs differs significantly from the agent-training program. There is no mailroom experience, the path is paved by externships, contacts, and work experience.
Whichever path chosen, Michael has given a few crucial pieces of advice to follow. (1) Gain experience (2) Gain exposure and network (3) Invest in yourself. First, in this industry, one cannot be frightened to put themselves out there. Michael explained that you need to make your presence known. Do whatever it takes, contact alumni, get lunch, go to networking events, to let a possible employer know that you are completely ready to invest yourself in your success. Hollywood is a small town; you never know who you will meet and what they can provide for you, so it's important to maintain a positive reputation.
Michael could not stress enough the importance of gaining experience early, working as many externships as possible, and getting a strong understanding for the business. Michael, for example, worked five internships and was the Director of Arpa International Film Festival before he found a home at Endeavor. He expressed he is still learning the trade, industry, and developing his contract drafting techniques. So get that experience early, you have a lot to learn!
Most importantly, as noted prior, one must be ready to invest themselves in the industry completely. Hollywood and the entertainment business is a fast-paced and demanding environment. Many aspects are unfortunately last minute and require employees to put their lives on hold.
Ultimately, Michael could not picture himself working in a different industry. He expressed the pure excitement of working on deals that everyone in the industry can see come to fruition. Michael has a passion for the entertainment industry and what it represents, he thrives in the forward moving environment and has dedicated himself to success by remaining extremely flexible and putting his career first.