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Episode 254: Interview with Entertainment Lawyer Joshua Lastine

business tips Oct 18, 2023

About Joshua Lastine:

Joshua Lastine, Esq., Entertainment Business and Transactional Attorney is the Founder and Managing Partner at Lastine Entertainment Law. 

A strategic negotiator, fierce advocate for talent, and a practical problem solver, Lastine strengthens his counsel with an ineffable passion for show business, its players, and creators. 

As a former Lionsgate and ViacomCBS attorney, Joshua Lastine launched Lastine Entertainment Law in 2021, formally Lastine Impressions, to protect the artistry and livelihood of actors, production companies, writers, producers, directors, animators, social media influencers, and podcasters. 

In his representations on behalf of entertainment talent clientele, including rights acquisitions, development/production deals, branding/commercial advertising deals, talent deals, and other contracts for new media, social media, and the Internet 3.0, Joshua Lastine has an intrinsic aptitude for structuring deals and closing contracts that are shaping the future of the entertainment industry. 

In addition to his legal negotiations, Lastine also serves as an adjunct lecturer on entertainment business law at The Los Angeles Film School, further impelling the future of the entertainment space and its novices. Joshua’s production legal and talent transactions have spanned a wide breadth of media and projects from $100M+ Netflix series to $30K YouTube branding, endorsement, and commercial deals. To learn more visit, Follow on LinkedIn and Instagram.

Let's talk about protecting ourselves and how the law can help us to do that. 

User generated content creators.

It's anyone really nowadays with the creative backbone. I think that's one of the great things about technology and where we are.

There's a lot of downsides and we can talk about that in a bit, but one of the great things about technology and where it's at today is that it really. Democratizes the creative endeavors. I'm a lawyer and I can now start to exercise my creative fingers in a way that I never could before because of the apps and because of the different technologies and algorithms.

I think we've all become more savvy in how we figured out to, to express ourselves and create art. I think it's unfortunate now that art and entertainment is being referred to as content, but that's still really what it is.

Whether you're creating content for YouTube, you're creating content for TikTok, you're creating content for Instagram or you're creating products and services that blend the line. 

User generated content refers to anyone with a creative backbone that wants to make something cool. And then try to maybe find a way to, to monetize, exploit, and expand on that idea.

For every television show, there's a head of business and legal affairs, a head of production legal that supervises the day to day happenings of the show, whether it's the contracts for all of the actors showing up on set that day, getting the transportation in place, craft services.

The visual effects deals, transportation of large scale assets, planes, trains, automobile pieces all the way through the final credit roll, watching the final credits and making sure that all the credits align with the deals that I had negotiated through the season. 

Doing that on a season by season basis for those shows, building a rapport and in a relationship with the shows themselves to make sure that we're getting what they need done to make the show because at that time, shows like Transparent, Man in the High Castle, I Love Dick which came on a little bit later.

These were first of their kind in 2016, 2017 in terms of Amazon shows. They did a lot to push the envelope in terms of what we could do on TV. I was party to many a nudity writer negotiation with many stars, where we did, nude simulated sex orgies. And we did things like hang swastikas in Canadian subway rails to film scenes for Man in the High Castle.

And it's my job as the attorney was to liaise with the line producer, the unit production manager, the guys on the ground to get all of the deals done, to make sure that filming stayed on schedule and that the company is protected and that, most importantly, in my opinion, that the people on set are protected. 

We do a lot with stunts, we do a lot with practical effects, prop guns swinging from buildings, insurance, putting people in helicopters. I'm also part of those discussions to make sure that those people are protected. So it's a lot that goes into overseeing a television show or a feature film through the production side. That's part of what I do at my law firm. 

The other side is the more traditional talent representation, representing actors, writers, directors to negotiate their contracts.

Why does an actor need a manager, an agent, and a lawyer? 

We love our agent manager friends to death and we work very closely with them, but oftentimes there's a lot that gets left off the table.

I myself, when I work as representing the studio or the production company, I'm the one negotiating against the actors, agents and managers. And I can see those deals. And I can tell you with experience that an actor may get 40, 50, 60 percent of the deal on the table with an agent or manager, but as soon as they bring in a lawyer and it's the three of them working in tandem, they're getting just about everything on the table.

But really, also the devils in the details with regards to the contract especially nowadays studios are taking a wider position in what they can do with an artist's name, voice, and likeness, what they can do with their image. And how it can be exploited.

And, I think even actors at a certain level, even series regular, reoccurring guest stars, special guest stars, people with speaking lines and stuff like that, they can ask for reasonable restrictions on how their name, voice, and likeness is used. And obviously that builds your precedent up as you move on in your career.

Obviously, the bigger you are in your career, if you're Margot Robbie or Anya Taylor Joy, it's a big fight to be had but there are small things that an attorney can ask for that just can up your game and make you seem a little bit more sophisticated and increase your precedent for your next gig.

I think when you start making some serious money and you start making a serious living off of being an actor, it would be wise to reach out and start building a relationship.

What we should be doing in this industry as seed planting, right? Every single job interview that I go on, in business and legal affairs with a studio, every time I have lunch with an agent, manager, attorney, an actor I'm planting a micro seed that someday we will potentially probably work together again.

You never know where these relationships are gonna lead and gonna go.

If, and let's say you take on an actor, what does that look like? Is there a retainer? How does the actor lawyer relationship begin?

So typically for my actors, we engage on a standard 5 percent deal, meaning I'll take a 5 percent gross commission for the contracts that I negotiate and work on myself. There's no form of exclusivity the way that there might be with an agent or manager. You don't have to keep coming back to me.

Although the better the relationship, the better I understand and know your needs, the better it is for me to be able to communicate and advocate on your behalf. 

I'll give you a good example. One of the actresses I represent has asthma, and that's something that I didn't quite know. But she was on a film set and there was heavy smokers around and I found out way later, way after the fact.

And, that is an easy phone call or an easy conversation that a lawyer can make that maybe an agent or manager might not want to make or, oftentimes we get put in the uncomfortable position of being the bad guy. 

If you are getting deals, you're getting engagements, you're getting work, that's just an easy 5 percent deal.

If you are wanting more help developing your behind the camera services, you want to be a writer, you want to be a director, you want to be a content creator in your own right. We will usually charge an hourly rate or a flat rate for something like that. 

Once you become part of the law firm family, we have lots of dinner parties and receptions and meetups between clients. So plug into the lasting entertainment law rolodex and really just build that community, build that relationship. 

A lot of, being an actor [00:13:00] is really the dedication to your craft and learning how to grow and show up to that position. I think a lot of people want to be actors, maybe not for the right reasons. You got to be truly talented in your own right.

But the actors that I do represent, the actors that are on my roster, I will try to, recommend or suggest them or help them take general meetings with my current existing clients, or if there's somebody that they want to build a relationship, they feel very strongly and I already have that preexisting relationship.

Maybe it's something we can work on together, but not as a general. 

When do you know you need a lawyer? 

Entertainment Law School 101. In America, in the United States, there is no protection for unexpressed, unwritten down ideas.

On the flip side of that, the beauty of how the United States copyright law works is if an original work of authorship is fixed in a tangible medium, that work of authorship qualifies for copyright protection and has copyright protection at common law. So the second your pen hits paper and starts writing, the second you start painting with a paintbrush, start creating with your keyboard, the ultimate creative expression of that work is going to have some level of common law copyright protection.

It behooves you when you have some more of a concrete final product to register for federal copyright protection, it's $65. It's not a lot of money, but in  that instance, you qualify for what is known as statutory damages. If there is a lawsuit for whatever reason later on, you can bring it in federal court, and it's a little bit meatier than just relying on common law copyright protections.

But, at the end of the day I think it's Picasso who said it, good artists borrow, great artists steal. Deep Impact and Armageddon came out the same year, and anyone can rip you off at any time. Really, what you need to do to protect yourself is to grow and expand your brand on as many different platforms between your social media pages, between YouTube.

You need to develop that idea and make your brand as expansive as possible. And really, it's a tricky thing, but what Disney does is they rely more on trademark protection than they do actual copyright protection. The Mickey Mouse copyright is going to go into public domain in 2024.

So long as they're exploiting his image as a trademark in merchandising, it has more qualified protections. And really the best thing that you can do is plant your flag and say, “Hey, I'm here and make it known and open and notorious.” This is your idea and this is what you're doing.

And do a little bit of due diligence to see if there's anyone else out there. Doing something similar because that is really a barrier towards monetization. 

If I'm a buyer and I'm in, and someone brings me an idea and I'm looking at it and I'm saying, “Hey, there's a hundred of these other things just like it.”

It's not original. I am not going to take the risk on it. 

So, do due diligence yourself, make sure the idea isn't already exploited. B, make yourself as big and loud like a puffer fish as possible. So you can try to create and protect your brand, start to create merch and you can qualify for trademark protection in that, get your copyright protections and fill out your creative ideas in various medias.

When do you think it is a good idea for a creator to start thinking, “hey, maybe I need somebody on my side?”

When there's actual money on the table being had that starts to say, “hey, you know what, there are sophisticated players at the table. Maybe we should have someone relook at the paperwork. Maybe we should have things done correctly by a lawyer.”

And then number two, I would say if this is your baby, if this is your project, if this is your investment, if this is your life's work, then it really is worth the $500, $1000. 

I do free consultations, free 15 minute consultations, but to draft paperwork and make sure paperwork secure work for higher agreements, transfer rights, spending $1500 to make sure that your project is protected is a drop in the fucking bucket.

Talk to me about the current trends. Let me articulate it with a little story. I was at the variety marketing summit back in March. And, lots of executives in the advertising marketing space world.

That's not really where I do a lot of my business. I'm working with actors, I'm working with writers, directors, producers, and I'm making shows and making content. But the number one thing that I took out of that meeting is how they are blending these areas and how advertisers are striking back with a vengeance in kind of a way, since the Netflix and the streamers of them all have kicked them out for the last 10 years, they are interested in creating TV shows around more products and services like Chipotle and whatever.

If you look at the top grossing films this year, we had Nike, Blackberry, Super Mario Brothers, Barbie. These are products and brands and not the same IP temples like the Star Wars and Marvel that we saw in years past. 

I think Gen Z and now Gen Alpha, who's coming up, have a very different way of interacting with entertainment.

So if you are an actor, Focus 100% on your craft and build that out first, but also look at ways that you can, monetize and do use social media, Tik TOK and YouTube and how you can start to think about yourself as a 360 brand business.

I don't like that idea per se, in a world full of Zendayas and Sydney Sweeney's it's what it takes to get there.

But you can capitalize on making content in a niche world for something that you like, say toy collecting and you're going to find your audience out there if you're true and authentic and it's something that you're passionate about and love. 

I think that at the macro level, we're going to have to decide what we want to address as a society, as humanity because it is something that threatens every specific industry as it relates to actors and writers. I think it's atrocious. The idea that you could take an actor's likeness and decide that you're going to own it and reuse it in perpetuity for the rest of your life as it relates to the final embodiment in a film or TV project, of course, but you don't own that person's image It's something that I believe is going to have to take a fundamental shift in government and in legislation that maybe recognizes the individual right of self likeness.