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Friends in the Biz: Craig A. Emanuel, Esq.

Friends in the Biz: Craig A. Emanuel, Esq.

We are featuring this interview with Craig Emanuel, Partner and Chair, Los Angeles Entertainment Department, Loeb & Loeb. He is one of the most recognizable players on the indie circuit. His resume is impressive and worth reading, so here we go:

Craig Emanuel’s practice includes representation of high level writers, directors, actors and producers in all aspects of motion picture and television transactions, both at the studio and independent level.

Craig is also involved in the negotiation of strategic distribution relationships with the major studios including licensing of digital media content.

Mr. Emanuel has a background in representing European banks in film finance transactions and has experience in the structuring of international co-productions.

Mr. Emanuel counsels advertisers and other media clients on a variety of issues and transactions ranging from sponsorship agreements, media and celebrity placement agreements to matters related to branded entertainment.

Mr. Emanuel’s talent clients include directors Tony Gilroy, Robert Rodriguez, Ryan Murphy, Gabriele Muccino, Iain Softley, Peter Chelsom, Russell Mulcahy, Alex Proyas, Stephan Elliott, Dan Harris and Gary Scott Thompson and actors Jennifer Beals, Julie Delpy, Leelee Sobieski, Vanessa Marcil and Paul Hogan. His producer clients include Mark Ordesky, Cathy Schulman, Anthony Bregman and Don Murphy. He has also been involved in the structuring of a large number of independent films on behalf of both talent and producer clients.

Mr. Emanuel serves as legal counsel to the Sundance Institute advising them in matters pertaining to the Sundance Film Festival, including the negotiation of sponsorship agreements as well as negotiating other strategic relationships.

In addition, Mr. Emanuel is on the advisory board for the Los Angeles Film Festival and is frequently asked to speak at film festivals and entertainment industry-specific events including the Annual UCLA Entertainment Symposium and the Women in Film and Television Summit. Mr. Emanuel was previously a moderator at the Middle East International Film Festival (MEIFF) in Abu Dhabi.

We have known Craig as a friend and colleague for many years here in LA and ‘on the circuit’ here in the US and internationally (Cannes, Berlin etc).

Craig hails from Oz, raised in Melbourne. He came to LA in 1985 and (I love this detail) played piano at Chaya Brasserie on the Westside of LA during his early years here to make a living.

His professional background is in independent finance and advertising.

‘Craig, what are the biggest challenges for our business?’

(CE) How do you get eyeballs? When a film is not on TV how do you get them? That’s a very big issue for all of us.

‘So…? What’s the future for our business?’

(CE) 80% of my day I deal with clients who are asking me ‘what business should we get into?’. This is because in recent years the structure and economics of studio deals have radically changed. Studios seem only interested in being in the tent-pole business now. It is amazing in speaking to writers today who are going into the studios to “pitch” new ideas. They area now being told “come to us with a movie idea that has two additional films behind it.!” This is because they all have so many other businesses they are connected to and their products are connected to. A film is not just a stand alone venture. Businesses include real estate, theme parks, web businesses, products, merchandising, music, brands and so on. Recently a good film like ‘Toy Story’ stands out because it drives so many other aspects of the studio business.

(CE) This above approach has a depressing effect on indie films, which are not made from the tent pole point of view, for better or worse. Sadly it seems that theatrical for most indie films is dying and is becoming the exception. The objective for a producer and certainly for a director has always to get as many eyeballs as possible viewing a film. The truth is indie theatrical numbers are mostly bad. No one wants to spend the kind of P &A they need to get a meaningful release and so what chance to they really have? So now we see theatrical windows shortening, when indies do get a theatrical shot. The majority of indies now are not getting theatrical. Also the technology, with big home screens, is making theatrical less relevant to audiences. I mean what are they missing? What indie films need to do to thrive is to target audiences, and go for their demographic. actors One solution to help encourage audiences to keep going to see indie films in the theatre is to create better theaters and improve the film going experience (here in LA the Arclight chain and even the Landmark are good examples with gift shops, cafes, reserved seats and top screening rooms). Many of the theatres which house indie films often have projection and sound quality that is far worse than we can see at home, where you also get the benefit of more comfortable seating and the ability to have a glass of wine. Certainly in Australia and in many European countries really good luxurious screening rooms show indie films which ultimately have resulted in a broader range of such films being available to the interested audience. Finally in the US we are now starting to see the development of VIP cinemas and screening rooms where for a little extra money, the experience becomes far more worth while.

The challenge for the indie filmmaker and producer is how to finance their films? The changing economics of how business has not made this easier. The downturn in many foreign countries in terms their willingness to buy indie product, as well as the significant decline in the US theatrical release market, even with many states and countries offering tax incentives to encourage film production, has now helped in any material way. All of this has resulted in a smaller number of films being made and certainly those that are getting made are being done with lower budgets, and reduced fees for writers, directors and producers.

‘Documentary filmmaker Joe Berlinger is currently fighting his case versus Chevron. A verdict in Berlinger’s case, which may come out soon, could require that the filmmaker release to Chevron some of the footage shot for his 2009 film, “Crude: The Real Price of Oil.” This can have a paralyzing effect on independent filmmakers and their documentaries. What do you think?’

(CE) With regard to the recent decision on the Berlinger film, this is obviously of great concern as I believe, particularly documentary filmmakers, must have the ability to know that their sources will be protected. (This) failing … there is a real risk that many of the documentaries we get to see, particularly those addressing sensitive issues, will never make the light of day as people will become reluctant to speak about sensitive topics or provide footage of potentially challenging material.
(CE) I think the one area where the issue becomes more complicated is if a filmmaker doing research on a documentary has access to information which they believe to be true and then fail to include that information thereby painting a false and deceptive position with regard to the subject matter of the film. It is my belief that documentary filmmakers do have a degree of responsibility to present a somewhat fair and impartial point of view about the subject matter they are discussing and certainly should not be withholding information that they have which they believe may be detrimental to their arguments as otherwise they are defeating the purpose of what a documentary is supposed to be.

‘I am curious as to your thoughts about art versus commerce in film as a medium.’

(CE) On the issue of “art” and “commerce”, there is no doubt today that some films are purely made with “commerce” as the driving force. Often those kinds of movies do not depend upon well written scripts, but are often more about the number of explosions, the number of jokes, the number of scenes that make you jump out of the seat, etc. Done well, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a great “popcorn” movie. The original “Iron Man” is a perfect example of such a movie.
(CE) There are still a number of filmmakers who have a story to tell that is not purely driven by “commerce” and for them, the “art” is still a driving force. That is not to say that every filmmaker wouldn’t like their film to be commercially successful. By definition, a filmmaker wants his/her film to be seen by as many “eyeballs” as possible. Sadly, the challenge today is for those filmmakers to be able to find the financing for these movies and then to find an audience that gets an opportunity to see them outside of a festival setting. Even films at the $2m-$3m budget range continue to be challenging. It is not enough to have a film that has one the Jury Prize or Audience Prize at Sundance or Toronto. Even those filmmakers continue to struggle to find financiers willing to take the plunge unless there is “bankable” cast attached which seems slightly ludicrous at that kind of budget level.

‘Lastly, and this is a mandate for the blog, what problems do you see today for women in the biz?’

(CE) I rep a lot of women working today in our business and I see lots of problems prevalent to this moment. The numbers of women in TV and the studios are not high. I mean there’s lots of women involved but overall the numbers are quite depressing. Especially in the area of women directors and women as decisive executives. The numbers are not great.

(CE) Actresses still get harassed all the time. Then the decision is whether to speak up and fight or ‘to bear it’. Women producers are made to feel uncomfortable due to their gender. Then they are put in the intolerable position of, ‘how not to make a stink!’

For me to hear this straight from an attorney kind of shocked me. He says it with such authority. I thought surely harassment of actresses and producers had decreased since I started in the business and that kind of crass behavior did not even have a name yet. I guess for every case of sexual harassment we read about, there are many undisclosed cases where women must “grin and bear it” if they want to work again. And as for the numbers of women executives and directors – the men in power do not even recognize it as a problem. It is time women speak up together.


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