In this installment of Office Hours, a series of immersive conversations between Gould faculty, learn what it’s like to study entertainment law — and why understanding contracts and digital media transactions is important for aspiring entertainment professionals.
Josh Ludmir, attorney and shareholder in the Entertainment & Media Practice at Greenberg Traurig, LLP, teaches entertainment law courses for the Online Master of Studies in Law degree program at USC Gould School of Law.
In this conversation with Associate Director of Graduate Curriculum and Instruction, Anitha Cadambi, Ludmir shares his unconventional background in entertainment law and how his experience as a practicing attorney shapes the curriculum of his Online MSL course, Digital Media Transactions.
Anitha Cadambi: Hi, everyone! Welcome to office hours with Professor Ludmir. I’m very excited to have you here today, thanks so much for joining us. I thought we would start with just getting to know you a little bit better. I know you’ve been practicing as an entertainment lawyer for many years, but what initially interested you in entertainment law? And can you share a little bit more about your journey into this space?
Josh Ludmir: Sure, thanks Anitha for giving me the opportunity to speak with you.
My entertainment law journey, or interest in it, began in a similar state of economic uncertainty. It was the recession of ‘08, where it was just carnage in the legal field, specifically in the one that I was practicing. I originally got my start working in an entirely different industry from entertainment, and that was renewable energy and infrastructure. When the bottom fell out of the economy, and in a way that production incentives dried up for the purposes of building the utility scale projects that I was working on, entertainment suddenly seemed like a recession-proof industry that I might look into for purposes of my own job security, but also because I always had an interest in media and in my case, specifically Spanish language media. I had a dream of working with or for Univision, the Spanish language network, and you know, that dream got sidetracked a little bit while I pursued wind turbines and solar panels. But it always remained something that I was interested in — just the reach of the medium and the interesting personalities that are involved.
People think of it [entertainment law] as this monolithic area, but it’s not. Entertainment law can mean many things. It means, at least in my case, the intersection of tech in media. It can mean, you know if you have a talent practice, representing talent. But it’s not always relegated just to industry-specific issues or topics. It could be anything and everything that has a tie to the entertainment industry, and that makes it for some people more interesting for others.
In any event, I found myself thrust into entertainment law due to the world being shocked by the recession of ‘08. Originally I was living in an apartment building in Koreatown in LA. and my neighbors would see me coming home from the printer. If you can believe that even back then, then I know you’re a recovering AMA attorney. You know, actually going to a physical printer to conclude a transaction and literally printing out version after version of the closing documents. And by the way, the irony was not lost on me, that here I am trying to close an environmentally responsible renewable energy project and you know, like decimating the Amazon rainforest with each deal that we close. And so my neighbors in the apartment building would see me coming back with boxes and boxes of files, and many of them, because this is LA were like, you know, fill in the blank: aspiring directors, writers, in my case for whatever reason, my building had a lot of musicians. And so, my musician neighbors would see me coming back and be like, “You look like a fairly responsible person. Do you mind looking at this contract?” And this is an era when The Voice and America’s Got Talent and American Idol were starting to become very popular and they were vehicles that allowed people who were artists to get their shot at potential record deal stardom. So my first shot in entertainment law was doing something that I probably shouldn’t have and that I was not qualified to do at the time as a renewable energy attorney. But these contracts that my neighbors were being handed were so, sort of like uneven and draconian that I was like you might as well have somebody that is practicing with solar panels and wind turbines take a look at this for you because no, you have no leverage whatsoever.
But, long story short, that’s sort of my official foyer into entertainment in the capacity of a legal representative.
Anitha Cadambi: I think it’s great that you work in entertainment, because you’re a great storyteller, and I feel like a little bit of magic happened in your own life.
You touched on this already but I’ll ask the question anyway: how did you go from renewable energy to entertainment? I understand that obviously, legal skills are transferable. But how did you combine your passion and your interest, and then just jump into this new field that you had, as you said, no exposure to, but a lot of passion for?
Josh Ludmir: I’d say the element that helped me the most was educating myself on the relevant topics like what I would anticipate a client would ask and familiarizing myself with the industry, which led me to seek education. I went specifically to this nonprofit in LA, called California Lawyers for the Arts, which had seminars that were open to the public. I tried to prioritize educational settings or seminars where the lawyer-to-non-lawyer ratio was in favor of the non-lawyers because I wanted to get insights as though I were a client, or have the perspective and understand what the questions might be from that point of view. And so those turned out to be very useful for me for two reasons. One was to understand the legal issues, and how they come into play in actual practice. But more than that, it was to get to know some people that were actually working in the space. So it was part educational, part networking. I think the combination of those two allowed me to feel confident enough to make that transition. Because yeah, from an objective point of view, what does one industry have to do with the other?
This is the case that I made when I finally decided to take on the industry of representation that I’d created for myself around people that were trying out for The Voice and all these song competition shows and actually try and join a firm with an entertainment department. I’m familiar with transactions and they are all about competing for leverage. As we know, all contracts are offers and acceptance and consideration, and so, just happens to have overblown personalities and is a less capitalized industry than the other transactions that I’m dealing with. So all that is to say that the transition was not as difficult as you might think.
Anitha Cadambi: That’s great advice. Thank you for sharing some of the steps that you took.
So you teach a class called Digital Media Transactions, and you taught it for the first time last year, and you put a lot of work into developing the class and then teaching it.
So I’m curious, this is more of a two-part question: how do you go about picking topics to teach and create an outline for the course, Digital Media Transactions? And then how much of your current practice today informs the way you teach?
Josh Ludmir: Great question. So having never done this before I decided to divide the class up into two main areas: one area of focus I was committed to teaching was the mechanics of contract review and negotiation because I felt in my own law school experience, as many people do, that I was not well equipped, you know, I had no experience with that skill. It was something that was honed through trial and error and in practice itself. And so that was the guiding, overarching objective of what I wanted the students to get out of this course.
First, what I did is, I said, “all right,” the first half of the class we’re going to focus on the mechanics of contracts and we’ll spend the first few sessions going term by term of what you’d expect to find in a typical contract in the entertainment industry. Then with subsequent sessions, identify specific contracts that you’d only find in the entertainment industry. In other words, to be clear, the first session would be about identifying general contractual provisions, and then the other ones would be about dissecting an entertainment-specific contract.
Then the second half of the course, the way that I thought about it was just going through the areas of entertainment that I practice, and that I have clients in, and having those be a vehicle for each week of the course. So music, and specifically the take that I had is, music in the digital era; same with film and TV and then, AR/VR gaming which is lumped together in the new media category, were the remaining weeks.
And then I also wanted to have a guest speaker component of clients and people that I work with who are deeply involved with the issues that we cover in class. Their schedules somewhat dictated how I organized the class because I had identified them as a speaker that has a particular expertise. I would like to have this person come to talk, and so that became the basis for each week’s topic. So in that way it evolved.
Anitha Cadambi: I’ve looked at your guest speaker interviews, and I actually recognize a couple of names which was really nice to make that connection. And I won’t give away any names so students take the class and actually discover who those interviewees are! It’s a really great way to tie all the materials together.
I guess my last question for you is another two-parter. Why should we care about digital media? And then what advice do you have for students who are interested in digital media?
Josh Ludmir: Great question. This sounds self-serving but I wish I would have had the opportunity to take a class on digital media. Not necessarily because it would ultimately be related to what I practice and what I make a living off of, but more than just that, it’s so pervasive, digital media, in our daily lives, independent of its connection to entertainment. So much of our lives are impacted by and involved with and on some form of digital media. So understanding the legal impact of it, I think, is a necessary part of living in the modern world.
I’d say also, it’s interesting that you ask this question because we spend the very first class talking about what digital media actually means. And as you can imagine, it’s you know, I won’t give away the entire course, but we start with a Wikipedia definition and that’s by design not the most reliable source you think of for academic subject matter. But in and of itself it’s reflective of what digital media means and what it can be, and how “mutable” it is.
I’d want students to take this class I think for two reasons: one because, and this is probably not the sexiest part of the class, but having an understanding of the fundamentals of a contract will serve students well irrespective of whether or not they decide to practice law, whether they decide to work in the entertainment industry. I think that that being able to know your way around the contract is an essential life skill at this point.
So that’s number one and number two: for those who are interested in pursuing a career, or at least learning more about the entertainment industry, seeing it through the legal lens is important because it gives you an edge over others that may not have the tools to assess aspects of the industry or trends or business transactions. For that reason, again like to make this as practical as possible, for folks to take away what they learn in this class, and be able to apply it immediately. That aspect, I think, is critical.
That would be my commitment to students, that they have a practical skill set that they can take away from this class and apply immediately in their careers and in their daily lives.
Anitha Cadambi: Fantastic. We really appreciate your time and all of your insights Professor Ludmir, thank you so much. I hope students watching this will take advantage and enroll in your class.