2005_08_SBeer.jpgSteven Beer loves helping artists. An entertainment lawyer with Greenberg Traurig, Steven helped launch Britney Spears career and has become quite legendary in independent film circles for his contribution to films like Empire, L.I.E., and Tumbleweeds. Steven never shies away from a challenge and often embraces and nurtures the work of the (sometimes controversial) underdog.

In addition to Britney, Steven has worked with Damon Dash, John Leguizamo (who he calls this generations' Al Pacino) and Nadine Haobsh, among others. A devote family man, Steven also serves on the board of the IFP, the organization spearheading this week’s campaign to get people out to see and experience indie film, Independent Film Week.

Why did you become a lawyer?
Being a middle child I’ve always appreciated the art of advocacy. Being a arts attorney gives me a useful framework to forge deals and to bring people and entities together, especially as it relates to creative projects.

You refer to yourself as an “arts attorney.” What do you mean by that? Who do you represent?
I represent writers, directors, producers, production companies, financiers, distribution companies, artists, musical artists, record labels, authors and celebrities. The law I practice covers where these creative people enter the stream of commerce. I prepare them for it by protecting their intellectual property, their ideas and work product. I help them forge relationships that give them a platform to achieve their goals creatively, not always commercially, but always an amount creatively…hopefully commercially too. Not all artists have the goal of achieving financial success, they certainly want to survive, but I don’t ever presume a client’s priorities.

Can you name drop for a second…who are some of your clients, past and present?
I’ve worked with incredibly talented and inspirational entertainers ranging from filmmakers like Michael Cuesta and Kirby Dick to musical artists like Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys, 'N Sync and more recently The Honey Brothers.

What did you do for someone like Britney Spears?
We were her counsel and helped launch her career in conjunction with the record label, so there were some management functions involved. Ultimately at the end of the day, we were helping to build a business around an entertainer at a time when that was not the convention, but certainly it is today.

When and how did you meet her?
We met her when she was 14. She had come to New York to get some training and to do some auditions. Someone who wanted to work with her attended a recording agreements class I was teaching and introduced her to my ex-partner and me.

Can you talk about the relationship you have with your clients. What are celebrities like to work with?
Celebrities have expectations that are consistent with their reality. Their reality is in a different place than people like you and me, so there is an element of TLC but there’s also element where you have to manage the process and stay within yourself. My priority isn’t my business, it’s my family [three kids and a wife]. I try to manage a relationship from the beginning so the expectations are clear as to whether or not I’m going to fly to distant locations or stay up past my bedtime to accommodate a personality.

When is your bedtime?
It’s 11:30pm after the Daily Show. But on a crazy night like Friday night, I get to stay up and watch Conan O’Brien.

Now, you mentioned your ex-partner [Larry Rudolph]. Can you talk about the company you had with him, Rudolph & Beer? How is it different from what you are doing now at Greenberg Traurig?
We started the firm in 1993 and through some imagination, hard work and a little bit of luck we were able to achieve some success as a boutique. We were very entrepreneurial and on occasion would produce, executive produce and manage some of our clients. For example, I was the manager of a group on Jive Records called No Secrets. I briefly enjoyed riding and living on a bus, launching tours and building a business around them. It was something I’m glad I did, but it was something I quickly grew out of. So it was easy for me to transition to a more traditional law firm, one where I am practicing law more than producing. Although I do still consult in my capacity, but I do not serve as a full time producer or manager.

I think the contrast with where I am today is more purposeful in terms of where the market is. It is a more commercial and corporate arts world and the scale of the projects I work on here are much more challenging and satisfying.

Nadine Haobsh aka Jolie in NYC is a current client. Did she become a client before or after all the “hubbub?”

She became a client after the incident that led to her departure from Ladies Home Journal. She was in a circumstance where a lot of people were seeking to get to her. I am working with her to lay a foundation for an exciting future as an author and beauty consultant.

What are some other projects you’re working on that you’re excited about?
I’m really excited about The Honey Brothers. I believe in their music first and foremost. When I can play it over and over again and enjoy it, that’s wonderful. In the past I worked with Aaron Carter in a very hands on capacity and I wasn’t a big fan of his music, but I enjoyed helping to build his business. In contrast to that, by the way, my kids loved his music.

I’m also working with The Little Women Band. They are a cross between Hanson and the Dixie Chicks, four sisters between the ages of 14 and 20 who write and play their own music. I really enjoy working with them.

Another project I’m excited about is The Untold Story of Emmett Lewis Till, which played at the Film Forum. I’m also excited about Dorian Blues that TLA is distributing. It won a lot festivals last year and it opens at the Quad Cinema on Friday. It is an entertaining, coming of age, square peg-round hole, family friendly, gay film. And I’m excited about Zombie Honeymoon, which is a zombie love story. It will have a theatrical run in the fall and the DVD will have a big release on Valentine’s Day.

Another film you worked on is Definition of Insanity. Gothamist interviewed the director last November. Can you give us an update on what’s going on with that project?
We have pending offers for distribution. That’s an example of a film where patience has given the film a chance to emerge in the marketplace. After being a real festival favorite and getting an incredible review in Variety…

Well, it turned out to be a festival favorite, but didn’t it have a lot of trouble getting into festivals at first…
Yeah, it took a long time to get into the mainstream festivals. That’s instructive as to the complexity of the market, there’s no cookie cutter formula. Every film has it’s own challenges but there is life beyond Sundance or Toronto or Cannes.

A film like Dorian Blues was able to succeed by being a big fish in a smaller pond. It premiered at Cinequest, was discovered there and started to get invitations across the board. The same thing happened to Defintion of Insanity. I’m excited to be affiliated with films that we can nurture and that seek and can ultimately acquire an audience.

How would you characterize the marketplace for film? How has it evolved over the last few years?
It’s a dynamic marketplace. The scale of the market is evolving as we speak, where the players that worked in the low budget arena have moved out of it for purposes of their corporate mandate and other players are moving in. Anytime there is change there is opportunity and the fact that numerous states are offering tax incentives, as well as the federal government, just provides additional opportunities for filmmakers to realize their dreams.

What do you think of Bob Berney's new company, Picturehouse?
I’m excited for Bob because it gives him resources to continue to do great things, but I’m disappointed in that it’s part of the wave of consolidation. At that scale of the business, the mini-major scale, it gives producers and filmmakers one less door on which to knock. And it’s a shame because he’s such a creative person and great marketing leader and now he'll have to abide by the rules of an international company that has shareholders.

What do you think of the future of independent film?
I’m extremely hopeful and enthusiastic for a variety of reasons. One being the continued homogenization of the typical Hollywood film; the tent pole that speaks to the lowest common denominator hatched out of marketing studies instead of out of a manifestation of genuine creative work.

I also see a lot people that have made money in other arenas coming into the independent arena equipped with a business discipline and desire to make a creative contribution on the producing side or the distributor side.

Who are some of the smaller distributors that you’re currently watching?
TLA and Matson Films are two that are poised to do good things. Companies already out there that I think will continue to do good things are Magnolia, Wellspring and THINKFilm. They are all embracing challenging films and marketing them well. I was encouraged that THINK acquired the Emmett Till film from us recently. It is perhaps the most important film of the year. For them to take a film that’s unconventional from a filmmaker that hasn’t gone to film school or made a film before, shows courage and I hope they are rewarded.

How about the New York film community, what are some of the things that are happening here right now?
One of the reasons why I’m enthusiastic about the status of the film business today is the vibrant New York film scene. I see more and more good people coming to it with value, with original creative contributions and I see a collaborative sense here through the IFP and through other informal means where people are teaming up and doing great things together. Yes, it’s a business but people seem to be sharing more and the fact that New York State and New York City have offered relatively generous tax incentives make New York even more vital as a place to create. I’ve seen a continued renaissance in filmmaking here.

Any dream clients?
I think Beyonce needs me. You might give her my email address. I think I can help her achieve her creative goals, as well as her commercial goals. I’m kidding… But, I’m a big Beyonce fan.

I admire John Stewart and hope to some day work with him. I think his humor is relevant. It’s important. He’s a breath of fresh air. He’s smart and courageous. I love to laugh. I like humor that’s intelligent, but don’t get me wrong I like broad humor too. Anchor Man is one of my favorite films. My kids and I love to recite lines together while driving in the mini van.

What advice would give someone that was interested in pursuing entertainment law…
They should do whatever it takes to get experience in this arena. It would be helpful if they have creative experience as well as business experience. My first job as an entertainment attorney came at time when I was acting in community theater here in an off off broadway production.

You were an actor?
I wasn’t very good, but I enjoyed the process. It was easy for me to segue out of that and to appreciate that there are so many talented people out there and that they should be given the platform and it shouldn’t be wasted on people like me.