As a first-year associate, Alissa Vradenburg '96 is a newcomer to the Entertainment Group of Troop Meisinger Steuber & Pasich in L.A., but she has been an observer of the entertainment world since childhood. Vradenburg's mother has written for TV shows including "Designing Women," and recently completed a TV pilot for Merv Griffen Enterprises. Vradenburg's father, who shares these pages with her, is now general counsel of America Online, Inc., with years of experience lawyering for TV networks and Hollywood.
At the dinner table, Vradenburg recalls, her family would discuss her father's big cases, such as the time he represented CBS when General Westmoreland sued for libel. So when Vradenburg came to HLS, after graduating from Cornell, she was delighted to discover a small student committee dedicated to sports and entertainment law. In her second and third years, she became acting president of the group and helped lure industry giants to the School as guest speakers-among them director Oliver Stone and L.A. litigator Bert Fields '52.
While in law school Vradenburg was research assistant for Professor Paul Weiler, helping with his recently published Entertainment, Media, and the Law. She also interned at Sony Music in New York City. In her third year, she made a documentary with a friend about the Lotus v. Borland computer software dispute.
Vradenburg knew she wanted a career in the entertainment industry, and after debating options she decided to try production law at Troop Meisinger. The firm's Entertainment Group specializes in all aspects of motion picture and television production, distribution, and finance, Vradenburg explains. "Our clients include Twentieth Century Fox, Spelling Entertainment, Universal Studios, Miramax Films, and Showtime Networks. We also represent smaller independents and help them get distribution and financing."
When a movie goes into production, attorneys like Vradenburg arrange the necessary clearances, location agreements, and contract documentation, and handle any other legal problems that arise for the production office. Because of the intense time pressures in movie making, production sometimes starts before all agreements are signed. Under these circumstances, the question of "when you have a deal and when you don't" can lead to lawsuits, says Vradenburg. In fact, her firm represents Mandalay Entertainment in high-profile litigation against actor John Travolta, who left filming of The Double, claiming he was not bound by contract.
With millions at stake, most studios are adamant about completing all contracts before any services can be rendered, Vradenburg says. "But some are more lackadaisical. And the stars often drag their heels before signing. It's important to lay the legal groundwork and get the paperwork done, not only to prove how conclusively committed the parties are, but also to clearly establish the parameters of the deal."
Vradenburg observes that top-ranking law firms are often reluctant to bring new graduates into their entertainment departments. "A lot of New York and Hollywood business is about making contacts," so she recommends that law students interested in her industry begin networking early on, as she did and continues to do. At the recent gathering of the HLSA Committee on Sports, Entertainment, and Cyberlaw, held at her family's home in L.A., Vradenburg met "well-established people who have gone the same route as I. They gave me invaluable advice."
-- Julia Collins