Ziffren Brittenham Branca & FischerPivotal Job:
In-house transactional lawyer, Walt Disney Co.Favorite Dealmaking Lunch Spot:
La CachetteRecent Notable Deal:
ABC TV contract for Sandra Bullock and Bruce HelfordMost Impressive Deal:
Renegotiating Dick Wolf's back-end compensation for "Law & Order"Residence:
Married, three childrenGilbert-Lurie brings quiet diplomacy to his stable of celebrity clients
Cliff Gilbert-Lurie is in deal mode per usual. Telephone headset on, he's quietly scribbling notes on a yellow legal pad even as a photographer takes his picture. Afterward, there will be the usual lineup of conference calls, then perhaps lunch at The Grill or La Cachette, then more calls and note-taking.
In other words, a typical day for one of Hollywood's most influential lawyers.
Just don't expect any screaming.
"There are a lot of clients I will never sign because I'm not bombastic enough for them," says Gilbert-Lurie in his elegantly appointed ninth-floor Century City office. "I think what clients like about me is they've never seen me get rattled. When everyone is losing their heads and going crazy, they know I'm going to explain things so it's completely clear to them."
The 46-year-old lawyer is no stranger to soothing jangled Hollywood nerves. A partner at Ziffren Brittenham Branca & Fischer, widely believed to have the largest entertainment practice in the country, he has been negotiating deals for years on behalf of Sandra Bullock, Dick Wolf, Sela Ward and Patrick Stewart.
But some say that his prominence separate from his longtime mentor, Harry "Skip" Brittenham is just now becoming apparent. "There was mentoring going on for many years, but that phase is over," says Brittenham. "He's an independent operator now, fully capable of handling any matter on his own."
Just last month, Gilbert-Lurie negotiated a 13-episode order from ABC for a new comedy series that will have as executive producers Bullock and Bruce Helford, executive producer of "The Drew Carey Show."
Bullock came up with the idea for the show and told Gilbert-Lurie she wanted to be executive producer with Helford, whom she had never met. Gilbert-Lurie set the wheels in motion, made the introductions, and shepherded the deal.
"Cliff is at the center of everything. He's in the top 3 percent of dealmakers," said Dave Merritt, managing director of the entertainment media advisory group at investment banking firm Gerard Klauer Mattison & Co. Inc.
And at 46, already mature by Hollywood standards, Gilbert-Lurie is in the prime of his career.
"If you look at the hierarchy of the networks and studios, it's Cliff's generation that's running the business," says Wolf, 54, creator and executive producer of the Emmy-winning "Law & Order" franchise of TV dramas.
"It is very valuable for me to have my point player being a guy who's dealing at the contemporary level with the Scott Sassas and Jeff Zuckers (NBC executives) of the world. They're his age, not mine," Wolf said.
No savvy Hollywood dealmaker ever boasts about getting a great deal for his client. Hollywood, after all, is a very small world.
"I'd never say what (I'm proud of) because the lawyer on the other side of the deal would resent it," Gilbert-Lurie explains. "Then I'd have problems on my next deal."
Nonetheless, what he negotiated for Wolf several years ago still gets accolades in the clubby world of entertainment law.Going for 'adjusted gross'
Wolf's original deal for "Law & Order" was negotiated when he was a mere showrunner (or producer) on "Miami Vice." Later, when "Law & Order" became a hit, he wanted to renegotiate his deal specifically, the so-called back-end.
"Back-end participation" is the percentage of a movie's or TV show's profit that flows to the client. Industry newcomers must settle for "net" participation deals, meaning that their back-end compensation is a percentage of net profit which has a way of dissolving into nothing.
Heavier-hitters like Wolf can negotiate "gross" or "adjusted gross" deals yielding a percentage of gross profits which can be very lucrative on long-running shows or hit movies.
Gilbert-Lurie was brought in to handle the deal.
"I took home boxes and boxes of documents spending nights and weekends poring over contracts, letters, every communication that passed back and forth dating back years," he recalls.
From that research, he developed a case for redefining Wolf's back-end compensation, laying out his reasoning in a lengthy letter sent to USA Networks, just as negotiations were set to commence.
"That letter blew me away," Wolf says. "It was incredibly elegant and well-drawn, tracking the changes of how things were defined over three or four previous deals, which led to a major recapitulation to where the back end was."
While Wolf and Gilbert-Lurie refuse to disclose the specifics, sources familiar with the deal estimate it is bringing tens of millions of additional dollars to Wolf.
Wolf concedes this much: "I'm kind of a student of deals, and I don't know of an hour-show deal that's stronger than what Cliff got me. And he was negotiating with someone who is arguably the greatest negotiator in Hollywood, Mr. (Barry) Diller."Gravitated to talent
Gilbert-Lurie was born in Detroit and raised in Encino, attending Birmingham High in Van Nuys. He went to law school at UC Berkeley's Boalt Hall in the late 1970s, after which he went to work as a copyright litigator at the Beverly Hills law firm of Rosenfeld, Meyer & Susman.
Preferring transactional work to the "destructive contentiousness of litigation," Gilber-Lurie went into private practice but found himself doing almost exclusively copyright litigation. So after 18 months, he joined the in-house legal department of Walt Disney Co., where he honed his dealmaking skills and made crucial contacts.
Among them: the partners of Ziffren Brittenham, who recognized his talent, liked his personality and invited him to join the firm.
In his early years there, Gilbert-Lurie was just as likely to work on partner Kenneth Ziffren's corporate accounts as on Brittenham's talent accounts
Over time he has gravitated to the talent and they to him. "It's a chemistry thing," he says. "If you're comfortable representing some of these high-profile guys, you get the next one."
One of those clients is actress Sela Ward, star of the ABC drama "Once and Again." "There's not one moment I regret having to pay that 5 percent (deal commission)," she says. "I've tried several different lawyers and he just outshines them all."
It actually was two high-profile clients of Brittenham that played a pivotal role in Gilbert-Lurie's ascension.
"On two separate occasions when Skip was out of town, there were personal crises that occurred, first to Michael Fox and then to Eddie Murphy," Gilbert-Lurie recalls. "They both knew me, but I was always the junior guy. In both those cases I worked through difficult events for them. And my relationship with both those guys was forever changed."
Even so, Gilbert-Lurie steers clear of the show biz fast lane. Instead, he maintains a very disciplined schedule, waking at 5 or 6 a.m., exercising for an hour, spending an hour eating breakfast with his wife and three children, making school lunches for the kids, and getting on the road by 9. His entire commute to Century City from his family's two-acre Hidden Hills property is spent on the phone with his assistant or other business contacts.
He's home by 8:15, hanging out with the family, attending community plays in which his children regularly perform, reading historical novels, and enjoying his art, wine and model-train collections.
His clients tend to be a similar homespun bunch.
"There is a remarkable consistency. They are all solid people with good values, who are close with their families," he says.
Many in Hollywood offer the same assessment of Gilbert-Lurie.
"In a business of nuts and questionable reputations, Cliff always stands out as being the rock and the honorable guy," says Bob Sanitsky, head of worldwide TV at International Creative Management.
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