Question: What are the biggest changes you're seeing in Hollywood?
Answer: The studios are more comfortable being distributors than they are producers. Their producing gambles are too big for parent companies to swallow, whereas distribution money is great, because you're out there making money from first dollar. It leaves a real void, which makes it a very exciting time for producers and financing people.
Q: How are you positioning your clients to take advantage of these changes?
A: We're trying to build what I would call "virtual studios," where we're getting together financing vehicles to support two or three good producers, or even one really good producer, and a slate of films. Then we go out and I can do what I know how to do, which is make split rights deals, negative pick-up deals, separate distribution deals for DVD. We're going to have different pots of money, and we can prevent anyone from coming in and raking money from across the top of all of them.
Q: How do we get there?
A: By convincing lawyers and agents who are on percentages that they shouldn't be out there trying to get the biggest dollar upfront for their client. You have to make the creative people and their advisors understand the value of walking away with an ownership interest in perpetuity. You don't need to make $10 million or $12 million in the budget, because it really doesn't matter what you make in the budget it's what you own at the end of the day that matters. That's the real difference when you come from the book world like I do. That's what authors do: they own their work.
Q: You had a number of celebrity writer clients in New York. Who were some of them?
A: I was really deeply into the theater and book world. I represented Peter Schaffer, David Halberstam, Jerzy Kosinski and my most important literary client, Truman Capote. I also represented Tennessee Williams for while.
Q: What was your early work like and how did it lead to the publishing world?
A: I got very involved with the ACLU and became counsel to the radio and TV committee. I was also one of the founders of the Helsinki Watch, which is now Human Rights Watch, and also I became counsel to the American Book Publishers Association.
Q: You began representing Truman Capote in 1969 after the release of his book "In Cold Blood" and you became good friends. What was that like?
A: He came over for dinner and he became like another member of my family. He was such a weird looking little fellow with such a high voice, but he was a tough, feisty guy. And if he was your friend, you were great, and if he was your enemy, than I felt sorry for you.
Q: You had to make a decision whether or not to publish some found material of his last year. How did you make that decision?
A: I knew about this book because Truman had told me about it. It was his first book, but he got fed up with it and didn't like it. He didn't think he was going to publish it, so he put it away. So here I was, with an original Capote first manuscript and Random House, which had published all his work, urged me to let them publish it.
Q: So you consulted some writers, including your wife. Louise, and decided to publish it. Any regrets?
A: I think it was the right decision, and basically the book's not bad at all. The main character is a forerunner of Holly Golightly in "Breakfast at Tiffany's." It got very interesting reviews. It's not one of his best works, but it shows us what he was like at the beginning.
Q: Capote didn't think there would be any money left when he died, but now the trust is worth $9 million?
A: Every year we've been giving out between $300,000 and $400,000 in scholarships. So we're going to keep doing it and hopefully the money will hold out. We're making money every time we're doing a movie deal.
Q: Speaking of movies, what was your involvement in last year's "Capote" film with Phillip Seymour Hoffman?
A: They asked to send me the script, and I read it, but I told them, "This is your movie and I don't want to have anything to do with it. Just don't infringe on any of our rights," which they didn't.
Q: What did you think of it?
A: They dramatized it a little too much as far as Truman goes, but Phillip Seymour Hoffman is so good it sort of overshadows everything else. It's a very good movie. At the end of it they say that Truman Capote didn't publish anything after "In Cold Blood," because he felt guilty about the two guys getting hung but he did. So they just tried to dramatize it too much at the end, which I didn't go for.
Q: You met Mel Brooks in the early 1960s. Do you remember that clearly?
A: I was the youngest employee of the firm. He had just written a book for a musical called "All American," which failed, and he was getting a divorce, so he had no money. They didn't know what to do with him, so they gave him to me and said, "Do something with him."
Q: What were those days like?
A: He would call me and say, "What are you doing for lunch?" Well, I was never doing anything for lunch, so he'd show up with a paper bag with a sandwich and a cup of tea from Chock Full O' Nuts and nothing for me. We'd sit there and he would have lunch and that's when he told me about a play he was writing called "Springtime for Hitler." This was a play, right? I'd say Mel, "Who's going to see something called 'Springtime for Hitler?' Are you crazy?"
Q: How did it get picked up?
A: He made a date for us to see Joe Levine, a big-time film producer with a big cigar. He had just done "The Longest Day." Mel tells him the story and he's jumping around so much that I thought Levine was going to throw us out. Finally, he looks at Mel and says "How much is it going to cost?" Mel had no idea how much it was going to cost. I'd never done a movie deal and Mel had never made a movie. But he looked Joe Levine straight in the face and said, "$920,000."
Q: Then what?
A: Levine says "OK, but you've got to change the name. No one is going to see a film called 'Springtime for Hitler.'" So that's how we ended up making "The Producers." It was his first movie and my first movie. That was 40 years ago.
Q: What did you learn by taking "The Producers" to film?
A: Mel had always been pretty independent about what he wanted to do with his movies, and early on we got the idea that we wanted to split the rights. We wanted to do a foreign deal separate from the domestic deal. I learned a great deal about how to do that and how to get certain distributors to give you negative pick-up rights (in which the distributor advances to the producer a share of the expected revenues). And that's how I got into the financing part of the business.
Q: What did you think of that line in "Spaceballs"?
A: Mel never told me he was doing that, and the first time we saw it we practically had a car accident. My wife and I were driving down Sunset and they'd just put up this billboard on LaCienega that said, "Mel Brooks' 'Spaceballs' May the Schwartz be with you!" Aaaaaaaah! It was really very sweet. I'd acted in a couple of films, so this was a nice thing he did, because I wasn't in "Spaceballs."
Q: How would you describe your childhood?
A: I grew up in the slum of Brooklyn. I lived there for 15 years. It was a very poor childhood. We lived in a very rough area, which is called Brownsville, and at that time was one of the worst sections for crime in the city. My father made a living as a lawyer, but just barely. I went to public schools and basically lived the life of a lower-middle class kid in an area that at that time was predominantly Jewish, Irish and Italian.
Q: So how did that kid come to get along so well with celebrity clients?
A: It's a special skill. Basically, have to remember that you're a representative, not a principal. You have to subordinate your own ego to the client's ego and the client's wants and you have to be able to do that in a way that is somehow both personal and impersonal. Celebrity clients want someone that can relate to as a human being, but they don't want judgments made by people who are too emotionally involved with them.
Q: What's your average day like?
A: I'm on the phone a great deal, having meetings here with creative people and business people. Sometimes I'm in London or I'm in Frankfort. I'm jumping around where the money may be, trying to understand financing deals there. I mentor younger lawyers, trying to get them familiar with how things work, reviewing their work. I also interact with lawyers in other fields. That's very important for what I do, because it helps me see how they structure their deals, and I can use them for my deals.
Q: How do you balance work and family?
A: I'm pretty strict about not working on weekends unless it's an emergency. I may be in Europe, and I may have business dinners, but I'm not one of these guys at every opening or every party. I cherish my privacy.
Q: Have you always done it that way?
A: I've got a 14 year-old son at Harvard Westlake, and two 40-year-olds. The 14 year-old I make time for. I love him. It's very important because when I was a young lawyer in New York, and my other kids were young, I really didn't spend enough time with them.
Q: What can someone expect to make as an entertainment lawyer?
A: If you're good, and you're a talent representative at a boutique working on a percentage, you can make from $3 million on down. It depends on your clients, sometimes more, maybe $4 million or $5 million. If you're a corporate finance lawyer, you can end up making a couple million dollars a year on down. Most are in the half-million-dollar range.
Q: What has been your greatest challenge?
A: One has been learning to get satisfaction not from my own ego, but from how I can help people. The other is learning to think out of the box. It's very important.
Q: How did you deal with the successes and failures of your clients?
A: As you get older, if you're lucky enough, you get satisfaction from what you do. Some deals I've done only because I wanted to and because I wanted to see the client be satisfied. Some aren't appreciative, but most are. And as you get older, you've got your own life, too.
Q: What has been your greatest achievement?
A: I represented a lot of people who were under serious censorship. I brought Stalin's daughter to this country when she defected from the Soviet Union. I represented a number of other Russian and South African & #233;migr & #233;s. They couldn't publish in their own countries. Also, helping to get Russia to join the copyright convention way back in the 1960s. Those are what I would call public service kind of things.
Alan U. Schwartz
Company: Greenberg Traurig LLP
Born: Brooklyn, N.Y., 1933
Education: B.A. government, Cornell University, 1953; J.D., Yale University, 1956
Career Turning Point: Meeting mentor and human rights lawyer Morris Ernst in1958
Most Influential Person: "Are you kidding? At my age, none of them are living anymore."
Personal: Married, three sons aged 43, 41 and 14, and two grandchildren
Hobbies: Sailing, horseback riding and writing his memoirs
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