Jacob Debets sat down for a chat with Clement Dunn, a third-year lawyer at Marshalls + Dent Lawyers
How did you come to work in Entertainment law?
I always wanted to do something in film, but after doing an undergraduate degree in cinema studies, I got the sense that it was a tough industry to break into. So I decided to study law and see if I could get a job working in film and television in a legal capacity.
So you actually followed the plan you had at the commencement of your degree? I have literally never heard of that happening – that’s awesome.
Can you describe your day-to-day work?
I work in a whole range of areas – tax law, employment law, contract law, copyright law. Every film is different, so we’re always learning new things. In terms of my day-to-day work, I’m constantly on the phone to clients and always drafting contracts. Some days I’m watching a film, other days I’m reading a script.
One thing I will emphasise is how involved entertainment lawyers are when they act on particular projects. This is due to the fact that, in a lot of cases, we’re not just providing advice on legal matters, but also arranging and structuring the finance.
Best matter you’ve worked on that you’re allowed to talk about?
I got to do the contract for the animal trainers – the dogs and the penguins – on Oddball (2015). The team and I even got to visit the set to meet them. That was pretty special.
I didn’t know penguins had legal capacity?
Well, technically it was a contract for the animal trainers – but still, not many lawyers get to meet penguins as part of their job.
We can talk about it later, moving on – what’s the most frustrating part of your job?
Defamation law can be difficult – particularly in documentaries. When people see themselves being depicted in a negative light to so many viewers, they can get defensive. It’s all about keeping a balance between the integrity of the film and the legitimate concerns of the people being portrayed. The actual financing side can also be pretty complicated because you’re working with so many different parties. Herding cats, my boss calls it.
In your eyes, what’s the most exciting legal development in Entertainment Law?
I’m interested in the fair-dealing defences to copyright infringement. These types of defences are expanding in the United States, although there haven’t been too many cases in Australia just yet. It’s interesting because, like so much to do with copyright, the law has a long way to go to catch-up.
Do you have any advice for law students who might want to break into the area?
An interest in and knowledge of cinema is helpful. It’s a client-oriented practice, so being able to talk to producers and directors about their craft really goes a long way. Also, do copyright law and tax law. That stuff is kind of important.
Finally, favourite film (that you didn’t work on)?
That’s the hardest question you’ve asked. I’ll go with Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy (2003). My favourite Australian film is probably Ted Kotcheff’s classic Wake in Fright (1971).