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Lights, camera, action!

By: dmc-admin//September 21, 2009//

Lights, camera, action!

By: dmc-admin//September 21, 2009//

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ImageMilwaukee attorney Daniel E. Kattman has carved out a niche as an entertainment and intellectual property lawyer since joining Reinhart, Boerner Van Deuren in 2000. Kattman, 36, has negotiated multi-million-dollar book deals and produced “creature feature” films with titles like Carnivorous and Vixen Highway. His production company Lightning Rod Studios turns out action-adventure fare affectionately nicknamed “creature features.” Kattman took time recently to sit down with Wisconsin Law Journal reporter Jack Zemlicka and talk about doing an L.A. job in Wisconsin, how the loss of tax incentives for movies has impacted his practice, and his admiration for Ed Wood.

WLJ: How are you able to be an effective entertainment lawyer in Wisconsin?

Kattman: Lot of times clients have found that compared to a Los Angeles entertainment lawyer, I’m less expensive, but I have the same depth of knowledge. I don’t represent Tom Cruise and I can’t pick up the phone and call [him], but that’s not how it works anyway. There are some entertainment lawyers in L.A. that are very connected, but from a contract and deal-making and negotiating side, I’ve done the same thing as they have.

WLJ: Is there a particular case or deal that stands out for you?

Kattman: There was a movie Reeseville earlier in my career. I handled getting all the talent for the film and Rod Steiger was cast, but passed away two weeks before filming. So we had to scramble and we got Mark Hamill to replace him. That was one where I was on the phone non-stop for 10-12 hours a day negotiating deals to get these actors to show up.

WLJ: What impact has the limiting of the state’s tax incentives for filmmakers had on your practice?

Kattman: Luckily, my practice is not purely entertainment. If that was the case, I’d probably have been hit more drastically. I do think the state has lost tens of millions of dollars in prospective business. I’ve personally been on calls with producers in April and May where they wanted to bring $30 or $40 million films to the state and because things were in limbo, they went to other states.

WLJ: With films relying heavily on digital effects, are you seeing brand new legal issues arise?

Kattman: There is a huge industry where people are farming content off the Internet and taking just bits and pieces of 10 different photos and compositing them together to create something new. Five years ago copyright law would have no answer for this. There is a new interpretation that says if you copy someone else’s work, but you transform it so much that it’s impossible to recognize it from the original, you are not infringing. It’s something new and has its own copyright attached.

WLJ: How did you get into film production?

Kattman: I had a friend who did a lot of screenwriting and we were talking about making a movie. People finally said, ‘Make it or stop talking about it.’ So we raised a small amount of money for the movie, which wasn’t successful. But I learned about the business side of [making movies] and after law school I figured if I’m already the go-to guy on the business side and dealing with the legal issues anyway, I might as well incorporate that into my practice.

WLJ: What is your role with the Milwaukee Film Festival, which kicks-off this year on Sept. 24?

Kattman: I’ve been involved since its beginning as sort of an advisor on the board and a cheerleader. When I encounter filmmakers who ask, ‘Do I want to submit my film there?’ I say yes.

WLJ: Have you showcased films there?

Kattman: We haven’t. I don’t want to be too cynical, but we’re purely on the business side of the film industry. We’re definitely not in the art business. This is product, so we need to get this movie done and in the hands of the distributor. Everyone gets paid and we go on to the next one.

WLJ: Do you sense that clients are comfortable having an attorney who is also “in the business?”

Kattman: It’s night and day. Some attorneys in town understand the issues, but that’s sort of the textbook stuff. To actually do it, you have to understand the relationship side. If I go to the Sundance Film Festival and I’m doing a deal for a movie on behalf of the distributor I represent, I’ll know the whole process that leads up to the deal even being offered. If I just draft a contract for them, that’s not really giving them the service they need.

WLJ: What is your favorite movie?

Kattman: It’s hard to say. A lot of people think I’m really into horror films, because I make movies with horror elements in them. But one of my favorites is The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. I like all the spaghetti westerns. Those have some art to them, but are still westerns.

WLJ: Robert Evans or Ed Wood?

Kattman: Probably Ed Wood, but from a very nostalgic appreciation. He was following a dream a lot of people are capable of doing now because of visual technology.

WLJ: Any thoughts of moving to Hollywood and becoming a full-time producer?

Kattman: I think really early on, maybe in law school. I’ve had some opportunities to go out to L.A. and work in-house for cable companies like HBO. I do enough business with people in L.A. to know I don’t have to be in L.A. to do business.

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