Jul 25, 2023

Inside the Double Strike: Entertainment Lawyer Joshua Lastine of Lastine Law

With the entertainment industry nearly ten weeks into a WGA strike and two weeks into a SAG-AFTRA strike, the industry is facing another unprecedented time. While many networks and individuals are still recovering from the pandemic, every day that passes continues to put pressure on an already struggling entertainment economy.

We sat down with top entertainment lawyer, Joshua R. Lastine, CEO of Lastine Entertainment Law and Entertainment Business & Law Professor at the Los Angeles Film School for his take on what’s to come.

PPLA: The industry is facing one of its biggest challenges with the ongoing WGA and SAG strike over issues like residuals and AI Tech. What do you see as the biggest legal hurdles?

JL: The ongoing WGA/SAG strikes present the industry with one of its most significant challenges, particularly in relation to issues such as residuals and AI technology. From my perspective, the concerns raised by actors and writers regarding AI technology are not baseless; rather, they serve as a microcosm of the larger labor versus capital struggle that is taking place on a global scale. While there are mechanisms in place to address deliberate acts of fraud, there is currently no comprehensive federal or national legislation that adequately safeguards an individual’s right to their own likeness. While California State laws pertaining to publicity and misappropriation offer protection to Hollywood’s A-list celebrities, those who are not as famous may find their likeness readily appropriated, reused, and monetized through AI, leaving them with limited recourse. Furthermore, I foresee a future where the sale of high-profile celebrities’ “likeness” posthumously becomes an alarming reality, leading to scenarios where CGI renditions of iconic stars like Stallone and Schwarzenegger dominate the screen, as exemplified by a hypothetical film like Rocky XXII. This is deeply concerning to me as it perpetuates a scarcity of opportunities for younger creators to participate in major projects. While the digital realm offers tremendous potential for emerging talents, the dearth of opportunities for young individuals in significant Hollywood endeavors is disheartening. Writers face similar challenges, as they are at risk of being replaced by AI systems in the writer’s room. The replacing of artistic talent with artificial intelligence risks further devaluing “human” creative expression– hence the need for robust residuals and other incentive programs to reward artists whose work is monetized by corporations. For all these reasons, it is conceivable that we will witness a creative drought, at least in the short-term future.

PPLA: As a negotiator what do you think is the biggest disconnect between the studios and the WGA currently that is keeping them away from a deal?

JL: One of the major sticking points between the studios and the WGA revolves around the issue of compensation for streaming content. With the rapid growth of streaming platforms, there is a fundamental disagreement on how writers should be fairly compensated in this new landscape. The WGA is advocating for better payment structures, including residuals, while the studios are concerned about the financial implications of meeting these demands. Both concerns are sound, but I think the studios have more ability to make more concessions to appease the other side.

PPLA: Do you think SAG-AFTRA joining the WGA on strike will compound the current issues or strengthen the picket lines?

JL: Definitely SAG joining the fight “re-energized” the writers, in addition to some stupid comments made by certain studio executives. Again, I think this is a micro example of what is happening to the economy at large, and the fight the writers/actors are facing will have ripple effects across a lot of different industries as they face issues of AI integration in the workplace. Ultimately, the two unions are stronger together, especially if they can continue to hold solidarity until both unions make a deal.

PPLA: What do you think the studio lawyers are weighing when it pertains to meeting the writers at the table to find a resolution?

As outside counsel who helps handle business affairs for studios, I can tell you that the day-to-day studio lawyers have very little control over what actors and writers ultimately get paid. Prior to any deal making, there is a fixed “budget” put together by the finance team—and studio business and legal affairs only has within the confines of that budget to negotiate all the talent deals. The finance team considers the “long-term” implications of the studios’ budget and profitability, but on a line-item basis, more cost out of the budget needs to be allocated to the writers and actors. If unions require that more of the budget is paid to creatives, the budgets will adjust to accommodate. 

PPLA: While streaming channels have brought a larger quantity and diversity of shows, they’ve also cut wages and residuals and made it hard for writers and actors to maintain a living. What do you think has to happen for the industry to right itself?

JL: Advertising has always played a pivotal role in the financing of television. For the last 10 years, the streamers were adamant about not getting revenue from advertisers. Ultimately, I think this has done them a disservice—as it puts the entire cost of the production on the studio with little ancillary revenue streams to make back up those costs, other than subscriber growth and stock valuation. Bringing back in advertisers means more money upfront for content and helps alleviate the financial burden the studios face as the cost of TV making has ballooned over the last 10 years. When I started my career, the average successful TV show would have 20 to 24 episodes per season and would last 5 to 7 years. Nowadays, a successful TV show may only have 6 episodes, and only last for 1 season. I am not sure that will go away—but I do see TV evolving again.

PPLA: Where do you see the film/TV industry going in the next 3-5 years?

JL: For film, I hope to see a resurgence of indie film creators, similar to what we saw in 1995-2000. The studio strikes only help to fuel the fire of indie filmmakers, and I can certainly see the next 5 years being a golden era of independent film creation. I also see films based on “videogames” and “consumer products” being a hot trend for the next few years. Television has to get back to its roots. I think we will see the same number of shows, only at lower budgets, and I think that “unscripted” TV will make a big resurgence for the next 3 years.

PPLA: On a more personal note, what brought you to a career path in Hollywood?

JL: I’m from a small town in Iowa, but my dreams were always much bigger. Growing up as a kid I had a deep passion for the art of filmmaking, and I always knew I wanted to marry that interest with a business/legal/entrepreneurial career. It was always my intention to become an entertainment lawyer; I came to Hollywood in 2011, pursuing my passion for entertainment. I attended Pepperdine Law School and started my career by landing a job in the music licensing and accounting department of American Idol. From there, my story just sort of took off.

PPLA: In addition to running your firm, you also teach law at the Los Angeles Film School. What things do you think the next generation of entertainment lawyers should be thinking about?

JL: How media is changing from “storytelling” to “attention consumption”. I think the future of entertainment is in attention consumption, for better or worse. Keep an eye on the trends and try to get ahead of them early.

PPLA: Finally, can you share some of the projects or clients your firm works with?

JL: Among the notable projects and clients, I have the pleasure of working with, I must mention the talented Dedee Pfeiffer, who recently starred in ABC’s Big Sky. Additionally, I played a pivotal role in bringing the film THE BLACKENING to life, which just premiered at the esteemed Tribeca Film Festival in June 2023. My team also works on contracts for many of the major studios and A-list talent.

For more information, visit