Career Development

It Takes a Village

CCBJ: To start out, would you talk about what led you to your role with Village Roadshow, as well as a little bit about the organization’s culture?

Kevin Berg: Gladly. From a very young age and on through my college and law school years, I’d always had a love of Hollywood and dreamt of living in Los Angeles and working in “the biz.” So, 25 years ago, after having taken on some positions that weren’t in the entertainment law area, I decided I was going to focus my legal career completely on the entertainment business. I had the good fortune and opportunity to get a contract position with Village Roadshow Pictures, at the time a relatively small independent media and entertainment company that had had just begun a longstanding partnership and co-financing strategy with Warner Brothers and since then we’ve worked together to produce and finance many world-class movies, including the 2019 Oscar® winner Joker, The Matrix trilogy, the Ocean’s series, Mad Max: Fury Road, and a personal favorite, The LEGO Movie.

What attracted me to Village Roadshow in particular was its relatively small size, which I felt would afford me the opportunity to really grow through what I foresaw as likely opportunities and challenges across a few different disciplines in the film and television business.

My prediction has come to fruition. Over the past quarter century I’ve been able to act with all the different aspects of the film and television business, whether it be creative, marketing, distribution or finance teams, or directly with C-suite executives on strategic management. And that really speaks to the culture of the company—its emphasis on what all departments, including legal, can do to get us to the point where we’re all working towards a common goal. Open lines of communication play a big part in this process. Right now, we have regular “executive committee” meetings that include all the senior department heads, including legal and C-Suite executives. The meetings go beyond updates on where things stand as far as deal making or contracts. These meetings also provide an opportunity to have strategic discussions among department heads and really figure out ways to get things done.

Please talk to us about your leadership style and what or who has influenced it.

One of my principal goals is to guide the business and legal affairs team in how best to help our creative and C-suite executives get to “yes” in any deal they want to make. Often members of the legal department are the ones delivering the, “No, you can’t do that.” And telling management and executives what they can’t do— identifying risks and educating the team management as to what risks are—is imperative. But I also feel that Legal should be able to assist management by providing a more comprehensive risk-benefit analysis that includes solutions rather than roadblocks; solutions that help eliminate or mitigate the identified risks and advance toward their business goals. In our environment, having the opportunity to participate in the creative process and my interest in it, has made a big difference.

As far as what has influenced my work ethic and leadership style, I would again have to go all the way back to my youth. My maternal grandmother owned a small diner and I started working there as a preteen. She told me, “Kevin, in the restaurant, when you’re working, I’m not your Grandma, I’m your boss.” And from that point until I went off to college, she had me work at every position in the restaurant—starting at the bottom washing dishes (I had to stand on a milk crate to reach into the sink) before moving on to waiting tables and working the cook line. My grandmother imbued in me the importance of knowing what everybody in a business does in order to understand how to run a business.

Another thing I’m grateful to Grandma for: She didn’t give me my paycheck, she deposited it into a college savings account. Although I was allowed to keep my tip money when I was old enough to start being a server, I stashed that away as well. By the time I graduated from high school, I had enough in my college fund for my flight to California, my housing and books (and, luckily also I got a full-tuition scholarship). Although my family didn’t have a lot of money, I developed early on a sense of financial responsibility, as well as a strong work ethic as I was up every morning at 4 a.m. and didn’t go to bed till 8 p.m. Those types of hours were not unusual to me when I started as a young lawyer and continue today. One other piece of advice that my grandmother gave me—which becomes more real with each passing year—is that age is just a number, you’re only as old as you feel, and if you’re happy, you’ll always feel young. And to that I would add that you need to be happy with the work you’re doing. That’s really important whatever the area of law you’ve chosen to practice in, or however you’ve chosen to apply your legal degree. Your work should bring you some sort of sense of accomplishment and joy.

Others who have influenced me include my current and former CEO, both of whom have impressed upon me the importance of a corporate culture of collaboration and teamwork. Setting and executing company goals is a collaborate effort. And again, that includes the legal team identifying risks, coming up with solutions on how to eliminate and mitigate those risks, and helping create a structure with the appropriate legal guardrails to get the company to a place where it can meet its strategic goals. Also, working in these kinds of environments fostered an ability to apply my myself to things that interested me, even though they might have been outside of my job description. That has had big impact in shaping my career.

What qualities do you look for when you’re building your team?

First and foremost, someone who’s a team player and will fit well within the company culture. I look for someone who’s inquisitive and has strong research and problem-solving skills. What I’m not looking for is someone who will sit with something and attempt to figure it out on their own, and then right before a deadline, says, “I’m not sure what to do here.” I’m looking for someone who can step up but is also not afraid to ask questions of those with more experience. I’m also looking for someone with strong communication skills. I think that’s important given the collaborative nature of the company. Also, someone who has effective time management skills given the number of deadlines that we have. Lastly, someone who’s able to easily adapt. The media landscape is constantly changing so there’s got to be a willingness to adapt and grow and gain new skills.

Talk to us about some rewarding career advice you’ve received along the way.

Whenever possible, you should talk to people in person, and if in-person isn’t possible, then over the phone. It’s important to establish a personal connection with whomever you’re dealing, and to get off electronic communications, like email and text messaging, as much as possible. I’ve found that through email or text, you don’t necessarily build rapport with your colleagues, both internal and external. And often emails can lead to misunderstandings and unintended conflicts where things may drag out, whereas if you just had a conversation face-to-face or over the phone, you could resolve the issue. I find that people often talk past each other over email. That’s the most influential career advice I’ve gotten. The current CEO, Steve Mosko, has really emphasized the importance of in-person communication and I find that the legal team works more efficiently if there are conversations. So if I see a lot of back and forth via email, I will, as GC, step in and say, “Okay, let’s schedule a meeting. We need to all get in a room, or on a Zoom. I’ve found that’s the quickest way to resolve issues and move forward efficiently.

Another bit of good advice that I’ve received is to stay curious, which I believe is the secret to my longevity at Village Roadshow. The media landscape and the goals of the company have shifted through the years and I’ve had to continuously be open to learning new things, developing new skills and taking on new challenges.

How would you like to see the legal profession evolve going forward?

AI is something that I hear talked about a lot. In my view, there are ways to leverage the evolution of technology in ways that make us all better. I’d like to see legal professionals figure out ways to leverage AI to streamline and enhance and improve the legal process. I also think it’s important that legal organizations continue to address issues of diversity and inclusion within their ranks. Two years ago, I took on the added role of “director, creative diversity and inclusion” at Village Roadshow.

I also think the profession should find more ways to make legal services more accessible and affordable to underserved communities as well as the general public. Just from talking with friends and family, I’ve found that a lot of people have many basic legal questions and don’t know where to turn for answers. There needs to be a centralized service where someone could go or some other way to make legal advice and services more widely available.

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