Hooray for Hollywood

27 May 2004

Maggie Daleo (pictured) doesn’t like to drop names. When she mentions in conversation that she recently had dinner with the director Jim Sheridan (The Field, My Left Foot) she quickly adds that someone else made the introduction for her. Although no stranger to Los Angeles and specifically Hollywood, she is closer to the dealmakers and producers behind the scenes instead of hobnobbing with Brad and Jennifer or Angelina and Colin. “It’s more of the business, less of the show,” she admits.

That’s not to lessen the clout that this Californian holds within the industry. Her contacts book may not be a tabloid journalist’s dream but it may hold the key to some of the doors that Ireland’s best and brightest want to knock on. Referring to a recent distribution deal signed between Dublin animation house Brown Bag and MGM, she remarks that the chances are she drafted some of the terms and conditions in the contract from her own time with the studio. That deal predated her own involvement with Enterprise Ireland (EI) but it gives a clue as to why she may come to be a valuable resource for any Irish media player looking to cut a deal in Tinseltown.

Her knowledge of the industry, from a background on the inside, is seen as a crucial element in helping small, indigenous companies understand the workings of the Hollywood machine. “Living in LA, you do make some good contacts,” she admits. “Dealmakers are starting to become icons in their own right. So many deals now get done by in-house attorneys,” she observes.

Her role with EI is as a market adviser. Hired earlier this year, she was recently in Dublin on a whistle-stop tour of the local digital media sector, getting to meet many of the companies she will be representing.

EI is no stranger to the US, having offices in Boston, New York and Washington DC as well as a part-time office in Silicon Valley. However the focus for these was software: the decision to open an LA office on a full-time basis came from recognising the need to be serious about addressing the industry and not simply serving it on a drop-in basis.

The digital media sector has been designated a priority area for EI and LA is the location for many of the industry’s key customers. There is a need to understand the industry, establish a network and a contacts base. “Personal contacts are particularly important,” says Jennifer Condon, director of the national informatics directorate, EI. As such, Daleo’s combination of skills was seen as important, having worked in the industry, in addition to her legal background and understanding of intellectual property (IP). She can advise companies in terms of their contract negotiations and she knows her way around the trickier parts of an agreement.

“Any company should have their own legal counsel, but for the pain points of a contract, that’s where I can help out. Something might look like a good deal upfront, but it might take out cost at the back end,” Daleo remarks. She says that games publishers, for example, may provide money upfront to sweeten a deal, but the terms of the contract may not allow the other party to recover their cost and margin after that.

Advising companies on strategies to go after the entertainment market is another element of Daleo’s job remit. As Mr Wolf says in Pulp Fiction, time is a factor. “Companies must know that they have a very limited window of time. I’ll be educating companies that there is a speed issue. If you go to market you have to do it quickly.”

An IP lawyer by training, she was involved in rights acquisitions for MGM and worked on the James Bond franchise for the studio. It’s a useful example of how the entertainment industry is diversifying, having since spawned a standalone game that is not connected to any of the movies. “When the initial content is good, there are so many different ways to exploit it,” Daleo says. “The gaming industry is getting to be as big as the movie business,” she adds, noting that the Irish games sector is home to some excellent talent.

EI believes that Irish companies can compete and do have skills to bring to the table. Even though a company such as Sony has a footprint in everything from hardware to content and distribution, this does not mean that the company will ignore the efforts of other, smaller players — that’s what EI is counting on. Daleo for her part is optimistic. “You can’t be the best in everything. Sony market their movies under the Columbia name because nobody wants to watch a movie made by Sony. Sometimes it’s the entrepreneurs that create great ideas and that’s because they’re not caught up in the corporate world.”

Condon concurs: “Even the large companies realise that they can’t keep going to the same well. There has to be a diversity in creating content and they are looking for new sources of content, so there’s room for small companies and creative individuals to find a market.”

Daleo will concentrate initially on Irish companies providing digital media technology — content distribution and delivery platforms or payment systems for example — as it’s thought that this is where we are most likely to have an edge on the US, especially in the mobile and wireless space. “There is fabulous technology here for wireless distribution,” she says.

And having an edge will be crucial. Another skill Daleo brings to the party is in the field of competitive intelligence, an ability to map out the landscape for potential new market entrants. This will allow her to supply vital intelligence to Irish companies on the front line, allowing them to be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of rivals in the same sector — or indeed if they have found a niche that no one else yet occupies. She will urge Irish firms to create relationships with Hollywood players by going to trade shows and being seen. “Especially in entertainment, relationships are very important.”

Asked if Irish companies are in a position to stay ahead of the pack, Daleo points out that the US is still catching up on telecoms, leaving Europeans well placed to take advantage of a still maturing market. The teen sector will be a key battleground, Daleo predicts. “Generation Y is where Irish technology is going to have the biggest impact. They want a phone they can customise.”

Although much of the focus will be on ‘selling’ technology providers to potential US customers, that’s not to the detriment of content: Brown Bag Films’ Oscar nomination has given the entire Irish animation sector a boost, Daleo says. “It helps all companies, it shows there’s fabulous animation being done here.” She detects a fondness for Ireland within Hollywood, helped in no small part by the country’s use in location shooting and its generous tax breaks. Cartoons may be in the best position to capitalise however. “Animation’s an easier sell because it’s cross-cultural,” she notes.

Hollywood can be a small town where everyone knows everyone — the kind of environment the Irish are very familiar with. “I did some work for a producer before, acquiring a script,” Daleo relates. “The other attorney happened to be one of my schoolmates. It’s a small world and people are moving around within the industry.”

By Gordon Smith