December 21, 2007

A Helping Hand for Hollywood

Armed with acting, writing, directing, and producing experience, lawyer Mychal Wilson ’89 assists actors and others

By Dan Edelen

When the movie credits scroll by, you’ll find the name of actor and film producer Mychal Wilson ’89 listed under one additional role: attorney. With an insider’s knowledge of the workings of Hollywood, Wilson helps actors, film producers, and studio execs navigate the increasingly difficult legal waters of what he considers “the toughest industry out there.”

“A lot of artists know the creative side, but can’t understand the business side of the industry,” he says. For this reason, he founded MindFusion Law, a burgeoning Los Angeles firm that resolves legal issues unique to entertainers.

Like many in Hollywood, Wilson found his way to the top through a circuitous route. Growing up near Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., meant constant exposure to attorneys and government officials. In addition, his parents stressed education as the means to a better life. Still, his decision to pursue a government and law degree at Lafayette was his own: “I always wanted to go to law school.”

But the halls of justice gave way to the trading floor, as Wilson’s first job out of Lafayette landed him on Wall Street working for Chemical Bank.

“I quickly realized that wasn’t the path I wanted,” he says.

A cousin who worked on “The Cosby Show” mentioned that he should come out to Los Angeles and try acting. Yet it wasn’t until Wilson bumped into another Lafayette grad, David Portlock ’88, an actor and aspiring film producer, that the idea clicked.

“We left everything, packed a couple of bags, caught a plane, and ended up in Los Angeles.”

Wilson and Portlock immersed themselves in the Dream Factory, together writing, producing, directing, and acting in a critically acclaimed 1996 film, The Spartans, a Sundance Film Festival entry. On the side, Wilson worked in the pharmaceutical industry for Bristol-Meyers Squibb, winning its Pinnacle Award for top-ten achievement in sales.

Despite these successes, Wilson knew he lacked one thing. While gathering the creative talent to craft another film, and continuing his pharmaceutical sales, he enrolled in Southwestern University School of Law.

Juggling so many demanding roles proved grueling. His production and acting work on his next film, The Gristle, taxed his days, and law school his nights. As Wilson notes, “People don’t realize that you don’t just shoot a film. The maturation process for an independent film is about three-and-a-half years.”

As with any film made outside the studio system, finding funding proved difficult. Armed with his knowledge of law and government, Wilson pursued an untried source: the United States Small Business Administration. Not only did he raise a large portion of the funding for his film, but thanks to Wilson’s initiative, Congress later drafted a bill to assist small filmmakers with financing.

“One of my greatest accomplishments,” he says.

All of Wilson’s hard work made The Gristle a success. The film played regularly on HBO, Cinemax, and BlackStarz.

His experience making the film convinced Wilson that people in the entertainment industry needed champions. A fortuitous meeting with a former classmate, economics and business graduate Dante Battista ’89, led Wilson to his future law partner, Dante’s brother Paul, a former IRS attorney pursuing a degree in filmmaking. Together, the two founded MindFusion Law Corp.

“I saw the way the industry was evolving from local entertainment to global,” Wilson says. Expanding overseas markets, changes in media technology, convoluted distribution rights, and the increasing complexity of industry contracts create a greater need for attorneys who can understand the legal upheavals in the industry. Drawing on his own experiences with funding films, Wilson also helps filmmakers secure financing, dealing with the intricacies of federal securities laws.

Beyond studio and film production assistance, Wilson works with individual actors and film executives to best serve their personal needs. Most entertainers have a limited number of prime working years, so Wilson and MindFusion partner with clients to maximize opportunities.

“Just as a doctor may lecture and write books, entertainers need to tap every opportunity for income,” he says.

Often, he notes, an actor may need career direction.

“If talent comes to me, I can say, ‘This is the acting class you should be in, this is your acting teacher, your manager, your agent,” says Wilson.

MindFusion then offers the legal support needed to ensure continued success.

In an effort to blend his legal practice and film distribution, Wilson founded MindFusion Entertainment to develop, produce, and distribute intellectual property worldwide. In addition, he plans to expand MindFusion Law’s office to overseas markets to better address international needs.

Wilson sees enormous challenges ahead. Piracy on a global scale continues to rock the entertainment industry. Some Asian markets have pirated films on DVD available months before their official releases.

“Copyright law is in our Constitution to help fuel creativity, diversity, and the development of new ideas for our free market system,” he says. “If we don’t protect those rights, what’s the incentive to push the creative edge?”

Changes in technology and media delivery also impact his clients.

“Consumers want their content anywhere, anytime. It’s mobile phones, webisodes on the Internet or your iPod—it’s not just your TV,” says Wilson. “You have to watch how you structure your deals.”

Digital content threatens the large film studios as nimbler content providers with new delivery options arise.

“Studios don’t want to recognize what happened to the music industry,” says Wilson.

Because he understands the difficulties facing young filmmakers, especially those coming from urban environments, Wilson volunteers what he’s learned. As a consultant for the West Angeles Community Development Corporation, he advises small entertainment companies on how to increase their revenue through solid business planning, targeted sales, and national marketing. He also sits on the board of Breaking into Hollywood, an organization that helps others find success in show business.

Wilson knows the struggle that entertainers face in pursuing their careers. For this reason, he continues to advocate for those trying to make it.

He understands because he’s been there.

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