Advice to Young Dealmakers: Simon Pulman
Entertainment lawyer and dealmaker Simon Pulman offers career advice to people finding their path in creative industries.
Simon Pulman is a New York based lawyer and advisor focusing on tv, film, and interactive, including influencers and e-sports. In his second appearance on the Project Tempest Podcast, Simon offered advice for young creators and dealmakers.
This occurs at 1:30 of the original podcast and has been lightly edited for clarity. Earlier, Simon & CJ had been sharing their experiences playing the very tough video game Elden Ring.
I went to a law firm and for 5 or 6 years at least I just worked. Work, work, work. Anything I was given, they said jump, I said how high. I really learnt my craft as a lawyer and became a partner. Then it’s really only in the last couple of years, specifically during the pandemic, that I’ve started to write and do more thought leadership and that kind of guidance.
Charting a path - build a foundation, find a niche
It’s a path everyone has to chart for themselves. Certainly, from a big picture perspective, if you want to be in entertainment, you have to think about the audience and the consumer. How are they spending their time? I think that’s absolutely critical, because that will govern things.
I don’t think from a career perspective it’s smart to adhere to a nostalgic view of what the entertainment business is. You grow up watching movies and are enamoured by them. But looking forward, whether that means NFTs, whether that means virtual worlds, whether it means gaming, reading about and educating yourself for sure [is crucial].
I think nonetheless it’s great to have a foundation of the basics. I have a reading list online that has a combination of legal and nonlegal books, but things like DisneyWar, reading about how the conglomerates came together, the rise and fall of Blockbuster, the rise and fall of Netflix, the CAA book. All of these kinds of pieces, I think, offer an education so you have that foundation. Here is where we were, where we are, and where we might go.
Then in terms of forging a career path beyond that, it’s fascinating and really difficult because on the one hand if you can find the right space and area, you can come up with a niche for yourself. If you look at the people who are “thought leaders” in NFTs, one thing that's common to them is that 95% had never used the word NFT 18 months ago. They were able to get into that space: you can forge a path and you can find things.
There is a reason why when you look at the talent agencies, if you look at UTA, WME, CAA, and even the smaller upstarts, the talent agents for digital and influencers and so forth are at the oldest in their early 30s, a lot of them are in their 20s. If you read Deadline you can see who got promoted to agent, most of them will be in gaming and digital and things like that. While the person in the literary group or the talent group might have a longer path because there is somebody sitting there in that seat who is 55 years old.
Doing the work
I do think there is a generational thing which is if you’re currently coming into your career, into any industry, partly because of the market and partly because of generational habits, there is this feeling of underestimating what you have to do. My biggest thing is to do the work. If in doubt, if you don’t know what to do, do the work. If you’re a little lost, do the work. Work more. Expose yourself to more things, take ownership, take accountability. That to me is what really builds a long term career.
I do think there is a kind of mentality in general, and it’s not surprising given the way everything in the world is on demand, to think that things come instantaneously. I don’t think of myself in any way, shape or form as a finished article. I feel that I’m still at the start of the journey. There is still a lot more ahead. If you look at my career, and you view it as a list of years worked, and then look at my LinkedIn articles and whatever else, what that doesn’t show you is quite literally the thousands of hours that I’ve spent sitting on the law partner’s couch waiting for them to review a documents, so they can give me their hand comments so I can put them in, before finally being allowed to go home at 8:30pm. The weekends going into the office and working on things. Being the first into the office. Waking up every day and thinking about things.
This past Friday night when I was in the middle of watching Death on the Nile with my parents, and a client said “Can you call me?”, and I called them at 9:30pm, started drafting a document at 10:30pm. These kinds of things.
You’ve got to think about opportunity, you’ve got to be smart. It’s not just about hard work, it’s about viewing opportunity and about being smart. Whatever your industry, look for people who can be mentors and whose example you can follow, whose habits you can replicate. Ideally that’s somebody within your company, but it could be somebody who is a fellow alum or it’s somebody you encountered on LinkedIn or wherever else. I certainly had people within my firm and outside that I picked what I liked from their particular professional habits.
I also read a tremendous amount. I read every single book on the entertainment business that I could find, and then what I would do is I would get to the end of the book and it would have a list that would say sources, and I would often go and read those books. I would go onto Amazon and it would say, people who read this book also read this. Read all of those as well. I studied the habits, and I looked at the people. Maybe from an ambition perspective I’ve mellowed in certain respects but when I looked at people like Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen and Ted Turner, that's who I wanted to be. It was a mythologised version of what they did, but that's what I aspired to.
Learning the principles, and hard work, and once you’ve got that thinking how can I differentiate myself a little bit? It’s tricky because in this era there is this feeling, and it’s well earned in the US, this feeling of being fungible to your employer, that they want to take advantage of me. The reason I’m in the office is because they want to control me, and there is some legitimacy to that. The funny thing is, I always in a way viewed it as working for myself, and tried to do it from the perspective of, whatever I was doing, even if it was very stressful, I tried to put it in the perspective of ‘what am I taking from this? What am I learning from this?’ I think that that’s important.
Work is the foundation of everything. Showing up. You walk into a room and say, who wants to be an entertainment lawyer? A few people raise their hands, but who actually wants to show up and do it and be the first person into the office and the last to leave and to take the call when nobody else wants to and to think about the client’s issues first thing in the morning and to manage through these difficulties?
We are living in probably one of the most exciting times in the history of media and things are moving so quickly. There is a massive amount of opportunity and that’s a wonderful thing.
What I should really say is that it’s about resilience, and it’s about persevering, which frankly applies to a career and also trying to beat the boss in Elden Ring, bringing it all full circle.
The Project Tempest Podcast is where creators from around the globe talk with author C J Halbard about their journeys, struggles, and inspirations.