“Breaking Bad” hitman, entertainment lawyers speak at conference

Ethan Moran, Staff Writer

Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul” actor Jonathan Banks was one of many speakers to give students an inside scoop on the entertainment industry at Tulane University’s Entertainment and Sports Law Conference on Friday. 

Banks, known for his role as Mike Ehrmantraut on “Breaking Bad,” took the stage for an interview moderated by Jeff Frost, former president of Sony TV and current president of Bristol Circle Entertainment. While other speakers in the conference offered insight into legal aspects of the entertainment industry, Banks shared stories from his decades-long career, including his experience playing Mike. 

Beginning with school plays, Banks said his theater experience inspired him to pursue a career in the industry. Moving from New York in 1974, Banks joked that life in Los Angeles was a better way to starve. Banks said his breakthrough role was Frank McPike on “Wiseguy,” and during his tenure in Hollywood, he landed roles on “Airplane!” and “Gremlins.” As years passed, Banks said he pivoted to acting on TV shows and now feels that over time, television became more intelligent and movies became dumber and louder. 

Throughout his talk, Banks emphasized the importance of humility, trust and personal relationships. Speaking about the theme of “Breaking Bad” in an interview, Banks said, “I do think that greed can be all-consuming and overwhelming, and just in the end, destroys you.”

This event marked Tulane Law School’s sixth year hosting the conference. Seating was open to Tulane students and the public. Attorney Tim Francis helped organize the event and said the conference’s mission is  “to inspire others to get involved and also for Tulane to become a world leader in sports and entertainment.”

Francis works at Sher Garner Law firm and has represented artists like Stevie Wonder and served as counsel to U.S. Sen. John Breaux. 

Francis spoke at Friday morning’s “Diversity in Entertainment and Sports” panel alongside EGOT-winning producer Thomas P. Lane, film producer James Lopez, General Counsel for the Washington Nationals Betsy Philpott, Holland & Knight partner Ty Thomas and attorney Mercedes Townsend. 

Panelists discussed ways Hollywood can increase diversity in their projects, the impact of imposter syndrome working as a minority in the entertainment industry and how Hollywood has pivoted towards inclusivity in response to recent social pressure. 

“You shouldn’t be afraid to take on tough issues,” Francis said. “You guys really are the future because you’ll make the change.”

The “Entertainment & Sports Stars: High Profile Legal and Business Issues in Context” panel brought attorneys Kevin Yorn, Alex Kohner and Mathew Rosengart alongside General Counsel for the New Orleans Saints and Pelicans Vicky Neumeyer and SiriusXM general manager Ross Zapin for a discussion on representing celebrity clients. Speakers shared anecdotes about their experiences working with celebrities. 

Rosengart, described as “Hollywood’s King of Litigators” by Variety, spoke on his experiences representing Brittany Spears in her conservatorship dispute. Rosengart said he viewed Spears’ conservatorship as a civil liberties case and followed the money to find supporting evidence. 

Yorn, founding partner of entertainment law firm Yorn Levine, spoke on the challenges he faced representing Scarlett Johansen in her lawsuit against Disney. Yorn said that streaming-based models have led to losses for many artists. He said he has had to find creative solutions with his clients to navigate the new challenges streaming poses to their careers.

Zapin, who works with Howard Stern at SiriusXM and hosts live broadcasts with entertainers like Drake and Taylor Swift, spoke about his obstacles when organizing events that connect with younger audiences post-COVID-19. Zapin said with the influx of music streaming platforms, the live music industry has to adapt. 

“I think it is getting slimmed down,” Zapin said. “With social media, maybe people are spending too much on Instagram and TikTok.”

Students left Friday’s events with insider advice from sports and entertainment industry leaders — and for some, a photo with Banks himself. Seven panels were hosted on Friday, with four additional panels designed for current students and recent alumni on Saturday.

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