The New York City lights glittered in the distance as the town car approached the music venue. Steven Beer stepped out, politely declining his driver's assistance, as sheets of rain perfectly masked his entrance. The security guards and owner of the venue welcomed Beer with open arms and genuine warmth, leading him backstage where Grateful Dead's Mickey Hart had found respite. This was just another night in Beer's extraordinary life and career.
For decades, Beer has dedicated his energy to developing and supporting artists. Often among the first to identify talent, Beer signed Britney Spears to Jive Records and co-managed her, along with Aaron Carter and No Secrets. He also discovered and developed Lady Gaga in the early days of her career, introducing her to the industry now enamored with her today.
Beer does not limit himself to just music. He has produced numerous hit feature films and now represents industry-leading film production, finance and distribution companies. The company he founded, R&B FM, focuses on producing music-oriented films. As former President of the Executive Board of the IFP, he regularly hosts panels at Sundance Film Festival and serves on the Advisory Board of Bahamas International Film Festival. Meanwhile, through his indieWIRE articles, he has empowered generations of filmmakers to overcome marketing and distribution obstacles and unlock their full creative potential.
Beer's passion for supporting young talent has brought him to international firm Greenberg Traurig, where he continues his groundbreaking work today.
How did you get started as an entertainment lawyer and manager?
I grew up listening to all kinds of music and watching as many movies as I could. I would also read books and articles about the entertainment business. By the time I was in high school, I understood that I wanted to be an advocate for artists. My sense then was that many artists lacked business skills and often wound up with the short end of the stick. My goal was to help level the playing field for artistic content creators in a legal capacity.
In terms of artist management, we backed into that arena when Britney Spears signed to Jive Records. The label proposed an innovative team approach to developing this artist, where we would co-manage the music business elements together. Larry Rudolph and I learned a great deal from Clive Calder, the owner of the label, and his collaborative and experienced team of executives. The Britney experience prepared me to manage Jive Records teen artists Aaron Carter and No Secrets.
Although I no longer serve as a traditional personal manager, I still help to develop artists in my capacity as strategic legal counsel. I enjoy building teams by recruiting successful professionals tasked with supporting success plans for artists on a project basis.
In the current media and entertainment landscape, what is capturing your attention?
We are living in a renaissance time. There has never been a better time to be a content creator. Finally, artists can forge a sustainable lifestyle. For the first time, content creators are not beholden to record labels, publishing houses, or traditional film distribution companies to achieve their creative goals. I am seeing more and more artists define success on their own terms. It is gratifying to support them as they devise and execute their success plans.
The artists that I am working with appreciate that they can achieve their creative and business goals. These content creators prefer to keep their hands on the steering wheel of their creative endeavors. It is going to lead to better art and more fulfilling careers for artists. The art audience will benefit because they are going to experience the most original, groundbreaking works that are unfiltered and undiluted. In today's world, there are no excuses.
What film inspires you at the moment?
Michael Rapaport's Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest. It is an extraordinary film about a seminal hip-hop group during a dynamic time in urban culture.
The minute I saw the film, I knew that it had the potential to appeal to audiences beyond their loyal, music fans, and I am excited to see that happening. The film is one of the most successful documentaries at the box office this year. I have confidence that it will continue to get recognition - not only from fans and audiences at film festivals, but also from journalists. It deserves to be recognized as one of the best documentaries of the year. I am proud of our association with the film, and I was grateful to play a pivotal role in securing a deal with Sony Pictures Classics at Sundance 2011.
How does a deal like that occur?
Before Sundance, we apprise our distribution colleagues about the films we are representing. We discuss which films might be the best fit for them. In the instance of Beats, Rhymes & Life, I outreached with Dylan Leiner at Sony Pictures Classics, prior to Sundance, and encouraged him and his colleagues to see the film. I thought that they would be a quality partner for the film.
It has been a pleasure working with them. Dylan, Michael Barker, and Tom Bernard worked hard on the film release. They understood the film and connected it with new and different audiences. It is great to see them rewarded for their initiative.
What is the Gotti film that you are working on right now?
I am working as production counsel for Gotti: In the Shadow of My Father. Our client secured the exclusive life story rights from John Gotti Junior. It turns out that, in many ways, this is a universal story between a father and son. Fiore Films also secured John Travolta in the role of John Gotti and Ben Foster in the role of John Gotti Junior. Academy Award-winner Barry Levinson is directing. This is a substantial film produced outside of the studio system on location in Brooklyn. It has been exciting for me to be a part of this process from the very beginning.
Your first indieWIRE article on filmmaker empowerment has inspired many to take innovative approaches to marketing and distribution. Which film has utilized a unique strategy that you admire?
Sita Sings the Blues was a groundbreaking film project. Here is a woman who, virtually on her own, created and produced a visually and musically arresting film that weaves her personal life into the traditional Ramayana. To executive produce that film with Nina Paley has been a really satisfying experience. It was Nina's first feature film. She deployed a Radiohead pay-as-you-like model. She has distributed the film in the public domain, yet people seek to purchase copies. So it proves that audiences appreciate and will support artists that motivate them.
What factors do you consider before becoming involved with a film, whether as a producer or as legal counsel?
The quality of the work and their professionalism. It is important to work with people who are good collaborators.
Can you describe your involvement with the Independent Feature Project?
For 4 years, I served as President of the Executive Board of the IFP, a membership organization for the film community. I worked with some outstanding industry leaders and artists that inspired me.
Which film festivals do you most look forward to attending each year?
I like the Toronto International Film Festival because Toronto in the fall is exceptional and the film program there is always fantastic. Toronto marks the beginning of the new film festival season, so it is a great way to regroup with colleagues after the summer.
I also like the Cannes Film Festival. It reminds me of how important the international marketplace is to the commercial success of films.
Although challenging on many levels, Sundance is my favorite festival since I am intimately involved with the distribution of my clients' films. Additionally, I program panels at the New York Film Lounge on Main Street and invite my NYC artists to perform at the Cider House Sessions every afternoon.
What do you advise filmmakers to do before they show at a festival?
My advice to filmmakers is to create and follow through with a success plan around those goals. They have to understand their priorities in terms of where to premiere. For example, if your goal is to sell your film at a festival, then you need to focus on the industry-oriented festivals like Sundance or Toronto.
Amid today's landscape, artists can no longer rely solely on major record labels for artist development. How do you bridge that gap within your own practice?
Music artists today can create, market, and distribute their material. In this DIY universe, they can create breakthrough material that will appeal to fans who are seeking something different. Within the digital universe, they can access and motivate their audience to buy their music and attend their shows. The music artist today has a greater chance of forging a successful career while creating music that is distinctive and personal to them. In this universe, they do not have to make creative compromises as dictated by a third party financier.
Which of your clients have attained the most success, and how did they achieve this level of recognition?
Julia Nunes is an extraordinary artist that used YouTube to develop a world following that interacts with her, buys her music, and anxiously awaits her next record. CNN just profiled Julia's KickStarter efforts. She set out to raise $15,000 to record her next record. Because she connects so well with her fans, Julia raised $80,000. She is a living example of an empowered artist.
What are the appropriate ways for an artist to seek your representation? What is the most unique way an artist has managed to gain your attention?
My most successful way of meeting artists is through quality referrals from people whose taste and judgment I like a lot. Occasionally, I will meet clients through the randomness of life - like when I met Julia Nunes on a Delta flight to Atlanta. I asked her if she wanted to sit in the middle seat instead of the aisle seat. She giggled, declined my request, and shared her music with me. We became friends and forged a professional relationship. Although I work on her team, I am one of her biggest fans. I love her music. She is a rising star that deserves commercial success.
What concerts do you enjoy the most?
My favorite concerts feature artists who interact with their fans. They understand that there is a dynamic relationship with the audience. These artists take charge and give everything to the performance. Those experiences are the most memorable. For me, there is a tremendous rush when the entertainer and audience come together.
Occasionally, I host showcases for my clients. At a recent SteveStock musical event, I loved the way Julia Nunes, Phony Ppl, and My Cousin the Emperor connected with the audience, most of whom had not heard the entertainers' material. It is really exciting for me to watch when that happens.
What is a typical day in New York like for you? Does it differ from a typical day in Los Angeles?
I live in New York and take the subway to work, so I am immersed in a diverse and surprising culture. Los Angeles is much more predictable, with regards to the weather, the traffic, and the music on the radio. I met one of my favorite young artists, Natalie Gelman, on a NYC subway platform five years ago. She is now finishing her first record with award-winning songwriter Charlie Midnight.
What are the benefits of your career? What do you find most rewarding?
The greatest benefit of my career is the satisfaction derived from playing a role in the development of artists and the creation of innovative, breakthrough content. I feel like I am in the front row, witnessing the greatest revolution in content creation - from music to film to publishing, where the middleman is no longer dictating the creative or financial process. This is already leading to unbridled, undiluted, unabashed, cutting-edge presentation of ideas and content. Our clients are charting new territories, breaking new ground, and are committed to marketing and distributing their materials with integrity, in tandem with their audience. It is gratifying for me to help them maintain creative and business control over their projects. In today's world, the artists can not only have the baby but raise it too.
What are your proudest achievements - in your personal life and in your career?
I love raising three amazing and creative sons with my wife. I learn from my family on a daily basis; they are my anchor in what would otherwise be tumultuous waters.