In a Hollywood that has become increasingly transient – where org charts have semi-annual reviews and agents become managers become producers and so on. This is why it is particularly remarkable that a new company joins the fray.
Emerging from an industry-shattering pandemic, during which there were also political, racial and professional calculations, the founders of JSSK – Matt Johnson, PJ Shapiro, Gregory Slewett and Tara Kole – decided to create a company that meets contemporary needs. of talent, including an increasingly inextricable link between Hollywood and social activism. It was the day after the police killing of George Floyd that Johnson – sat at home due to the COVID-19 shutdown, renegotiating contracts as the industry tried to course-correct in a free fall – started thinking about “how I wanted to continue to commit to my career for this next chapter. The four future JSSK partners were on the same wavelength.
In the first half of 2021, Johnson, Shapiro and Slewett, who all worked together at iconic talent store Ziffren Brittenham, began discussing the outlines of a new venture. That summer, Kole (previously of Gang Tire on the same level) had joined the triumvirate.
“It’s 2022,” Kole now notes. “We just went through a pandemic, which gave everyone a lot of time to step back and look at what we want to do.” The result is the newest entry into the ever-rooted boutique entertainment law space.
JSSK – which represents upper echelon Hollywood clients like Emma Stone, Adam McKay, Jamie Foxx and Michael B. Jordan – officially launched on January 1 and opened its new Pacific Design Center office in late February. . When it came to filling this position, the founders sought to “create a company that better reflects our customer demographics, our community, and our personal vision for the future,” says Shapiro. Johnson adds, “This company – and most law firms – still tends to be dominated by white men, and there’s really no justification for that.” Including the four names on the door, there are 14 lawyers at JSSK – more than half are women and six are people of color.
When it comes to clients, the partners have reduced their rosters to emphasize individual attention, with each client having at least two (and in some cases three) lawyers. Historically, within companies, there had been a general feeling of “this is mine, this is yours,” says Kole. “We see it as every customer is a customer of the company.” Going forward, the focus will not be on volume but on impact. In an age where multiple hyphens are the basis and a strong brand can lead to equity investment – for both emerging talent and established clients, including those who walk the studio systems in them -themselves (see: Tyler Perry) – the focus will be on strengthening the corporate foundation to bear the brunt of everything from beauty lines to massive global offerings.
While negotiation is inherent to talent law firms, JSSK is unique in its concerted civic engagement efforts. Says Slewett, “Now was the time for a new venture with a different energy that matches a generation of filmmakers, actors, producers and writers who value more than just negotiation in their portrayal.”
The four founders have long been involved in non-profit and charitable work as well as politics. Kole is a permanent board member of Women in Film, while Johnson served on the LAPD’s civilian oversight board and was asked by LA Mayor Eric Garcetti to lead the company’s early philanthropic and community efforts. city against COVID-19.
But while associates have the bandwidth to serve on boards and devote time to passion projects, young lawyers are often “caught up in the grind,” as Shapiro puts it. Johnson adds, “Rather than it being something that people were doing on the sidelines that maybe was tolerated elsewhere, we really wanted to embed it into the DNA of our company.”
To help with this effort, JSSK brought in Hannah Linkenhoker as their Engagement Manager. She comes from ICM Partners, where she led the agency on issues-based advocacy. Under Linkenhoker’s leadership, the firm will internally promote advocacy work within its ranks and externally help clients navigate social and political action efforts. Charitable partnerships already include Heart of Los Angeles and Boys & Girls Club, and the founders held a fundraiser for Rep. Karen Bass’s Los Angeles mayoral campaign.
“A lot of times I think lawyers mirror their clients and their lawyers’ clients,” says Kole, whose list includes gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams and Chelsea and Hillary Clinton.
“It’s not that I don’t want to make a lot of money and represent the best and the brightest in our business,” Shapiro says. With the company managing in-demand stars like Donald Glover, Florence Pugh and Regé-Jean Page, it’s a no-brainer. “But we can do it and at the same time have an impact on our community.”
This story first appeared in the March 30 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.