spotlight

James Kennedy ’84

Kennedy headshot 1After law school, I decided to try something exotic. With my limited horizons, “exotic” meant California. My plan was to work for a Los Angeles firm for two years, then return to Boston and resume life as a grown up. The returning part consisted of a very brief stop in 1987 at the then Boston law firm of Fine & Ambrogne; the grown up part remains elusive.

My early career trajectory resulted from the same motivation that propelled me through Professor Donovan’s first-year Torts class: fear (I still owe Bill Popeo an apology for remaining silent when my name was first called and letting him draw fire as the next one up). I joined the Century City, CA office of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, the only L.A. firm to grant me an interview. Because I had not been a summer associate at the firm and there were no BC Law alums to protect me, I was assigned to the one department I had specifically requested to avoid: Litigation. Knowing my trial advocacy skills would quickly lead to a job parking cars, I desperately knocked on the door of every partner in every other practice area, pleading for any work that did not require mastering the Rules of Civil Procedure. If the first opportunity had been reviewing a lease, I am certain I would be a real estate lawyer today. Instead, it was drafting an agreement to license the name of fitness guru Jack LaLane for a brand of multivitamins. That agreement led to other trademark licenses, and then to basic television and movie production agreements.

In July of 1985, I was asked cover a new matter for an attorney then on vacation–something described as “a rock concert to feeding starving people in Africa.” What turned out to the be the Live Aid Concert provided a crash course in network television and radio agreements, stadium leases, insurance contracts, and related intellectual property matters. I spent the day of the concert backstage in Philadelphia, convincing performers to sign consents. By the encore, I was hooked on the entertainment industry.

Gibson Dunn and Live Aid led to a variety of legal and business positions in the entertainment industry in Southern and Northern California. In 1990, I joined Lucasfilm Ltd. just north of San Francisco, eventually becoming General Counsel. One of Lucas’s many businesses was video games, which at the time were transitioning from cartridge to CD-ROM technology, allowing games to look much more like movies. In 1995, I joined Electronic Arts, a large entertainment software company looking for someone to negotiate deals with the Hollywood community. I helped establish EA’s business affairs department, and negotiated license agreements with sports leagues and player associations, performers, record companies and music publishers. The highlight was the opportunity to meet a childhood hero, Bobby Orr.

In 2000, I took a break to finish an MBA, paying the bills by teaching at the college and law school levels at a number of local institutions. Video games called me back to Los Angeles in 2003, where I joined a publicly-held company called THQ, as a senior executive and General Counsel. THQ published games for a number of entertainment companies, including Pixar Animation Studios. In 2009, I returned to the San Francisco Bay area to become an executive and Chief Legal Counsel at Pixar, where I currently strive to keep the world safe for animated movie characters everywhere. Not exactly what I contemplated during Trivia Time in Professor Berry’s Entertainment Law class back in the day, but in the words of Jimmy Buffett, it’s been a lovely cruise.

Jim with a Pixar colleague at the Oscars.

Jim with a Pixar colleague at the Oscars.

My hybrid business and legal role at Pixar fits my personality and short attention span much better than a strictly legal role. I rebelled against justifying my professional day in six-minute intervals, so I revel in not needing to complete time sheets. Working inside a company allows me to build stronger relationships with our filmmakers, and develop a deeper understanding of the studio and its business. Interacting closely with the same people in the same place over time makes me feel more invested in the success of the enterprise. As a senior executive, I participate in solving operational problems, setting strategy and refining our business model in a dynamic industry, all of which provides different challenges and opportunities than a traditional in-house role. The first feature-length animated movie, Toy Story, was released in 1995, about the same time technological advances brought full-motion video to video games, and it’s been exciting to participate in the development and growth of business areas that didn’t even exist when we graduated from BC Law. Of course, if forced to choose, I’d pick movies over entertainment software–I’ve watched (and greatly enjoyed!) every Pixar movie several times, but the last video game I recall playing was Pac-Man (with a beer in one hand, on the roof deck of Michael’s Harborside in Newburyport, circa 1983).

~ Jim Kennedy

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