New Zealand Law Society - Film bug keeps delivering for Hollywood lawyer

Film bug keeps delivering for Hollywood lawyer

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By Jock Anderson

Deborah Anne (Deborah) Fox
Entry to law
Graduated BCom LLB(Hons) from Auckland University in 1992. Admitted in February 1993. 
Sole practitioner working from home (Deborah Fox Legal). 
Speciality area
Entertainment law.
Deborah Fox
Deborah Fox

In the razzle-dazzle make-believe world of Hollywood, where stars claw over one another for publicity and fortunes are made and lost at the box-office, Deborah Fox plays her cards close to the chest.

“I am not Peter Jackson’s lawyer and I don’t act for him personally, but I have acted for New Line Cinema, and others,” she says, declining politely and firmly to reveal her full film-making client list.

New Line produced Peter Jackson’s Oscar-winning Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies – much of which was filmed in New Zealand, but not without controversy over Government assistance and labour issues, which Deborah won’t talk about or say exactly what her involvement was.

But she says attending LOTR premiers in London, Paris, Berlin and Wellington was fun.

She has acted for a number of major US film studios for more than 15 years on both film financial and production issues, and has advised on legal issues relating to television and radio broadcasting, live events and performances, and sport.

This includes legal protection for film studios and their ability to distribute the films they make.

She heads up to Hollywood every year, splitting her working life between Los Angeles, New York and London. “Just being around in Hollywood there’s inevitably something to be done.”

Earlier, after joining Simpson Grierson in 1995 and working her way up to partnership in 2005, she focused on building an entertainment law practice.

This mainly involved legal work for Auckland’s Aotea Centre and Square, the Civic Theatre and Town Hall – previously known as The Edge - and Netball New Zealand.

More recently she handled some “difficult legal issues and tough negotiations” on stage musicals such as  Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Mama Mia, Saturday Night Fever and We Will Rock You.

“I’m basically an escapist. I love the commerciality of working on contracts for sponsorship, talent, suppliers, hiring and venues and then seeing it all come together in great events.”

Her “big break” came while at Simpson Grierson working with Susan Glazebrook (now Justice Glazebrook of the Supreme Court) on financial arrangements for the locally-made, international series Xena and Hercules.

“We were also working on Lord of the Rings and when she became a judge, I kept on LOTR work for four years. By then I had the bug…”

Deborah and tax partner Stuart Hutchinson tasted local fame when they starred in cutting edge promotions for Simpson Grierson – dressed as if about to walk the Hollywood red carpet.

The ad focused on their involvement with New Line Cinema.

She later resigned her partnership and set about dedicating herself to practice in the specific area of entertainment law.

“It’s a pretty small niche and not many do what I do for who I do it for…”

She recalls being stuck in a Chicago hotel room during a blizzard waiting for a flight, and finding Xena and Hercules on television.

“In the scene they were supposed to be walking down the Ganges, and clearly it was in the Waitakeres. It made me hugely proud that New Zealand was a part of this business.”

She welcomes this year’s New Zealand screen production grant scheme, which makes international productions eligible for a cash grant of 20% of qualifying New Zealand production expenditure (QNZPE) with a 5% uplift available for a smaller number of productions that can demonstrate significant economic benefits to New Zealand.

Under the grant scheme New Zealand productions which have significant New Zealand content or are official co-productions, are eligible for a cash grant of 40% of QNZPE.

“The grants will make a big difference for film making, which definitely comes down to the dollars.”

This year, Deborah was appointed an adjunct instructor at the New Zealand College of Law, preparing law graduates doing their professionals with tutorials in negotiation and interviewing.

 “Getting involved with clients and their stories is always interesting – and my clients are fascinating.”

Her favourite films include Clint Eastwood’s Changeling and Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel.

“I don’t watch films about lawyers because they are not real. They don’t show the hours of writing and pushing divert on the phone.”

“I saw The Escape Artist, and it frightened me. I could never do criminal law.”

[The three-part television murder drama, starring David Tennant as wannabe QC Will Burton, focuses on a disgruntled client acquitted of murder, his ultimate fate, and how, defending himself, Burton benefits from Scotland’s not proven verdict.]

Her partner Carvin Knowles is a composer who has written musical scores for 25 feature films and half a dozen documentaries.

His work includes the 2006 Bottoms Up scene in The Sopranos when Tony and his boys are discussing what to do with Fat Vito, outed as gay; the full score of 2002 film Porn Star: the Legend of Ron Jeremy; and the Pie Scene in 1999 film American Pie, in which Jason Biggs is intimate with a family apple pie.

Jock Anderson has been writing and commenting on New Zealand lawyers and New Zealand's courts for several decades. He also writes the weekly Caseload column for the New Zealand Herald. Contact Jock at

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