Charles "Chuck" Coate '88: Hollywood Insider
After more than a dozen years as a entertainment and business litigator, Chuck recently formed Costa, Abrams & Coate, a unique, full-service entertainment law firm in Santa Monica, California. The firm specializes in meeting the needs of the independent film industry in the U.S. and abroad.
"Professor (Sheldon) Halpern and his students might find one of my cases to be an interesting case study," says Coate. "For example, a few years ago, one of my clients was concerned with her portrayal in the Academy Award-winning "Boys Don't Cry" and whether the use of her actual name in the film constituted an unauthorized use of her name for commercial purposes under California law. The film was advertised as based on a true story. The dispute was amicably resolved on the eve of the Oscars."
Independent film producers and distributors face significant challenges in this constantly evolving global industry. Chuck says independent films are particularly difficult to finance so producers have to be very creative and determined to see their visions realized. Increasingly, foreign countries as well as States outside of California are creating tax incentives to attract film business and it is not unusual for close to half of the financing to come from these subsidies. Other trends that according to Coate have spawned new legal issues include shooting films on location in the emerging free markets of newly democratized eastern block countries as well as the technological innovations of shooting and distributing films digitally.
Should litigation become necessary, Chuck is well prepared. In recent years, he has litigated or resolved disputes involving Twentieth Century Fox, MGM, Miramax Film Corp., Madonna, Larry King, Sylvester Stallone and Quentin Tarantino. His first brush with the entertainment industry was considerably less heady.
As a Miami University (Ohio) undergraduate, Chuck's love of music led him to WYCC student carrier radio where he began as a disc jockey and rose to producer. That interest in entertainment propelled Chuck to The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law and Professor Sheldon Halpern's classes where he learned about copyright, trademark, and defamation. A plan to combine his love of music and interest in law took shape and following graduation, Chuck relocated to heart of the entertainment industry--sunny Southern California.
In lieu of accepting a highly competitive, albeit non-paying, internship with Warner Bros. Records at one early point in his career, economic necessity led Chuck to a small business litigation practice in Los Angeles. While he honed his litigation skills, he simultaneously took entertainment industry classes at U.C.L.A. and similarly focused his CLE course work. He joined the Beverly Hills and Los Angeles County Entertainment Bars and networked with others in or aspiring to entertainment law.
In 1990, Chuck joined a new firm being formed by a California Bar Exam studying partner. He expanded his practice to include libel and copyright law and eventually other areas of entertainment law. A watershed case for Chuck was representing a client who came up with the concept of selling naming rights for sports stadiums – an idea that forever altered sports marketing. By 1997, Chuck was a name partner at another Beverly Hills firm with primary responsibility for directing the firm's entertainment litigation and arbitration practice.
Although his cases have been reported in such publications as Entertainment Law Reporter and Entertainment Law & Finance, he continues to define his success in human terms. He remains an active member of the Beverly Hills and Los Angeles County Bar Associations. He remains in touch with Moritz classmates practicing in California. Chuck is married with a daughter, age 8 and a son, age 3 and resides in Manhattan Beach, California.