Compared with your average lawyer, Kate Zarmalwal’s job is loaded with about as much glitz and glamour the profession allows.
Zarmalwal is the general counsel to Power, the independent film and television production and distribution company responsible for such mini-series as Henry VIII and Casanova. Before Power invested in dedicated production studios, auditions were conducted in the office, and Zarmalwal had the likes of James Bond actor Daniel Craig traipsing in and out of the workplace.
Recently, Zarmalwal was treated to a day on set of one of Power’s flagship films Flood, starring Robert Carlyle. And then there are the parties with David Suchet and Joanne Whalley…It sure beats proofreading offering circulars or certificates of title at 3am, some might suggest.
But mixed in with all the celebrity spotting and celluloid lifestyle is a varied and demanding legal role. Power has begun to co-produce films and programmes, expanding from simply being just a distributor of other companies’ productions.
Zarmalwal and her legal department are at the heart of these changes, working on the contracts, licensing and financing of the productions, as well as advising on the company’s structure.
Zarmalwal joined Power as the company was undergoing a corporate restructuring and was the company’s first general counsel.
One of her first tasks was to help steer Power through tricky waters as the company simplified its tax structure and moved all its assets to the UK from offshore jurisdictions.
The role has put Zarmalwal at the heart of the business and she works closely with chief executive officer Justin Bodle.
The opportunity to be involved in the business and oversee every step of the production process attracted Zarmalwal in-house to begin with.
“One hundred per cent of my time is now spent on the law, rather than 30 to 40 per cent of it spent on things such as marketing and admin,” she says.
Power was one of Zarmalwal’s main clients while she was an associate at Harbottle & Lewis, which made the transition to life in-house smooth. It also made her choice of firm for outsourced work an easy one.
Zarmalwal says she will continue to use the firm in the future, despite relationship partner Mark Bertram leaving to join Olswang. “I’ll always use Harbottles as I know all the specialists there, the people that do film finance, property, even litigation,” she says.
Harbottles could be in line to get an increasing amount of work from the company.
In its 11-year history, Power has so far distributed programmes to more than 100 broadcasters and co-produced more than £125m worth of TV dramas. The plans are to grow and Zarmalwal anticipates more pressure will be placed on the legal department.
“We could expand the legal capacity,” says Zarmalwal, “or we could just outsource the extra work. The legal fees are paid out of the production budget.”
It’s a situation that means keeping a tight rein on costs is doubly important. Zarmalwal says that if the company did move to hire another lawyer, it would be at a junior level.
Tax is still a concern for Zarmalwal, but this time in terms of structuring productions rather than the company itself. One of the main worries for Power at the moment is the uncertain legal environment following the end of tax benefits for films made in the UK.
“We have been through a period of real uncertainty for the UK film industry as the old sale-and-leaseback tax credit regime comes to an end and the new producers tax credit regime comes in,” she says.
For tax purposes, Flood was a joint South African, Canadian and UK production. All filming was carried out in South Africa and post-production took place in Canada. The film is a good example of a UK production forced out of the country to save money.
Zarmalwal says: “The new regime is very untried and untested to the extent that, at least for the time being, banks and financial institutions appear to be unwilling to lend against it.
“There has been a lower than usual level of film production in the UK this year as producers chase the more certain tax credit regimes round the world and produce their films in other countries.”
So for lovers of British film and television, spare a thought for the hardworking legal team behind the scenes that puts the hours in to find the right tax structure to bring the film to reality.
|General counsel :||Kate Zarmalwal|
|Reports to :||Chief executive officer Justin Bodle|
|Firms used :||Harbottle & Lewis, Berwin Leighton Paisner|
|Kate Zarmalwal’s CV:||