It is one of the youngest and smallest in-house legal departments in the country – and also one of the most entertaining. Matt Richardson has been legal counsel at Pinewood Shepperton for four months and is just beginning to get his head around running the legal affairs of the biggest film and TV studio empire outside the US.
Pinewood Shepperton is the product of mergers between Pinewood Studios, Shepperton Studios and, most recently, Teddington Studios. As such, it is a custodian of English film heritage. From Carry On to James Bond, the vast studio complex has hosted some of film’s biggest-ever productions, as well as recent TV hits such as The Weakest Link and Ricky Gervais’s Extras.
Richardson was brought in earlier this year after Pinewood Shepperton’s board realised it needed a legal brain on the ground. The company floated on the London Stock Exchange in 2004, but legal issues were dealt with internally by company secretary Nigel Wolfin or finance director Patrick Garner, or were outsourced to Pinewood Shepperton’s main law firm Travers Smith.
On arrival Richardson found himself with the task of creating his own role. “I just started doing stuff,” he says of the early days.
Richardson’s day-to-day job is primarily concerned with risk management. Film sets are inherently dangerous places, and contracts with the production companies that populate the studios need to be kept up to date. Most of the companies, especially the larger producers such as Warner, have their own in-house teams for Richardson to deal with.
“Because of the way we work we get lots of contractors in. Suddenly we’ll have lots of people working on our premises. There are an awful lot of risks attached,” says Richardson.
Any claims against the studios also fall on to Richardson’s desk. He is currently involved in helping to deal with the aftermath of the fire that destroyed the massive 007 stage at Pinewood – luckily after filming on Casino Royale, the new James Bond film, had finished. Pinewood Shepperton is still talking to the loss adjusters and there is a giant empty space where, just months previously, a section of Venice had been standing.
Property, too, comes under Richardson’s remit, on which he works with the company’s head of property. Pinewood Shepperton’s major asset is its grounds and buildings, and leases have to be maintained. Recently Richardson renegotiated the “very long” lease for Teddington, which is the group’s dedicated TV studio location.
Employment matters for Pinewood Shepperton’s 210 employees, and any issues arising from the new Companies Act, are also Richardson’s responsibility.
However, Richardson’s main task is to build up the legal department from scratch. Part of that has involved getting to know the company and the way things operate. Although Pinewood Shepperton, as a plc, must abide by all the usual regulations, Richardson says the underlying history of the studios is very much a part of the atmosphere.
“There’s a Shepperton way of doing things, a Pinewood way of doing things and a Teddington way of doing things,” he explains. “It’s very much about personal relationships. It’s full of very strong characters and you have to operate within that.”
As Richardson is a one-man band, he relies heavily on outside advice.
“It’s not about me doing things that external law firms did before, it’s about the central control of the legal function,” he explains.
The role is Richardson’s second in-house position, following four years as part of the legal team at communications company ViaSat. He also brings several years of experience in sports management, as well as a spell on the other side of the camera as a TV presenter and, briefly, an actor, to the mix.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity and I’m determined that I’m going to make the most of it,” he says. “I’m a film fan, and while the work itself is very much like it would be in any commercial organisation, it’s kind of fun to go down to the canteen and see Rupert Everett there.” nOrganisation: Pinewood Shepperton Sector: Entertainment Turnover: £33.4m Employees: 210 Legal capability: One Legal counsel: Matt Richardson Reports to: Finance director Patrick Garner Firms used: Travers Smith, BP Collins and other firms on an ad-hoc basis Work history: 1999 – trainee, Olswang; 2001 – solicitor, Pitmans; 2002 – in-house lawyer, ViaSat; 2006 – legal counsel, Pinewood Shepperton