The Linchpin

From a Hollywood life to Albany law, the common theme was communication

Published in 2019 Upstate New York Super Lawyers — August 15, 2019

JulieAnn Calareso can thank the Colin Farrell flick Phone Booth for her career change. 

It was 1999, and Calareso was living that Hollywood life as an assistant to the director of creative affairs for Kopelson Entertainment. You’d find Calareso reading scripts or doing legwork for movie deals. “From 1996 to 1999, I slept with a beeper under my pillow,” she says. 

Calareso thought she’d be a journalist or TV writer. A communication degree felt like it would give wiggle room for either course, so Calareso attended Fordham’s program. Her thesis won a communication award, which helped her score two big internships. 

The first was at CBS Evening News, where she did traditional intern tasks before worming her way into the casting department of As the World Turns

Next came Paramount. “I worked on the press junkets, where the media would come in and interview the actors,” she says. Calareso laughs recalling a particular actress. “She needed carrots, but with the greens still attached. So I’m scurrying around the Upper West Side looking for a grocer with carrots with the greens still attached—today, you could walk into any store and find that.” 

While she didn’t make any money at Paramount, she made a decision: She wanted a career in entertainment. 

She spent the early ‘90s working various jobs in New York, including as a temp for Procter & Gamble when it was still in the soap opera game. After that, she was a production assistant on an independent film and then for a historical documentary company. But she had her eyes on Hollywood. After she told her family she wanted to move to L.A., her father said, “OK. We’ve got one week to find a car, a job and an apartment.”

“When my dad left L.A., we had a car and an apartment,” she says. “Two out of three ain’t bad.”

L.A. being L.A., Calareso’s roommate worked for 20th Century Fox and helped Calareso get a job as a floater. She did all sorts of things—checked IDs in security, lent a hand to the casting and costuming departments, read scripts. “They were making NYPD Blue. You’d turn a corner and be walking through Manhattan,” she says. “It kept the magic alive for me.” She eventually worked her way to permanent production assistant. The Kopleson job came in 1999.

While the Hollywood glitter was distracting, it wasn’t enough to hide Calareso’s growing concerns. “I wondered, ‘Is what I’m doing adding value to the world? What’s my end game?’” she says. 

Then came the script for Phone Booth. It was so buzzy that several production houses were clamoring for it. Calareso read the script on behalf of Kopelson to decide if they wanted it or not: they did. 

“That day was easily the most stressful of my entire time in the business—we didn’t get the deal,” Calareso says. “And I looked around me at all these people whose world was ending because we didn’t get a movie made! It hit me: I cannot do this for the rest of my life.” 

It wasn’t long before she landed back in New York. On the advice of now-husband Jack, who was in law school, she took the LSAT, and eventually graduated from Albany Law. “I found all the things I was missing: a community, the potential to do something that added value to the world,” she says. 

Now a partner at Albany’s The Shevy Law Firm, she practices trusts, estates and elder law, partly borne out of personal experience with her grandmothers. “My grandmother on my father’s side had money; on my mother’s side, she had nothing, and I saw how that translated to care,” she says. “It was shocking.”

She points to the overlap between her two careers. 

“Convincing someone to buy or not buy a script required the ability to communicate clearly but passionately,” she says. “I feel like I use the same storytelling techniques when talking to a client. … The linchpin all along was communication.”

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