Behind-the-Scenes Man

Bennett Fidlow brings Hollywood to Richmond

Published in 2011 Virginia Super Lawyers — July 2011

Bennett Fidlow never craved the spotlight. In his high school theater program; interning on Broadway during college; visiting the sets of movies and TV shows as an entertainment lawyer, he’s always felt at home working behind the scenes.

In fact, while earning his master’s at Columbia University in the mid-’80s, Fidlow decided management was the role that fit him best. Taking the advice of several Broadway producers who suggested a legal path, he enrolled at Hastings College of Law in San Francisco. One J.D. later, he was on his way—via motorcycle—to LA, eager to start at a top-talent law firm, then called Bloom Dekom & Hergott.

Showing up in a suit and tie, Fidlow didn’t quite fit in at first. “They laughed at me,” he recalls. He quickly learned that the sandals-and-jeans culture of the firm valued personal connections over apparel. It was the late ’80s, and hits like Die Hard and Predator ruled the box office; their stars ruled Tinseltown.

Fidlow recalls seeing Bruce Willis and Sylvester Stallone pass through his firm’s lobby. “It was a law firm that was really like being at the center of the universe,” he recalls, “because they represented, at the time, all of the big action stars.”

But for Fidlow, movie stars were clients and autographs were for contracts. He still had more fun tackling the backstage responsibilities—only, in place of lighting and set design, he was now handling contracts, insurance and union issues. 

Over the next 15 years, Fidlow procured a client list that included Cloris Leachman, Peter Fonda, Sony Pictures, 20th Century Fox, MGM and United Artists. He provided production legal services on more than 50 projects, including The Score, Memento and Seven Years in Tibet. “It’s really fun,” he says. “Plus, unlike a lot of areas of the law, at the end of the day, there’s a finished product. You can kind of say, ‘I helped make that.’”

The lawyer had his own 15 minutes of fame in 1990 when the writer for Pacific Heights borrowed Fidlow’s name for an attorney role in the Michael Keaton film. “People that I hadn’t talked to in years [were] calling up and saying, ‘Did you know they used your name in this movie?’” he recalls.

Fidlow’s career highlight—to date—came years later, in January 2005 at the Sundance Film Festival. Producer John Singleton was showing Hustle & Flow, on which Fidlow had done legal work, and invited the lawyer to the screening. “It was definitely the top film going into the festival,” Fidlow says. “It just fulfilled all the fairy-tale stories about what an indie film experience should be.”

But for Fidlow, the most rewarding part of his job is making the personal relationships along the way. “During probably a two- to three-month period, I’m dealing with producers or their production personnel on a daily basis,” he says, “helping do all the contracts, deal with any issues that come up … just putting out any fires that tend to happen on a project where everything’s going at a fast pace.”

While Fidlow enjoys that pace in his work, the frenzied style of LA was not what he wanted for his family. So after the ‘90s came to a close, he and his wife, Krista, moved back East and settled in Richmond with their two children. The couple had never been to Virginia's capital city, but loved what it had to offer: great schools, good weather, a nice community and proximity to their families. Fidlow started his firm, Schroder Fidlow, right after the move, and became a very rare commodity: a Richmond entertainment lawyer with Hollywood and Broadway experience. He continues his work with his Hollywood clients from afar.

Now, he can spend more time with his family and getting involved in his community. “It’s given me a lot of opportunity to kind of do things that I don’t think I would have gotten the chance to do if I were still in Los Angeles,” he says of the move. “You don’t have the time; there’s too much pressure. Here, the pace of life and the commitment to the community is much more important.” He’s also found his way back into theater—he serves on the Barksdale Theatre’s board of directors. He is also helping produce films including an upcoming one about the earthquake in Haiti.

Not much about his practice has changed. Well, maybe one thing, he says: “I don’t do as many lunches as I used to.”

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