2022 LCLD Fellows and Alumni pose with the Paramount team in front of the Bronson Gate at Paramount Studios.

After a nearly three-year virtual run, LCLD Fellows Learning Experiences made a triumphant in-person return with Paramount Global. On October 18-19, 2022, 30 Fellows and Alums were given the star treatment at the Paramount Pictures lot in Hollywood, CA.

Always the trailblazer, LCLD Board Member and EVP, General Counsel & Secretary of Paramount Global, Christa D’Alimonte (left), raised her hand to host the first in-person Learning Experience since the pandemic began–her third LCLD Learning Experience overall. She also hosted the first virtual Learning Experience back in 2020. We are incredibly grateful to Christa and her team for creating such invaluable experiences for the Fellows program.

The event kicked off with welcome remarks from Christa D’Alimonte, Nichole Velasquez, LCLD Fellows Program Director, and Andrew Gumpert, Chief Operating Officer of Paramount Pictures & Nickelodeon. Christa shared her perspective on the importance of LCLD’s mission and how her own career experiences shaped her passion for diversity in the legal profession. Andrew then shared a Top Gun sizzle reel that set the stage for the day to come.  

Next came a series of panel discussions providing an overview of the business and the diversity of Paramount’s brands and audiences. As background, Paramount’s legal department consists of about 750 individuals worldwide—both lawyers and non-lawyers—some of whom work for specific business units and others who are brand agnostic. Throughout the day, we heard from legal team members across the company’s scope.

First, Christa was joined by Alison Wauk, SVP, Business & Legal Affairs, Streaming, to discuss the Direct to Consumer business, which includes Paramount Plus and Pluto TV. They fielded questions surrounding when and why they lean on outside counsel, and shared that the team pays close attention to who is working on what assignments and who is getting the credit.

Next, Carl Benedetti, SVP, Legal Affairs, Litigation, moderated a TV Media panel, where he continuously emphasized that cable is not dead, and content is king. Panelists included Mark Cordoba, SVP, BALA, Paramount Media Networks; Jennifer Ortega, EVP, DGC BALA, BET, Andy Wong; SVP, Associate General Counsel; and Karen Howard, EVP, Legal Affairs, Studios Legal—who kept the audience engaged through an interactive bingo game (with prizes at stake!). The panel emphasized their focus on diversity behind the scenes as well as on the screen. As an example, in the last two-to-three years, they’ve set a goal of at least 50% BIPOC representation on reality shows.

The final panel of the session, led by moderator Jimmy Fanelly, SVP, Legal Affairs, Corporate Legal, focused on Filmed Entertainment and featured panelists Michael Grizzi, EVP, Motion Picture Legal; Noah Fischer, VP, Business Affairs; Christine Benitez, SVP, Multicultural Marketing & Brand; and Jamal Salmon, SVP, Global Data Analytics.

The first day’s programming ended with a Diverse Lawyers at Paramount fireside chat, moderated by Caryn Groce, 2013 Fellow and EVP, Deputy General Counsel, Corporate Law Department. Panelists included Nicole Harris-Johnson, EVP, Business & Legal Affairs, Television Distribution; Michelle Van Oppen, 2021 Pathfinder and Senior Counsel, Business & Legal Affairs, Litigation; Kelly Villamar, 2020 Fellow and SVP, Associate General Counsel, Studios Legal; and Jose Avina, 2015 Fellow and SVP, Legal Affairs, International Theatrical Distribution and Localization. The discussion explored the panelists’ individual career paths, the importance of diverse outside counsel, risk management, and advice for those interested in the media and entertainment industry.

Once programming wrapped, attendees headed to the rooftop at the Thompson Hotel in Hollywood for dinner and drinks under the stars, hosted by LCLD Member law firm Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp.

Day two kicked off with an outdoor breakfast adjacent to the picturesque Paramount Theater, followed by the first session of the day, Paramount Consumer Products & Experiences in a Global Marketplace. The discussion was led by Sara Newbold, EVP, DGC Business & Legal Affairs, Consumer Products & Experiences; Norman Becker, SVP, Legal Affairs, Intellectual Property; Kedar Nadkarni, EVP, Strategy Finance Operations & Insights, Consumer Products & Experiences; and Jose Vasconez Laurich, Senior Manager, NFT Experience. With DEI a key priority, “we invest in measurable initiatives intended to drive change across our organization and across the broader licensing industry,” shared Sara. The ultimate goal is to reach “every age, every aisle, everywhere,” she said. The conversation also explored the intricacies of location-based entertainment licensing and how to manage competing interests with multiple stakeholders. 

The next session, Paramount as a Leader in the DEI Space, was moderated by Tiffany Smith-Anoa’i, EVP, Corporate Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, West Coast, and featured panelists Claudia Lyon, EVP, Talent & Casting, CBS Network Entertainment; Dorey Poder, VP, Talent & Casting, CBS Network Entertainment; Yasmin Dunn, VP, Diversity, CBS Network Entertainment; Joshua Walker, Manager, Diversity & Inclusion, CBS Network Entertainment; and Melissa Potter, VP, Content for Change, Special Events. Tiffany captivated the audience from the start, sharing that her “favorite part of my gig is that I get to say yes to people almost every single day. I get to say yes in an industry that is filled with nos, or closed doors.”

Claudia then spoke about the database they’ve created for performers with disabilities, which they view as a response to the excuse of “we can’t find anyone,” and which now has over 580 performers. Next, Dorey shared details about SHOWCASE, which started as a live theatrical sketch show and has evolved into a highly produced pre-filmed show consisting of music videos, comedic scenes, and shorts designed to provide access, opportunity, and exposure to underrepresented performers. Fun fact: Kate McKinnon is an alum of the program. “We’re making good noise and disrupting what a talent showcase is on behalf of the network,” explained Dorey.

After an engaging morning of DEI discussions, participants were treated to a studio tour of the Paramount lot, which included a visit to the prop warehouse, a behind-the-scenes look at iconic filming locations like the New York backlot, and the unique opportunity to hold an Oscar. There may have even been a few celebrity sightings!

Following the cart tour, guests enjoyed an outdoor lunch and an insider’s view of select archival treasures from the classic Paramount film Sunset Boulevard.

If you thought the star treatment ended there, think again! Guests were treated to a private screening of Sunset Boulevard in the renowned Paramount Theater. As they exited the screening, they were gifted Paramount swag bags—either a backpack or a duffle with a t-shirt or sweatshirt inside—to commemorate the event. The red carpet–worthy experience wrapped with a cocktail and networking reception under twinkling lights outside of the theater.

Paramount sure knows how to host an event, and this was one for the record books. The theme resonating throughout the Learning Experience was that DEI is not only lip service for the media conglomerate, it’s woven in the company’s DNA. Melissa summed it up well when sharing how Content for Change is empowering the entire organization: the initiative is “trying to harness the power of storytelling to challenge stereotypes, shift perceptions, and create meaningful change.” And they’re certainly making an impact. 2022 Fellow Kristen Chittenden’s biggest takeaway from the Learning Experience was that “Paramount does a great job generating revenue from their IP in a way that incorporates diversity, equity, and inclusion into content that changes the way people think about DEI throughout the world.”

LCLD would like to give a special thanks to Board Member Christa D’Alimonte, 2015 Fellow Jose Avina, Durand Williams, Carmen Orsini, and the entire team at Paramount for hosting this Learning Experience. Thanks also to the Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp team for hosting the Welcome Event.