A Chat With Motion Picture Association Fellows Rhyan Lewis & Billy Davis
This year, the Motion Picture Association partnered with the Entertainment Industry College Outreach Program (EICOP) to launch a first-of-its-kind initiative—the MPA-EICOP Entertainment Law & Policy Fellowship. This is the first entertainment-focused law and policy program to serve outstanding recent graduates from Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs), and other Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs).
The fellowship program, which lasts a year, provides housing, travel, and stipends, eliminating the systemic barriers that would bar a potential Fellow from the experience. For one of our first Fellows, Billy Davis, a graduate of Howard University and the Howard University School of Law, the program felt like a perfect fit.
“When I graduated from law school, I was just trying to find stuff within sports and entertainment or something within intellectual property, and this came across my desk,” Davis says. “It was the perfect opportunity for me. Especially as the first step in my career, it just seemed like it was the best way to get into the entertainment field.”
At the MPA, Davis supports the legal team on various issues, including privacy rights, content protection, intermediary outreach, and legal drafting. Davis joined his fellow Fellow (if you will) Rhyan Lewis, a graduate of Spelman College. They both worked in the MPA’s Los Angeles offices, and are now in-house at the MPA’s Washington D.C. headquarters with longtime MPA employees, working with the MPA’s member studios alongside senior executives and policymakers. It was a front-row seat to a side of the entertainment industry neither Davis nor Lewis had prior experience with, yet were well suited to thanks to their backgrounds and work ethic.
“Working on the policy side has given me a bird’s eye view of the entertainment industry,” Lewis said. “I learned so much. Whether it was about how many hours child actors can work or production incentives and how much of a benefit it is to the filmmaking process, I just didn’t realize how much thought goes into this area of production and how important the policy side of filmmaking is. All the different issues that the MPA focuses on have been the most interesting part of this Fellowship and the part I will carry with me no matter what I’m doing in the entertainment world. It’s just really valuable knowledge to have.”
Davis was surprised and gladdened by the amount of collaboration he was a part of.
“Probably the first thing I would say about the Fellowship was how collaborative everyone was,” Davis says.”Coming out of law school, you don’t have many group projects, but at the MPA, everybody’s been extremely helpful regarding the legal drafting and the legal research. It’s really a team effort.” he says.
Davis was also surprised with how big of a part technology is in the DNA of the MPA’s work.
“Another thing that surprised me is just how on the cutting edge the MPA is, especially with the intersectionality of technological advancements and how the law has to keep up with it, whether it’s NFTs or Crypto and how contracts will have to reflect that, and past contracts didn’t. It’s challenging when there’s no case law or no precedent set. Most of what I was working on was content protection and intellectual property. Then I also worked on privacy matters, diversity standards, and having to work with privacy regulations in the US and abroad. I just never thought of that stuff before this Fellowship; like, it never crossed my mind. So working here has definitely been a valuable experience.”
Part of the Fellowship Program’s goals is to not only give Fellows experience working on the MPA’s core issues but also help them build the skills to become the next generation of law and policy leaders in the entertainment industry. One major way to do that is to create opportunities and build a much bigger pipeline for graduates from diverse backgrounds.
For Billy and Rhyan, their journey is just beginning. Billy will continue his work with Paramount as their inaugural Legal Fellow next January, while Rhyan is headed to Sony to work with their Government Affairs Team.
“One of the things that I’ve developed an interest in since being a part of this Fellowship and getting so much exposure to entertainment is the production side of things,” Lewis said. “And I talked to Sony about how they’re implementing entertainment policy into what they there. They want to give me a very collaborative and immersive experience, so I’ll probably be able to dip my toe in many different areas, and I’m really excited about that.”
Note: Applications are now open for the 2023-24 MPA-EICOP fellowship period. Visit EICOP.org/fellowship for the full list of qualifications/requirements and the online application portal.
Featured image: Rhyan Lewis and Billy Davis.