Thea Awards Recipients

Thea Awards 2020

TEA Peter Chernack Distinguished Service Award

Wendy Heimann-Nunes – Nolan Heimann LLP

Wendy Heimann-Nunes is a well-known attorney and a familiar face in the themed entertainment community. She is receiving the Peter Chernack Award in recognition of her many dedicated years of service as pro-bono counsel of the Themed Entertainment Association. Her company, Nolan Heimann LLP describes itself as one of “attorneys and advisers who help you develop your ideas, protect your work, leverage your assets, structure the right deals and operate at your maximum potential.” In this interview conducted by TEA's Judith Rubin, Wendy’s passion for the industry is palpable in her own words.

“Somewhere between private equity and venture capital lies a type of investor that needs to be encouraged to fund our industry’s inevitable growth.”

 

How did you get your start in the industry?  

I was a communications major in college (Northwestern University). A class called “Rhetoric of Contemporary Culture” first introduced me to the concept of “environmental persuasion” - the notion that a themed, immersive environment can invite (that is, persuade) a guest to stay longer and - candidly - spend more money.

The early stages of my career include working as a talent agent in Chicago, and running the landmark Chicago Theater on State Street. I obtained my law degree from The University of Chicago Law School. In doing a major deal with Disney Development Corp., which at the time was revitalizing Times Square, I awoke to the power of location-based entertainment as a vehicle for revitalizing communities.

I moved to Los Angeles. Everyone assumed I would pursue traditional entertainment platforms like television and film, but I followed my interest in environmental storytelling. From 2000-2004, I served as head of business and legal affairs for Universal Creative. I got lucky – the emergence of digital entertainment at that time presented great challenges to the entertainment industry at large. I foresaw that location-based and immersive entertainment eventually would get its due, and I seized the opportunity.

 

Tell us more about your company and your work.

We started Nolan Heimann LLP to provide legal services strategically, with a pragmatic approach that fosters entrepreneurship and growth. For the most part, the firm serves as general corporate counsel for small to midsize companies and individuals who have creative or technological assets as their core business. It’s my passion to help these creators and innovators protect, monetize and leverage what they do. As the firm has grown, however, our client list has grown to include much larger, rather notable companies.

My practice has expanded to include a lot of licensing work, including representing developers working with studios to license entertainment properties and studios/IP holders interested in monetizing within location-based entertainment (LBE). I also continue to represent industry service providers of all kinds, who in general are sorely under-represented, and need legal representation that reflects a genuine understanding of the industry. I found it astonishing that LBE was the only sector within entertainment that did not have outside industry-specific legal advisors.

Where do you see the future of themed entertainment? What is the next frontier?

As mentioned earlier, it was clear to me that themed entertainment would surge in importance as a result of the disruption caused by digital technology. Those of us who were aware of the emerging technologies, the changing entertainment industry and the economic forces knew that the people who created these cross-platform multimedia integrated stories would be - should be - the ones to win the day. This is the group leading the charge because holistic storytelling, cross-platforming, seamless integration and immersive entertainment are where it’s at today. For years, the industry has been using the word “immersive.” Now everyone in the mainstream uses it too. 

I would like to see us apply our core competencies farther and farther into overlapping and relevant industries. This is, really, why I am so crazy-passionate about this: We are about monetizing assets that other people don’t realize are assets. 

The next frontier that I’m committed to penetrating, which I find absent in our industry, is capital sources for mid-tier and lower-tier opportunities - things that are not going to be funded by investment banks or the huge corporations. We need to free up capital for the growing, mid-market, experiential developments and their associated technologies – all the things that emanate from such things as escape rooms, smaller FECs, etc. It’s a void I’m committed to filling. Somewhere between private equity and venture capital lies a type of investor that needs to be encouraged to fund our industry’s inevitable growth. Retail-pocalypse, anyone?

 

How long have you been with TEA? What motivates you to stay involved? 

Ever since I can remember, I have wanted to create – to be a part of something that was about creating. My creativity manifests itself in creating structures and opportunities in which others can create successfully. And that is my flow. It’s not a job for me; it’s my oxygen.

My first Thea Awards was in 1999. I simply loved it. I am drawn to this creative, innovative industry. The rebel in me is a bit “Norma Rae” (I’m aging myself). The themed entertainment community is comprised almost entirely of small companies with small margins, in a very cyclical industry. They need support, they need representation. TEA is there for them. I am there for them too, and I’m there for TEA as well.

The buyers in our industry - the big operators and developers – need TEA member companies to make their projects successful. That means those small companies need to stay healthy in the down part of the cycle, so that they’ll be available in the robust times. And, the healthier these companies are, the more research and development that can fuel the industry at large. What is good for our members is good for the “buyers,” long-term.

May I say that again? What is good for our members is good for the “buyers,” long-term!

It’s important when doing deals, whatever side you are on, that you really think creatively about the use of IP and try to preserve as much opportunity as possible. With respect to vendor communities, this means to be more aggressive about participating in the upside of the IP you create - the possible uses and the yet-unthought-of uses.

I am passionate about making sure that people who create learn to value it as robustly as possible. Art, creativity and innovation are fundamental to humanity. Society needs them.

I’m a drummer, and the same flow that I feel when I’m drumming is how I feel when I help creators create, developers develop, deals get done, lives enriched with the power of immersive storytelling. I have truly coupled my vocation with my avocation. I am blessed.

 


Find out more about TEA member Nolan Heimann LLP

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