Pepperdine Voice Magazine
There's No Business Woman Like a Show Business Woman
by Audra Quinn
Christa Zofcin knows her way around a bargaining table. As head of business affairs for United Artists, the film studio that has produced everything from Rain Man to Rocky, she negotiates just about every deal that needs to be done in connection with making a film. Be it an actress' request for an all-mahogany trailer—"She asked that no other types of wood or traces be found in her trailer," Zofcin laughs—to structuring deals with partner companies to cofinance a film, Zofcin ('97, MBA '00, JD '01) has a knack for squeezing a signature out of the shrewdest agents and lawyers in showbiz. "For me, it's like a drug—that rush that comes when you know you've killed it and made an excellent deal," she says.
With both an MBA and J.D. from Pepperdine, Zofcin has become a highly regarded entertainment attorney, gaining experience in all aspects of motion picture production, financing, and distribution through executive roles at Yari Film Group, Pariah, and Media 8 Entertainment.
She was appointed to her new role at United Artists Entertainment LLC in May 2008, not long after it came under the partnership of actor/producer Tom Cruise, CEO Paula Wagner (who has since stepped down), and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. (MGM).
"It's a very exciting time to be at the studio right now. United Artists has returned to its roots of being the only artist-run studio," she says, explaining that United Artists was founded 85 years ago by movie greats Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, and D. W. Griffith.
Zofcin's new office is located in the MGM building in Century City. Ironically, she started out working for MGM over 10 years prior, after graduating with a B.A. in economics and B.S. in business administration from Seaver College in 1997. "I was working at MGM Studios in finance, crunching numbers. It felt like I was rarely conversing with the human race," she recalls.
Realizing her need for more human interaction, Zofcin took a hard look at her career path. "I gravitated toward only one department in the studio: Business Affairs. To me, it was where all of the action took place, where all of the deals were made. It was exciting and vibrant."
Now, two graduate degrees later, she's right back at the MGM building where she started, but this time, in the center of the action as well as her dream role. "My goal was to someday run business affairs," she says. "While some of my colleagues have aspirations of ultimately running a studio, mine really stopped here career-wise. I feel so blessed. I love making the deals."
Head of business affairs is not a dream job for everyone, and certainly not someone who folds under pressure. Zofcin says she finds the intensity of negotiations "invigorating."
"The key is to assess the party you are negotiating against—their motivations for what they want, whether or not they're bluffing, their middle road, their walk-away or boiling point, their drive. You have to tap into your intuition and listen more carefully than you'd listen to a pin drop."
Of course, sometimes she has to cover her ears—when the yelling and screaming erupt, that is. "Actually, it can become comical, the passion with which some are fighting. The biggest challenges are managing expectations and egos, naturally."
Zofcin also has to discern who's hot and who's simply not. That's not always a simple matter, however. "Leverage is an important factor: did the actor come off a big hit or was their last film a huge bomb? As they say in this business, you're only as good as your last film, which is largely true, even if you've had a number of hits previously," she explains.
Amidst all the wheeling and dealing, Zofcin tries to remain grounded. "When you step back, you think, 'This isn't about building homes for the impoverished; it's about how many tickets to the premiere their talent should be entitled,'" she says. "But really, movies do effect change. They are a medium by which everyone across the world can potentially be touched. And to see the fruits of our team's labors on screen is a very personal experience that feels incredibly rewarding."
In the movie of Zofcin's life, she says she wouldn't touch the rewind button. "Going through school, I really didn't doubt my path because I was doing it for myself no matter where it took me."
Of course, she does get raised eyebrows when people learn of her multiple degrees from Pepperdine. "My late grandpa would always say, "Well, Chrissy, what are you gonna do when you've got more degrees than a thermometer?'
"I'm doing it now," she tells the eyebrow-raisers. "I'm content and love what I do."