Lights, Camera, Transaction: Sophia Yen (’06) named one of Hollywood’s New Leaders by Variety magazine

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Although Sophia Yen’s day is similar to that of a typical lawyer—deal closings, finalizing documents, answering e-mails—this young alumna is one of the men and women who will steer Hollywood, according to Variety magazine.

Variety notes, “Yen's expertise in—and love of—all matters financial helped Sony close its $140 million film slate deal with Hemisphere Capital Management, which provided co-financing for ‘The Smurfs,’ ‘The Adventures of Tintin,’ and ‘Men in Black III,’ and the subsequent $100 million ultimates-based debt financing deal.”

As an entertainment and finance associate for Manatt, Phelps and Phillips, Yen has the opportunity to work with such multimedia giants in addition to hedge funds, film studios and agents on a daily basis, despite being so early in her career.

Entertainment law—not to mention law in general—was not always her plan, however.

Yen majored in business and worked as an auditor for two years. After discovering she did not like accounting, she applied to law school.

“I had already taken my LSATs when I was in undergrad, so I was like, ‘Well, you know, I always thought about becoming a lawyer. Let’s give this a shot,’” Yen says.

During her time at BU Law, Yen was very involved in the school community. Along with being on the Student Bar Association, the Annual Review of Banking journal, and being a 3L peer advisor, she was president of the National Asian Pacific American Law Student Association (APALSA). She credits her work organizing events with APALSA as the reason she was able to join a big firm right after law school.

“A lot of the firms … didn’t give me a close look, but when I started to meet them [through APALSA events], a lot that initially turned me down came to me saying, ‘We were so impressed by the way you organized this event that we realized that you have other skills,’” Yen says. “So they were able to see ... that I was able to communicate effectively with outside people, and these skills translated to me becoming an essential associate at a big firm.”

Yen began working at Bingham McCutchen in Boston upon graduation. While she had felt that she wanted to do transactional work in law school, it wasn’t until her time at Bingham that she discovered her talents in finance law.

“I had a strong suspicion I wanted to do transactional work, but in law school … all you know of transactional work is mergers and acquisitions.” Yen says. “[At] Bingham, they differentiate the two like corporate law and finance law. ... It turned out I had a knack for finance law, so that’s the group I got put into, and it has worked out really well for me ever since.”

Yen’s journey into entertainment law, incidentally, was steered primarily by her desire to move back home to LA. She eventually took a position in Bingham's LA office working as an associate to two new finance partners who specialized in film financing.

“I was always interested in film, but … I didn’t grow up in the entertainment background, so I didn’t really know how to make that jump. But it seems like a lot of people kind of find their way if they didn’t grow up in it … a serendipitous-like path,” Yen says.

Serendipitous, yes, but easy, definitely not.

After long hours closing some of Hollywood's biggest deals, Yen's day is hardly over. From 11:00 p.m. to midnight, she learns Mandarin from teachers in China via Skype. Although already conversant, she takes lessons to learn more legal and business Mandarin.

“Everyone in Hollywood is looking at China as the new wave of investor money, and everyone in China is looking to Hollywood for help and their expertise in developing their film industry,” Yen says.

Her Chinese background and career in Hollywood put her in a great position to combine the two worlds.

“There are few people in China who know Hollywood and few people in Hollywood who know China. I’m not saying I know China either; I’m still figuring out myself, and I’m still figuring out Hollywood, but I know enough to at least to seem useful to both sides.”

Reported by Elyssa Sternberg
November 27, 2012

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