Interview: Nina Markus Ramer

Nina Markus Ramer
Vice President, legal affairs at Twentieth Century Fox

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Why did you move to the USA?
In the Netherlands, I worked for an entertainment law firm. We made deals for the Dutch TV and film industry. After a while, I felt like I wanted more because Holland is, of course well known for tulips, but the heart of entertainment is (flourishing) in Hollywood. Passion and ambition got me to the United States. I wanted to go to Hollywood, and work for a big American film studio, and not a small lawyer office in the Netherlands. To achieve this I went back to school and studied entertainment law at UCLA School of Law. This was the only way for me to enter the U.S. I didn’t know anyone, and this was a good way to get in touch with people and network. I learned the American way of ‘deal making’ versus what I’ve learned in Holland. All to get that studio job!

How did you like Los Angeles?
It was bizarre, I came here on a student VISA and didn’t know anyone. I found a place to live in Westwood. Los Angeles County is just as big as Holland! I was a little bit anxious, but mostly excited! After some time I found my way. I thought to myself: I’m a Dutch, I speak the language, I can do this! It was very fun, I had no idea where this adventure would start or end, at the time I was 31 years old and there were a lot of obstacles on the road. In the beginning, I needed all kinds of licenses, and you need to do a brutal exam to be recognized as a lawyer in the United States. It’s called the BAR exam. Three days long, 8 hours a day, an exam about all possible facets of law, which actually had barely anything to do with the entertainment industry. Suddenly I needed to know how to interrogate witnesses in criminal cases, the rights of suspects, and the American constitution. This all had nothing to do with entertainment. I wanted to work for a film studio, and not dealing with all this. However, I passed the exam, and I was the only foreigner at my school who passed it right away, so that was a nice achievement.

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Obstacle number two was finding a job. The economy collapsed and that year I didn’t have a VISA anymore. All I did was network, I thought I have to do this the American way and get to know people. Once a job vacancy is posted online you’re too late, you need to know about that job before that. I traveled all over California to put myself out there (at network meetings, etc.) and met entertainment lawyers, studio executives, and producers. Everyone here has a lawyer. I met with Dutch people, other Europeans, and Americans. One time I drove three hours to Northern California to meet an entertainment executive. After talking for 5 minutes, he threw me out because of a more important meeting. This was really terrible. There I was, in my old car with scratches, dents, and I had tears in my eyes driving all the way back on these roller coaster roads, also known as freeways.

Many lunch meetings where you end up eating alone, because nobody showed up, or people that cancel at the last moment. It happened to me a lot. It’s a heavy industry. Way different than the Dutch one. Nobody wants you, nobody. I felt like I was bumping into this wall all the time, until at some point I thought I just have to break through this wall or else I won’t succeed. I heard ”NO” at least a hundred times. No VISA, no experience, no studio experience. I thought, well, yes, because I came here to gain experience.

Eventually having the flu unexpectedly opened doors for me. Towards the end of 2009, I got the flu. I didn’t have a General Practitioner, so I googled a family doctor nearby. After meeting the doctor, he asked where I was from because he heard an accent, so I said ”Holland”. He said ”Nice, Holland. Why are you here?”. ”I’m a lawyer, I passed my BAR exam and I want a job.” I replied. ”Oh my childhood friend works at FOX, why don’t you meet him for lunch sometime?” So I did, and this lead to a career at 20th Century Fox. So after all these meetings and network events, it was the flu that got me a job!

Once at FOX your career took off really quick..
Yes, but that’s America. That’s possible here, in Holland everything is set beforehand. You have a certain job, with a set salary, and after two years you make the next step on the ladder, and in year 3, etc… In the U.S. things can move really quick, you just have to take your chances when they appear. You just have to work hard. My first five years I worked non-stop. I traveled to film festivals all over the world, which made my exposure grow, your importance grows with that, and you have to be flexible. If you have to make a deal in Berlin tomorrow, you have to go. This was no problem for me, I loved it!

Most high positions are filled with men in this industry, what is your opinion about this?
I really stand for Woman Power. In my opinion, the male presence is way too dominant in this industry, and absolutely I encourage more women in films! I’m a big supporter of this, and I’ll always keep fighting for this cause. Within FOX, many women have high positions, but in general, the male dominates Hollywood. I’ll keep fighting!

What is your ‘Hollywood Highlight’?
That was a premier in Hollywood where I sat next to George Clooney! I found that so cool, not necessarily because it was him, but it was the premiere of his movie ‘The Descendants! The moment he shows his film to the world for the very first time. Unbelievable that Nina, from Baarn in The Netherlands, could be there. That was just really cool! Wow. But after two minutes you realize he’s just a normal guy watching a movie. It was also really fun to meet Steven Spielberg!

What is your advice for (young) people who want to make the next step and move to Los Angeles?
Never give up. I heard so many ”NO’s”, and so many people told me to just go back to Holland. Keep believing in yourself and it will be possible to succeed. I see a lot of established people who move here, Dutch people who achieved a lot back home, but here they have to start at the bottom and often they can’t do that. Believe in yourself, work on your goals every day, have patience, push your ego aside, and keep persistent. If you do this, one day you will succeed, for sure.

Interview by Carla Lekkerkerker & Hidde de Vries
Illustration by Lea Embeli

 

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