Nina Shaw has demonstrated a keen eye for emerging talent over the years, from Oscar-winner Jamie Foxx, signed when he was ensemble player on Fox TV’s sketch comedy “In Living Color” in the early 1990s, to Ava DuVernay, whom she helped transition from publicist to best director winner at Sundance for “Middle of Nowhere” in 2012.
But according to Shaw — who’s being honored on April 16 as 2013 Entertainment Lawyer of the Year by the Beverly Hills Bar Assn. — the secret to her success is more elemental. “I’m incredibly tenacious, but I also try so hard in my work to really listen to people and address their point of view,” says Shaw, who co-founded the firm Del, Shaw, Moonves, Tanaka and Finkelstein with Ernest Del in 1989. “In the end I always remember who I’m an advocate for.”
Recent beneficiaries of that advocacy include talkshow host Arsenio Hall, whom she repped in a deal with CBS Television to return to latenight this fall after a 19-year absence; and multi-hyphenate Nick Cannon, a client since he was 16, whom she keeps busy in television (as host of “America’s Got Talent,” film (as co-writer/director of Lionsgate’s upcoming “School Dance”) and technology (his signature Monster NCredible NErgy headphones).
Born and raised in Harlem, Shaw showed an interest in law at an early age (the caption under her high school yearbook photo reads “Future Lawyer”), but she also had passion for show business, stoked by Broadway shows she attended with her mother.
Today, young attorneys are lining up to be in entertainment law, but when Shaw decided to pursue that line after earning her J.D. from Columbia Law School in 1979, “some classmates felt sorry for me,” she says.
Shaw got schooled in the TV biz as a junior associate at O’Melveny & Myers in L. A., working for clients such as Norman Lear’s Tandem/T.A.T. Prods., which at the time had a sitcom slate at that included “Archie Bunker’s Place,” “Diff’rent Strokes” and “The Facts of Life.”
By the mid-1980s, Shaw was a partner in Dern, Mason, Swerdlow and Floum, repping clients such as Robert Guillaume, but she feels she didn’t come into her own until she put together the deal for the movie “Stand & Deliver.”
“It was the pivotal deal in my life,” says Shaw, who repped the film’s writer/producers Ramon Menendez (who also directed) and Tom Musca. “We sold it to Warners. . .and we got a homevideo deal that now would be considered top of the line.”
Today, she continues to rep longtime clients such as Laurence Fishburne and James Earl Jones, as well as tend to newer signings like Franklin Leonard, creator of the Black List survey of Hollywood’s best unproduced screenplays.
And what’s the key to remaining at the top of her game? “I think it’s important to live as much of your life as possible in the real world,” she says. “If you live a life that’s limited to the Westside of Los Angeles, you’re only going to see people like you.”