Elsa Ramo began her entertainment practice on the Universal back lot
Published in 2022 Southern California Super Lawyers magazine on January 20, 2022
Although Elsa Ramo started her entertainment law practice in a run-down trailer in the Universal Studios backlot at age 24—about as scrappy a beginning as you can imagine—she’d actually been wheeling and dealing for years by that point.
As a 16-year-old high school class president, she was tasked with organizing the annual carnival; she wound up with, she says, “the equivalent of a state fair” on the school lot—negotiating deals for roller coasters, a sumo wrestling dohyō, and a performance by pop-punkers Blink-182. “The day before, the principal found out about it, shut down half of my plans,” Ramo says. “But it was very indicative of not just being a lawyer but also figuring out how to do the biggest, best thing with the limited resources I have.”
Ramo credits her chutzpah to her parents, who immigrated to LA from Syria with no money, no English, and with Ramo in utero. “My dad was fearless,” she says. “Every morning he would have his Excel spreadsheet of his goals for the day and input them.” A dentist in Syria, he eventually managed a chain of dental offices in Southern California.
After graduating from the University of San Diego School of Law, Ramo got a job as a criminal defense lawyer but quickly realized it wasn’t exciting her. Then she saw something that did: an entertainment conference in Nashville.
“I had like $2,000 left on my credit card,” she says. “So I booked tickets to Nashville and just showed up.” At the conference she met an entertainment lawyer from Portland whose partners wanted to expand into LA. “We can’t pay you much,” he told her, “but we will make you an entertainment lawyer.” She took the deal, secured clients for them for a year, then made another leap.
“My friends were making movies, and at the time you could shoot a non-union title [on the Universal lot],” she says. “So my friends let me have a room in the trailer. … It was the same room that had the coffee machine and fax machine for everyone. In exchange for that, I told them I would help them with legal work.”
It was bare-bones. There may have been coffee but there was no bathroom. “I’d have to walk down past the tram tour, wave at the people, eat my lunch at the Backlot Cafe, and then go to the Desperate Housewives production office to use their bathroom,” she remembers.
But she could easily walk to where some of her clients were filming, and she spent a few years on that backlot building her network and reputation. “I focused on inserting myself in rooms of people that would hire me,” she says. She also shelled out $10 a month to rent a parking space. “The tour bus for Universal Studios would drive by and see the Elsa Ramo plaque,” she says, “and I’d think, ‘I’ve made it now.’”
Today, Ramo Law has offices in Beverly Hills and New York, and a staff of 16 attorneys who negotiate some of Hollywood’s leading media projects, including two Emmy-nominated shows: Chef’s Table and Queer Eye. Other noteworthy clients include Kevin Hart’s LOL Productions and Hartbeat Productions; Balboa, Sylvester Stallone’s production company; and the Jim Henson Company.
Her bare-bones beginning also helped secure a contract with Imagine Entertainment. “Years ago, the exec who now runs Imagine Impact—Tyler Mitchell—was an independent producer making a film, and they were closing financing,” she says. “I was on my way to the Toronto Film Festival, and they had a major issue and said, ‘Do not get on a plane; you need to help us get this resolved.’ So I sat in the airport literally overnight helping them close the deal.”
Five years later, when Mitchell was at Imagine, they needed counsel. He was asked: “Do you think there’s anyone scrappy that could help us?”
What Ramo Watches to Wind Down
- Fight Club was a book I loved, and to see it come to life so viscerally made me want to be a part of moviemaking.
- Legally Blonde is the perfect story of female empowerment while owning your femininity. It was so close to home that at my law school graduation my friends made signs that said: Go Legally Brunette!
- Outer Banks is sugary, glossy, but a perfect show to live vicariously through teen drama and crime. My son and I are obsessed!
- Any Real Housewives is the ultimate escapism. The drama is ridiculous and the heels are even higher than mine!