Law Grad Brews Movie Buzz

Nikkole Denson, JD '95, is director of business development for Starbucks Enterntainment.

For Nikkole Denson, JD ’95, watching movies is simply part of the job.

As director of business development for Starbucks Entertainment, Denson handles the coffee giant’s entertainment business opportunities that don’t involve music. She is essentially Starbucks’ liaison to Hollywood, ferreting out movies for the company to market in its stores through signage, coffee cup sleeves, and DVD sales. In return, Starbucks receives a share of a film’s profit.

Denson found Starbucks’ first movie—Akeelah and the Bee—after watching more than 100 movies and knew it was the one as soon as she saw it. With themes of family, community, and literacy, Akeelah and the Bee tells the story of an 11-year-old girl from the inner city of South Los Angeles who makes it to the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Starbucks’ involvement, which Denson helped negotiate, brought about more exposure to the 2006 movie from Lionsgate.

“You have such a feeling of purpose beyond just a way of figuring out a way to add to your bottom line,” said Denson, who looks for uplifting, inspiring movies. “I’m introducing people to content they may not otherwise have been exposed to.” Denson didn’t always dream of working in entertainment, but by the time she finished USF School of Law, Hollywood had intrigued her. While waiting for her bar exam results (she passed), she packed her bags, moved south and rented a room from a friend’s family. In typical Tinseltown fashion, Denson got her first job from a friend of a friend who needed someone to assist on a set doing “total grunt work.”

“What better way to learn about the business?” said Denson, who worked as a production assistant for Paramount Pictures.

With her legal background, however, Denson wasn’t destined to work as a production assistant for long. Soon she was running the entertainment and film departments of Magic Johnson’s entertainment company. When Johnson learned of her training, he hired her as vice president of Magic Johnson Enterprises, where she managed the overall brand, negotiated all services, and handled human resources functions.

Eager to again be more directly involved in the entertainment world, Denson eventually followed a colleague to Starbucks Entertainment into her current position. In addition to watching movies and reading scripts for Starbucks’ next pick, she also looks for books for the company to promote. With the negotiations required to secure book or movie marketing deals, Denson’s USF law degree has proved invaluable. Without it, she said, “there’s no way I’d be able to have this position.”