Linda Martinez: A Reel Balancing Act

Linda Martinez’s career is a tale of two professions: law and film production. Though they require very different skill sets, Martinez is able to use both in her VP role at Universal Studios Home Entertainment.

The biggest lesson that Linda Martinez’s mother taught her was: you need to take risks to experience success. Her mother, who had the foresight to purchase real estate after coming to this country, always told her daughters that they could achieve their dreams if they just set their minds to it.

Now vice president of business and legal affairs for Universal Studios Home Entertainment, Martinez has had a long and dynamic career in movies and TV, but she didn’t always dream of working among the palm trees on the hills of Hollywood. As a child living in Yonkers, New York, by way of the Bronx, Martinez would visit New York City on the weekends with her parents—both immigrants from Santiago, Chile—and she would wonder at the United Nations. “The UN was bigger than life to me,” she recalls.

After learning to speak English (she only spoke Spanish until the first grade) by listening to her family’s Beatles records, Martinez set her sights on working as a translator for the UN. She chased that dream all the way through her undergraduate studies at the University of Southern California, but after graduation, she decided to pursue a paralegal degree for job security. She took her first job at Columbia Pictures, and that opened the door for a career that has allowed her to work on hugely successful TV shows, independent films, and even orchestrate the screening of a Spanish-language version of Dracula that brought out Lupita Tovar, the film’s 98-year-old star.

Though her job title was paralegal while working for Columbia, Martinez immersed herself in the world of entertainment. She had always enjoyed movies, but had never considered the professional opportunities there. She was green, to be sure, but with the help of some influential women like Ivy Orta, Martinez found her niche. “She took me in, and I became her student,” says Martinez of her former boss and mentor. After three years with Columbia, Martinez knew she wanted more from this industry. Her creativity was burgeoning and paralegal wasn’t providing an outlet. Despite the historically male-dominated nature of the industry, Martinez recalled her mother’s advice, and with Orta’s encouragement, she attended the American Film Institute (AFI).

AFI was a bubble of equal opportunity that would burst shortly after Martinez graduated. As a student she produced short films, and some of her first professional work included music videos and TV commercials. She paid her dues as an assistant producer on two films: Frida and Diego, which was never completed due to casting issues, and a Sundance Film Festival showcase feature titled La Carpa. The PBS American Playhouse film tells the story of 1930s migrant workers performing under la carpa, the circus tent, and is full of emotion, detailing one character’s mistaken identity and imprisonment. Martinez and her producer thought the film would be well received by the media, but never imagined the prestige Sundance would bestow. “That was the path I wanted to go on,” Martinez says. “After graduating, I really wanted to produce—it became my passion. I had a talent in that area, and I loved it.”

As she began the search for more work, however, Martinez found many doors were closed to her as a woman. “I couldn’t believe it was this man’s world,” she says. “Breaking through the barriers was very difficult at the time.”

Out of necessity, she returned to paralegal work. She found a job as a contract paralegal on a litigation project for Loeb & Loeb, a notable entertainment firm in Hollywood. When a colleague showed her an ad for legal research openings at Universal, Martinez was hesitant. “I really wanted to make producing work, but it had become harder to find work,” Martinez recalls. So, with no real expectations and nothing to lose, she applied for the position, not expecting anything to come of it. Out of 300 applicants, she and one other person got the jobs.

Being Latina is an aspect of Martinez’s life that she chooses to embrace. Since joining Universal, it has been her ticket to the creative opportunities that allow her to have the best of the legal and film industries. When she’s not doing research or coordinating distribution, Martinez stays busy in her role as coleader of the affinity group, Unidos. The group offers Latinos a community within the Comcast corporate family—and thanks to Martinez—programming that celebrates their culture through music and film. The Dracula screening was a hit with more than 200 guests, drawing from across the affinity groups and within the community. Martinez also put together a Latin music showcase.

Martinez recalls fondly her abuelita watching Spanish-language novelas on TV, her father tuning in for Sábado Gigante with Don Francisco, and fútbol. Even among younger, English-speaking households, she knows there is a demand for the entertainment her parents grew up with. For these reasons, and with the benefit of an open-minded division president, she is spearheading a grassroots effort to utilize Universal Studios Home Entertainment’s resources and ownership of Telemundo to broaden the distribution market.

From classics like novelas to new concepts coming out of Universal Pictures Mexico, Martinez has developed and launched an unprecedented initiative between Telemundo and Universal Home Entertainment to generate additional revenue and leverage content by distributing a Spanish-language direct-to-DVD spinoffs from Más Sabe el Diablo and La Reina del Sur. It is an exciting venture that Martinez says has been the most rewarding aspect of her 20 years with the company. “It gave me the opportunity to do something different than my everyday responsibilities,” Martinez says. “I’m able to work with Telemundo, marketing, mobile, and advertising to figure out how to reach the Hispanic community.”

Having flourished under the guidance of female executives, Martinez believes it is important to share her experiences with the youth of the Los Angeles/Valley areas. She speaks at local schools and tries to immerse her interns in the world of her business. She consistently encourages them to achieve their goals and tells them that they can’t always take the sure and steady route. “I left a perfectly good job at Columbia, and while my path hasn’t been exactly straight or what I planned on doing, it’s led me to a very exciting career. I always look at my mom and think, ‘If she hadn’t taken the risk that she did, she would not be as successful as she is now.’ The same is true for me.”