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On the Movie Industry's Cutting Edge

Friday, Feb 9, 2018

Susan Kigawa (JD 1989) leverages her knowledge of entertainment and technology at The Walt Disney Studios

By Christina Schweighofer

For Susan Kigawa (JD 1989), the thrill of working for Disney never wears off. After 13 years with the company — albeit divided into two stints — there’s still the excitement of getting to see the early work on movies and the talent who make them. But what she thrives on most, she says, is collaborating “with people who are leaders in their field, whether it’s creative, operational or legal.” Plus, as the head of the legal team for Walt Disney Studios global operations, she’s on the cutting edge of new developments in technology, such as the adoption of the 4K video format for content.

“It’s an exciting time to try and figure out how we need to change,” she says. “And given the state of technology, that will be a question that is constantly asked. Moving forward, it’s never going to be the status quo anymore.”

USC Gould alumna Susan Kigawa (JD 1989) photographed on The Walt Disney Studios lot in Burbank.

Kigawa, who grew up in the Los Angeles area and earned a BA in economics from UC Berkeley, began her law career in private practice. As an attorney with Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman in L.A., she advised clients on the marketing and distribution of their products across industries ranging from cars to wines. In 1994, that background in distribution became her springboard into the corporate world, and she spent two years with Buena Vista International Inc., the Disney company responsible for the international theatrical distribution of Disney’s motion pictures, before leaving to work for Microsoft for almost a decade.

For her second stint in the entertainment industry, Kigawa deliberately targeted the studios. She knew that they were ready to start distributing their movies and content via streaming and download. She also knew that she had the unique combination of skills that they were looking for: entertainment, distribution and technology. Her plan worked. In 2006, Disney hired her onto a new team tasked with incubating and growing its global digital distribution business.

Kigawa, who has stayed involved with USC Gould and participates in the school’s mock job interviews with law students, says that they sometimes ask her how they, too, can make it into the entertainment industry. Her response is that students first really need to target the particular type of entertainment law in which they have interest.

But Kigawa is also a passionate networker, and her connections, many of them Trojan, helped her transition into each position after the law firm. Both her current and her previous boss are USC alumni. She actually knew her current boss in law school. “The loyalty that USC has to its own is simply amazing,” she says. What she wants the next generation of Trojan lawyers to also understand is this: “The alumni are behind them.” 

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2017 issue of the USC Law Magazine.

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