Big hopes for big screen

Hollywood's New Leaders 2011: Film

Danielle De Palma | Jesse Ehrman | Alex Garcia | Sean Kisker | Brian Kavanaugh-Jones | Jeremy Latcham & Stephen Broussard | Andrew Marcus, Julie Link Steffens & Ramon Wilson | Meredith Milton | DanTram Nguyen | Ryan Stankevich | Olivier Staphylas | Bryan Unkeless | David Waldman

Danielle De Palma
Senior VP, new media, theatrical marketing {Lionsgate}
Joining Lionsgate in 2005, De Palma, 29, started in the finance department. Her job included the monitoring of prints and advertising, which led to her joining marketing meetings and a segue into the marketing department, where she participated in discussions with the likes of Google, AOL and Yahoo. Seeing the potential of online, De Palma rose to senior veep of new media in Lionsgate’s theatrical marketing unit, where she assembles cyberspace innovations, such as Hollywood’s first national deal with Groupon. Via the pact Lionsgate sold 190,000 tickets through Groupon for “The Lincoln Lawyer.” Publicity from the tie-up raised awareness for the film and coupon-using moviegoers drove the drama’s word-of-mouth. She also arranged a promotion for mobile location application Foursquare — which has 10 million users — to insert “The Expendables” messages into everyday activities of consumers.

Jesse Ehrman
VP, production {Warner Bros. Pictures}
Ehrman, 35, started out working at various jobs, ranging from production assistant to a web startup to the mailroom at Michael Ovitz’s Artists Management Group. “I wanted to find a place where I fit into the whole scheme of things,” he says. Set up with a desk and a phone at Warner Bros. by a producer friend, Ehrman started reading scripts and organizing projects. An L.A. native who enjoys surfing in his free time, Ehrman came on board the studio as a creative exec in 2006 and has overseen films such as “The Hangover” and its sequel, “Yes Man,” “Watchmen,” and “The Town.” Up next are “Dogfight” with Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis; and “Project X,” from Todd Phillips and Joel Silver. Promoted to VP in 2010, he describes his job as being basically about human resources. “It’s trying to connect ideas and the talent,” he says, “and to excite them to make movies for the world.”

Alex Garcia
Senior VP, Creative Affairs {Legendary Pictures}
With cinephile parents, Garcia, grew up in a movie-infused household and says he’s “always desired to work in the industry.” So far Garcia, 34, has racked up an impressive collection of production credits. He worked for eight years with producer Bryan Singer, five of which were spent running Singer’s production company, Bad Hat Harry. Garcia oversaw the first three seasons of “House” and served as one of the exec producers on sci-fi mini “The Triangle.” Since joining Legendary in 2009, Garcia served as senior veep of creative affairs and has worked on pics such as Singer’s upcoming “Jack the Giant Killer.” Now Garcia is looking forward to “Paradise Lost,” slated to begin shooting in Australia next year. “The great thing about Legendary is … being hands-on,” Garcia says. Always busy, he worked on the set of “Jack” while managing other projects. Seeing a pic all the way through is “really gratifying,” he says.

Brian Kavanaugh-Jones
President {Automatik}
Bay area native Kavanaugh-Jones, 34, was a fine arts major before he discovered that his real talent was the ability to help filmmakers bring their art to screens.
As president of Automatik, a joint venture of IM Global, Alliance Films and Reliance, he has seen his first release, “Insidious,” helmed by James Wan and starring Patrick Wilson, gross more than $50 million domestically. Kavanaugh-Jones also executive-produced helmer Jeff Nichols’ “Take Shelter,” starring Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain, which ran at Sundance and won Critics’ Week Grand Prix at Cannes in May.
In 2012, Automatik will release “Safe,” starring Jason Statham and directed by Boaz Yakin. “I love working with great artists who’ve inspired me with what they’ve done to help get their films made,” says Kavanaugh-Jones. “I can help them navigate budget and financing considerations so they’re able to do the work they want to do.”

Sean Kisker
Exec VP, strategic planning and operations {Lionsgate}
With a baby at home, Kisker struggles for free time to pursue a hobby that dovetails with his finance job at Lionsgate: reading books about movies. Disruptive technologies, 3D and trouble with the star system were issues that plagued the movie industry decades ago. So when people say the sky is falling today, he says, “the reality is we’ve been there before.” Kisker, 36, who is executive vice president of strategic planning and operations of Lionsgate’s movie unit, has worked on $750 million worth of film finance deals since joining the company in late 2003. He worked on the deal for “The Devil’s Double,” hammered out in February with financier Norton Herrick to jointly cover the acquisition and distribution of the pic. Sharing the risk with Herrick “allowed us to take a shot on a picture that we’re really proud of creatively that otherwise may have gone elsewhere.” Kisker, whose twin brother, Clint, also works in Hollywood finance, says his job is to size up the financial capabilities, tastes and sensibilities of potential partners “to get the right fit.”

Jeremy Latcham & Stephen Broussard
Senior VP, production & development {Marvel Studios}
Senior VP, production & development {Marvel Studios}

Marvel’s Production and Development department boasts a trifecta of senior veeps: Latcham, 31, Broussard, 34, and Craig Kyle, 39, have overseen blockbuster hits like “Iron Man” and “Captain America.” (Kyle fell outside the age parameters for this report.)
Broussard says he “grew up on Spielberg and Lucas” and took his love of films to Florida State U. Film School in Tallahassee, where one of his short films picked up a Student Academy Award.
Latcham wanted to be in the biz even though he had “no family in the industry, no connections.” Born in Oklahoma, his ambition transitioned him to Hollywood after
his graduation from Northwestern. He started as an assistant at Marvel in 2004 and quickly rose through the company ranks.
Now producers of memorable tentpoles, Broussard and Latcham both appreciate the Marvel team’s small size. “As big as these movies are,” says Broussard, “I like working with like-minded people.” Latcham enjoys seeing a movie through from “inception … all the way through post-production, release scheduling and marketing.” The tightly knit team, headed by Kevin Feige, holds creative retreats in the desert where members can brainstorm project ideas away from the Hollywood bustle.
Feige is known for creating an atmosphere that encourages collaboration and teamwork, and the three senior production and development VP’s are a living testament to that philosophy.
Latcham is often teased about his simplistic movie mantra — “If it’s good, it’ll be good!” — that reflects his mentality that even “weird” film ideas can be successful if done well.
And Broussard says he understands that though people “may put down their $10 to see the Iron Man suit” or other glitzy Marvel features, “what has them talking after is the human story. You can’t lose sight of that human heart. “Story comes before spectacle.”

Andrew Marcus, Julie Link Steffens & Ramon Wilson
President corporate development and strategy {Relativity Media}
Senior VP, development {RelativityReal}
Executive vice president, business development {Relativity Media}

At 35, Marcus feels quite mature compared to his days as a showbiz wannabe who suffered through 13 unpaid internships before scoring his first paid post as Harvey Weinstein’s assistant. “I had no family connections,” recalls the Duke and Harvard Business School grad, who once was sent to seven different drugstores by a mercurial boss to fetch a suitable ice pack for an aching tooth. “I had to go out and hustle on my own.” Nowadays, Marcus busies himself overseeing the ever-important foreign output deals, raising capital and some of the company’s mergers and acquisitions. The New Jersey native, who joined Relativity in 2005, also spearheaded the formation of RelativityReal, the company’s reality/alternative TV programming unit.
That foray three years ago brought Link Steffens, 33, into the fold. Since joining the company. The Texas native has helped set up 75 network projects, including TLC’s “Police Women” and Sundance’s upcoming “Shoebox Sessions.” “My dream is to run a global entertainment company,” says the U. of Missouri alum, who is looking next to beef up RelativityReal’s scripted programming and international arm.
Meanwhile Wilson, 33, bridges Marcus and Link Steffens’ respective efforts. The Yale grad, who manages day-to-day operations on Relativity’s slate financing deals with Sony and Universal, works occasionally with the RelativityReal team on digital and TV initiatives and more closely with Marcus on numbers-crunching matters — no small charge given Relativity’s growing one-off picture business. “Six years ago, I was producing $40,000 shorts,” says the native Angeleno. “Today, I regularly make decisions about $100 million films.”

Meredith Milton
Senior VP, production {Summit Entertainment}
Milton, 35, has always been such a “movie person” that she’s even skipped school because of it. In fourth grade, the then-avid “Star Wars” fan talked her mom into keeping her home from classes so that they could wait in line for hours to see “Return of the Jedi.” But since joining Summit in 2002, initially as Erik Feig’s assistant, Milton has been able to apply her film passion in a professional setting. Over the past nine years she has been consistently upped at Summit and now, as senior veep, she produces pics such as the dance-centric “Step Up” franchise. “I think the greatest thing about being at Summit is that we’re building something,” Milton says. When she got on board the company, Summit “couldn’t greenlight movies,” she recalls. “We’ve since grown into a little domestic studio of our own … it’s been a great learning experience.” In the months ahead Milton will oversee several high-priority projects for the studio, including “Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus,” “Unexpected” and the fourth installment in the “Step Up” franchise.

DanTram Nguyen
Director of production {Fox Searchlight}
Nguyen, 32, was majoring in integrative biology at UC Berkeley and doing field research in Tahiti when she had her “Jerry Maguire moment and realized science wasn’t for me.” After moving to Los Angeles, she interned at the Donner Co., was quickly promoted to creative executive, and worked on such hits as “X-Men 3” and “Wolverine.” Nguyen began her Fox career as creative executive under Debbie Liebling before moving to Fox Searchlight in 2009, where she worked alongside president of production Claudia Lewis on “Black Swan” and “127 Hours.” Upcoming releases include “The Descendants” and “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” plus she’s working on two films in production: Park Chan-wook’s English-language debut “Stoker” and Danny Boyle’s “Trance.” “I’ve been very lucky to be mentored by incredible women in every job I’ve had,” says Nguyen who’s an avid poker player and football fan. “I’m a huge Raiders fan, but don’t hold that against me.”

Ryan Stankevich
VP, global publicity {The Walt Disney Studios}
Stankevich, 35, knew she had found the right career the moment she interviewed with a senior publicist for an entry-level job at Disney. “I knew within the first five minutes of that conversation that this had to be the career for me,” she says. The Pepperdine alumna says taking on new roles opened doors at Disney, including the ooportunity to work on and evolve the campaigns for all four “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies. Promoted to VP in 2006, Stankevich says she tries to create an environment conducive to developing new ideas and pushing the envelope. But her favorite part of the job is working with filmmakers. “They have a persistence of creative vision that’s really motivating and inspiring.” She now designs domestic and international campaigns for all of Disney’s live-action films as well as titles from Jerry Bruckheimer Films and Marvel Studios.

Olivier Staphylas

Supervising animator {DreamWorks Animation}
After seeing “Toy Story” as a teenager, Staphylas, 31, set his sights on becoming a cartoon animator. He brew up i
n Le Val, a small village in France’s Provence region, and attended the Gobelins school of animation in Paris. Then, on the day of his graduation, DreamWorks offered him a job based on a short film he’d produced. At just 25, he accepted and his work can now be seen in DreamWorks Animation’s “How to Train Your Dragon,” “Kung Fu Panda” and the upcoming “Puss in Boots,” For the former he worked extensively on creating the dragons’ flight patterns. Staphylas, who was recently named head of character animation on DreamWorks’ as-yet untitled next project, enjoys the constant challenges of his job and says he’s always reinventing himself “artistically and technically.” He clearly loves his work: “Just knowing that you make people laugh is a fascinating thing, so you always want to keep doing it.”

Bryan Unkeless

Vice president, production & development {Color Force}
“It’s such a subjective job and everyone has an opinion and is fighting to be heard, so it’s very important to really believe in your own instincts and not be swayed,” says Unkeless, 29, of his position at production shingle Color Force. Of course, it helps when those instincts are as finely honed as those of Unkeless, who developed Suzanne Collins’ bestselling “The Hunger Games” series and co-produced the highly anticipated film version, directed by Gary Ross with a March release through Lionsgate. That high-profile project follows Unkeless’ success developing the first two films in the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” franchise (more than $140 million grossed at the box office), and the film adaptation of the bestselling novel “One Day” by David Nicholls. The secret of his success? “I love what I do, working hard to make opportunities and finding the next big idea,” adds the Duke grad and former DreamWorks story assistant. “And then you have to be tenacious.”

David Waldman
Senior VP, national publicity {Paramount Pictures}
Waldman, 35, believes any film can be a hit. “For every movie, good or bad, there is a great idea that can crack a campaign open and really put it over the top,” he says. Waldman has headed national publicity at Paramount since 2006, after stints at MGM, Focus Features, the Angelotti Co. and PMK, working on films as diverse as “Barbershop” and “Die Another Day.” The New Jersey native has led the campaigns for six of Par’s top 10 all-time domestic grossers, including all three “Transformers” pics, both “Iron Man” films and “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.” The best part of the job for Waldman is getting to work with talent, from director David Fincher to actor Shia LaBeouf, and see their creative processes at work. “Having the access to those kinds of filmmakers and learning from those masters of film is still, to this day, spectacular.”