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Hollywood New Leaders: Agents and Managers

Antranig Balian
Co-founder/partner, Mortar Media; 37
Balian’s path into showbiz was not a straight one. He started out as a deputy district attorney, then got his MBA from USC, concentrating on entertainment, eventually moving into management posts. Balian has helped his deep roster of unscripted series stars and digital talents grow their brands, as he did with “Jersey Shore” star Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi, who’s got a house-flipping show on FYI Network, which he executive produced, and Richard Rawlings, star of Discovery Channel’s “Fast N’ Loud,” who has a fourth series set to debut, “Garage Rehab,” and has several national brand endorsements. As for signing clients, “My mom is my focus group — if she hasn’t heard of you then you aren’t as famous as you think you are.”

Kristen Billings
Agent, WPA; 38
Billings is integral to company expansion in the global marketplace with her heavy involvement at premiere cinematography festival Camerimage and spearheading WPA’s marketing and publicity department. She created and maintains WPA’s daily digital footprint across multiple platforms and countries. Her clients include top DPs Simon Duggan (“Hacksaw Ridge”), Alex Disenhof (“The Exorcist,” “Captive State”), Matthew Lloyd (FX’s “Fargo,” HBO’s “Insecure,” “Marvel’s The Defenders” for Netflix), Larkin Seiple (“Bleed for This,” “Swiss Army Man”) and Colin Watkinson (Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”). “People remember how you made them feel as much as they remember what you do for them.”

Jordan Cerf
WME agent, scripted TV; 34
Cerf’s roster includes Dee Rees (“Mudbound”), Ryan Coogler (“Creed”), Kevin Smith and Tim Kring (“Heroes”); he also guides talent with producing aspirations, including Michael Strahan, LeBron James and Milo Ventimiglia. Cerf helped sell limited series to Netflix with Octavia Spencer as star/EP, James and Maverick Carter (Springhill) and Zero Gravity executive producing through Warner Bros. TV. Cerf signed director Nicole Kassell (TNT’s “Claws” pilot, “The Woodsman”). “You have to believe in your clients if you’re going to help them succeed.”

Sam Hunt
Agent, Paradigm; 36
The Berkeley native got his start at the Windish Agency, which merged into Paradigm, and his diverse roster includes Diplo and Major Lazer, Solange, The xx, Raphael Saadiq, Run the Jewels and Big Boi. “Be prompt, courteous and honest with everyone. I know it’s a cliche, but you really do meet the same people on the way up that you do on the way down.”

Christina Kuo
Agent, alternative television, CAA; 32
A leader in the emerging buyers marketplace, packaging and selling non-scripted projects for Netflix, YouTube Red, Spotify and Facebook, Kuo recently closed a deal at Spotify for celeb cooking show “From Scratch” from client Danny Lee’s Calico, one of the first series purchased by the streaming service as part of its push into original content. Kuo inked a straight-to-series deal at Netflix for client Grandma’s House, for a business/investment-centered gameshow, co-created with Ashton Kutcher. Represents leading global production companies, including All3Media, Lighthearted Entertainment, Talos Films, Nutopia, BBC Worldwide Prods. “I’m excited and more passionate than ever to be supporting unique creative voices in this ever changing and expanding TV business.”

Chris Noriega
Verve, TV agent; 37
At 31, Noriega quit a successful finance industry career, joined Verve in 2012, and was promoted to agent in 2013. Noriega’s eye for identifying comedic and writing talent led him to handle such buzzy clients as Emmy-winning Ian Roberts (“Teachers,” “Key & Peele”), Chris Romano (“Blue Mountain State,” senior writer for Sarah Silverman’s upcoming Hulu series “I Love You, America”), Elliott Kalan (showrunner for Netflix’s “Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return”), Josh Lehrman & Kyle Stegina (“Bizaardvark”) and Tom Sheppard (in-house director of Adult Swim’s“Robot Chicken”). “Best advice I ever got was from Bryan Besser, who told me not to worry about pursuing a career in comedy because most people in comedy aren’t funny either.”

Brett Pacis
Agent, corporate representation, ICM; 32
Pacis has helped build the corporate representation business for ICM’s Global Branded Entertainment group, with international marquee clientele such as Jaguar Land Rover as well as fashion and technology brands. He also handles commercials and endorsement deals for talent (including John Cena, Christina Hendricks, on behalf of Jaguar with Simon Cowell (CAA at the time) and Joe Manganiello (CAA). He makes crossover branding deals with the talent, literary, publishing, digital and theater departments, and placed playwright John Guare into a Kate Spade campaign and Nash Edgerton in a Mophie Super Bowl spot. “It’s really an exciting time in branding — we’re at the stage where we are raising the creative bar and helping make some truly innovative deals.”

Brian Speiser
Vice president of alternative & factual programming, APA; 34
Speiser helps define APA as the leading independent entertainment destination for non-fiction content creators. He packaged the Emmy-winning No. 1 TV docuseries “Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath.” Has helped grow the APA department into a top player in non-fiction series packaging, with clients including Authentic Entertainment, Back Roads Entertainment, Cineflix Prods., Collins Avenue, Ish Entertainment, Ping Pong Prods., Super Delicious and Tremendous! Entertainment. “You can’t do this job alone. Your colleagues and support staff are your partners and long term success requires embracing ideas that aren’t your own. That philosophy is the backbone of our culture at APA.”

Rachel Viola
Theater agent, UTA; 33
A leader in discovering and advocating for new and emerging female and LGBTQ-identifying talent, Viola represents an extensive slate of multi-hyphenate writers-performers, directors and designers including Alice Birch (“Lady Macbeth”), Clare Barron (“Dance Nation”), Jocelyn Bioh (the upcoming “School Girls; Or the African Mean Girls Play”), Boo Killebrew (co-creator of AMC’s “Aim High” and writer for Netflix’s “Longmire”), Jason Kim (“Girls and Love”), award-winning playwright Jen Silverman and costume designer Paloma Young. “Talent lies in choice. A teacher talked about this all the time. It was simple, yet poignant, and has always stuck with me.”


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