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Next Gen 2010: Film

Lauren Levy Neustadter, Scott Shooman, Michael Disco, Chloe Dan
Bill Phelps

Influential executives from this year's report on industry players

Stefan Brunner
34, COO, Imagenation Abu Dhabi

Brunner is the very definition of globe trotter. Born in Bavaria, educated in Munich and San Diego, he worked in Seoul before landing his gig at Imagenation Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. "To build something in a country that has absolutely no infrastructure, where everything is new, that is just so fascinating," says the exec, who loves to visit Goa, India, on days off.  And he needs them: As COO, he is responsible for all the production-related and creative decision of the company. Brunner was Imagenation's production exec on Doug Liman's Middle East-shot Fair Game and whose latest project, the Arab-language drama Sea Shadow, started filming last month in the UAE. "The idea was to create something here that allows filmmakers in the Gulf to actually work in the industry year-round and not have to go to Europe or the States to do it," he says.

Chloe Dan
29, VP production, DreamWorks

"I'm short, but there's a lot of energy," Dan says. And tenacity, too. The Malibu native had her first internship at 16 at the Universal-based Joe Singer Entertainment and went on to intern at others companies including ICM and Artisan Entertainment on summer breaks during her years studying at Emory University in Atlanta. Realizing she wanted to be where the buyers are, she took a job as an assistant for production vp Jeffrey Clifford and followed him from Disney to Warner Bros. She was hired at DreamWorks in 2005 and has worked on films ranging from Hotel for Dogs to Dinner for Schmucks. Her current development slate includes the Justin Adler-penned comedy The Escort and the recently wrapped Real Steel, directed by Shawn Levy and starring Hugh Jackman. How does she keep track of it all? "My desk is a total mess, but there's nothing messy in my head," she says.

Michael Disco
32, VP production, New Line

Fresh out of Syracuse University in 2000, Disco traveled west to work as an assistant to producer Jon Peters (Batman). "It was incredibly tense but fascinating for me," the Vermont native says. After a year and a half in the marketing department at New Line in New York, Disco interviewed with COO Toby Emmerich, who was looking for an assistant in L.A. "The interview was over our video conferencing machine," he says. "Jokes … you can't tell if they translate at all. But I got the job." Today, his world revolves around his New Line projects, including July's Horrible Bosses and Jack the Giant Killer, scheduled to start shooting in the spring.

Tendo Nagenda
35, VP production, Disney

When Nagenda was 12, he moved with his family to his father's native Uganda, taking with him VHS tapes (Miami Vice, Crime Story) for the comforts of home. However, with the nearest TV set down the road at his uncle's house, Nagenda immersed himself in books like The Great Gatsby. After two years of hearing locals referring to him as mzungu (Swahili for "white person"), he returned to Los Angeles with a Ugandan accent. He says his outsider status serves him well today. "The goal is to tell very specific stories that hold value for a large number of people," says Nagenda, who has made his mark at Disney by ushering through the John Hughes-meets-Love Actually teen comedy Prom and snatching up the script for a new live-action take on the Cinderella tale by Morning Glory scribe Aline Brosh McKenna.

Lauren Levy Neustadter
30, VP production, 20th Century Fox

When Neustadter was 10, her parents took her to Los Angeles to try her hand at acting. "Looking out the window, I declared dramatically, ‘This is where I belong!' " she remembers. The New Orleans native ultimately returned to study acting at CalArts but opted for the corporate side of the business. She landed first at CAA and HBO Films before settling in as a creative exec at Miramax, then as vp at Adam Shankman's Offspring Entertainment. There she was thrown into production on The Last Song. She's currently overseeing Fox's McG-helmed divorce comedy This Means War, starring Reese Witherspoon and Chris Pine -- a juxtaposition to her own life as she recently married (500) Days of Summer screenwriter and 2009 Next Gen honoree Scott Neustadter. As for that childhood dream? "I have such a respect for what actors do," she says. "But I think we all land where we're supposed to."

Abhijay Prakash
34, Senior vp business development, Universal

Prakash still shudders at the memory of the "really terrible gothic horror film" he made while getting his bachelor's in film and TV from Northwestern. It featured the attack of a young girl studying inside a church. "I have no idea why she  was studying in there," he laughs. Today, the Universal exec, who holds a degree in economics (with a minor in computer science) from Princeton and an MBA from Wharton, is one of the stutio's key evaluators of M&A opportunities. Among them: last year's sale of Rogue Pictures to Relativity and acquiring stakes in such European production companies as Cattleya and UFA. Prakash, who hopes to transition into production and distribution, says there's only thing he loves more than movies: "The Boston Red Sox … I'm a fanatic."
 
Elizabeth Raposo
34, VP production, Paramount

Remember watching Sesame Street as a kid? You can bet Raposo was glued to the set: Her father was its musical director and wrote the theme song and several other tunes associated with the show. Despite her musical roots -- she grew up playing piano and violin -- the Georgetown grad landed at CAA, where Rick Kurtzman and Kevin Huvane were mentors, then worked for Darren Aronofsky's Protozoa Pictures on The Fountain. At Paramount, Raposo is now supervising the forthcoming Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol and helping shepherd a remake of Dune. "Working with Darren helped me see how a filmmaker approaches his craft," Raposo says. "Being at Paramount has given me the chance to grow as an executive." Her undergrad studies have especially been a boon. "Knowing politics really helps," she says.

Michael Schaefer
34, Senior vp acquisitions and co-productions, Summit Entertainment

"I went to business school because the last thing I wanted to do was make movies," says Schaefer, who grew up in Cologne, Germany, the son of a movie director and producer. "Turns out I only wanted to make movies." After stints as an indie producer and working for New Line senior vp European production Ileen Maisel (The Golden Compass) in London, a visit to the Festival de Cannes found Schaefer breakfasting with Harvey Weinstein, who hired him "on the spot." After working for two years at the fledgling Weinstein Co., Schaefer moved over to Summit, where he has enjoyed an impressive run: He acquired The Hurt Locker at Toronto in 2008 and is overseeing, among others, an untitled Seth Rogen and Joseph Gordon-Levitt movie and Impossible, starring Naomi Watts.
 
Scott Shooman
32, VP acquisitions and productions, Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions Group

Whether it's acquiring such films as Machete and Rescue Dawn for Sony Pictures' international distribution or overseeing the productions of Cadillac Records, Stomp the Yard and Boondock Saints 2, Shooman thinks big. There's a reason the picture in his office of him with the Stanley Cup doesn't show him touching hockey's biggest prize. "Superstition says you'll never win it if you touch it," the Boston native says. "I like to keep that option open." Up next: the horror film Insidious, directed by James Wan, for which Shooman secured national distribution rights. The executive rarely has time for his beloved hockey these days as his few off-hours find him hitting books. He's taking a break from teach film acquisitions as a remote adjunct professor at Carnegie Mellon University to work on an MBA at his alma mater, USC.

Courtesy of Stefan Brunner
Bill Phelps
Bill Phelps
Bill Phelps
Bill Phelps

Next Gen 2010 profiles written and reported by Randee Dawn, Leslie Bruce, Todd Longwell, Carita Rizzo, Lauren Schutte and Andrew Wallenstein