Next Generation Class of 2006: Film
executive vp production, Paramount Pictures
BORN: Nov. 23, 1973
"Break a leg" might be showbiz parlance for wishing someone good luck, but in Pam Abdy's case, fortune came in the form of a broken foot. Trained as a dancer, Abdy injured herself in a ballet class at Emerson College and wound up wearing a cast for six months. Wondering how to spend her time, she enrolled in film classes, landed an internship at Los Angeles-based Jersey Films and has not looked back. Abdy was home in New Jersey on the set of 2004's "Garden State" when the company disbanded. She returned to Los Angeles and moved to Paramount, where she has produced Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's Oscar hopeful "Babel" and the planned 2007 release "Freedom Writers," starring Hilary Swank. She also is in preproduction on Steven Brill's planned 2008 release "Drillbit Taylor."
FROM GLITZ TO GRIT: During the past six months, Abdy has found herself on the red carpet at the Festival de Cannes with "Babel" and standing beside Sept. 11 heroes in New York for Oliver Stone's August release "World Trade Center." "Cannes was one of the most spectacular moments of my career," she says. "I have to be honest: I got teary on the red carpet. If you can't have an emotional moment there, you're not capable of it." In New York, she met with first responders to the World Trade Center attack, which she calls "a reminder of how fragile life is and how there are really good people in the world."
FROM DESK TO DAWN: Abdy concedes that it was an adjustment to go from living on sets to a corporate job. "If I could, I'd be on-set 365 days a year," she says. "But I don't sit at my desk that much -- I bounce around a lot -- and at a studio, nothing is genre-specific the way it can be at a production company. All of my films are my babies."
SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE? She might not be able to hoof it any longer, but Abdy still would like to make a dance drama. "If Bob Fosse was still alive, working with him would be one of my dreams," she says.
senior vp development, New Line Cinema
BORN: June 28, 1972
Cale Boyter didn't exactly have an auspicious start in the entertainment business: After going to work for two producers in Texas who were -- unbeknownst to him -- raising funds illegally, he saw the Federal Communications Commission shut down the company, and one of the partners paid him to leave the state. "I had heard all these horror stories about people who went to L.A. and were making minimum wage," he says. "So, I had thought I'd make it in the business outside the business. And the guys, though they were con artists, were paying me in cash, so I had a lot of money to go a long way toward beer." He finally made the leap to Los Angeles, where he worked at Paradigm for a year before going to New Line. Boyter -- who has 2003's "Elf" and 2005's "Wedding Crashers" and "A History of Violence" to his credit -- is in postproduction on New Line's planned December release "The Nativity Story," as well as "Shoot 'Em Up" and "Pride and Glory," both scheduled for release in 2007.
A PATH WELL-TRAVELED: A military brat, Boyter lived in 12 places before graduating from high school. He then attended several colleges, including Montana State, where he was recruited for football. "It wasn't a promising beginning," he says. "I got arrested and had to leave the state." Then there was the flight from Texas and a rocky stint in Utah: "Let's just say I didn't graduate from the top of my class at Harvard."
"LINE" PRODUCER: Beginning as an assistant at New Line, Boyter was promoted by Mike DeLuca and was able to emerge unscathed from the company's housecleaning several years ago thanks to his ear for humor. "I got stuck in the comedy racket for a while," says the executive, who also is responsible for New Line's first-look deal with Marty Bowen and Wyck Godfrey. "I made a concerted effort not to do just comedies about four years ago, but that said, the next wave of movies I have are all comedies. I'm juggling a lot of things, but life has to get easier soon."
Co-president, Dark Castle Entertainment
Executive vp production, Silver Pictures
BORN: Nov. 6, 1973
Everyone has heard the stories of former child actors who wind up living lives of drug addiction, crime and reality-TV specials. Two factors helped Downey avoid this tragic fate: incompetence and indifference. "I did a ton of catalog work, a bunch of commercials and a TV movie, but I never wanted to be an actress," says Downey, who grew up in a suburb northwest of Chicago. "I never took an acting class, I never did theater -- none of that. But I was kind of wholesome-looking, and I could stare at a box of cereal and go, 'Cool!'" But spending time on sets did have a certain infectious quality. "As I got older, I was far more fascinated by what everybody around me was doing," Downey says. "'What's that guy's job? How do you read a light meter?' This is someone's idea coming to life. I wanted to be a part of that process somehow." With that in mind, Downey opted to attend film school at USC with plans to become a director, but as graduation neared, she lost her nerve. "I didn't feel I had a story to tell," she says. "I just did this movie (Warner Bros. Pictures' planned 2007 release 'The Brave One') in New York with Jodie Foster, and I was telling her this. She said, 'You just need to know story. It doesn't have to be your story.'"
WHAT I REALLY WANT TO DO IS PRODUCE: Post-USC, Downey took a job at Larry Kasanoff's Threshold Entertainment, where she rose from assistant to producer. "It was a small company," she says. "That's the good and the bad because you get to oversee 22 episodes of a syndicated series or produce an animated series -- both of which I did there -- but you also have to figure out how to fix the fax machine." In 1999, she was hired as vp production at Silver Pictures, where she has overseen the development and production of such films as 2001's "Thirteen Ghosts" and "Swordfish," 2002's "Ghost Ship" and 2003's "Cradle 2 the Grave." More recently, she was the executive producer on 2005's "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang," starring her husband, Robert Downey Jr., and Warners' planned 2007 releases "The Reaping," starring Hilary Swank, and "The Invasion," starring Nicole Kidman.
NO FIVE-YEAR PLAN: "You can end up not allowing for something that was supposed to happen because you're too focused on what you want to have happened," Downey says. "Let the details show themselves, then you can micromanage them," she says with a laugh.
Senior vp production, Phoenix Pictures
BORN: Sept. 8, 1976
Growing up, Brad Fischer was obsessed with horror films -- from the artsy work of Italian gore maestro Dario Argento to slasher films like the "Friday the 13th" series. He also had a killer instinct when it came to career advancement. At 16, the New York native landed an internship at the Manhattan offices of management/production powerhouse Brillstein-Grey. Later, while enrolled at Columbia University, he spent his summer breaks in Los Angeles interning for heavyweights such as producer Mark Gordon and current Walt Disney Studios chairman Dick Cook, who was then in charge of the company's marketing and distribution. After graduating in 1998 with a degree in film studies and psychology, Fischer landed a plum job as the executive assistant to Phoenix Pictures chairman and CEO Mike Medavoy and quickly rose up through the company ranks. He was promoted to director of development the following year, to vp production in 2002 and, finally, to his current post in 2004.
EARNING HIS STRIPES: "The first movie that I was a producer on was (2003's) 'Basic,' directed by John McTiernan," Fischer says. "Mike really empowered me to be involved in that process, and I ended up on-set on what was a fairly challenging shoot from beginning to end. That was sort of the first time I had the experience of being dropped into ground zero on something, and I really learned as I went."
ON THE TRAIL OF A MANIAC: As producer of the upcoming Paramount thriller "Zodiac," tentatively scheduled for release next year, Fischer opened up his own cold-case file on the unsolved serial murders at the center of the film. "(Screenwriter) Jamie (Vanderbilt) and I worked on the script for about a year," he says. "After (director) David (Fincher) came on board, we then spent about two-and-a-half years researching and talking to all the people who were involved in the case that are still alive -- the investigators, the witnesses, the surviving victims -- which was a really incredible process."
STAYING BUSY: Fischer's other upcoming films include such planned 2007 releases as Fox's "Pathfinder," Warner Bros. Pictures' "License to Wed," which Fischer is executive producing, and Yari Film Group's "Resurrecting the Champ," which he is producing. "If we're going to work as hard as we do, it better be for something important, at least for you," Fischer says.
vp development, DreamWorks
BORN: May 13, 1974
As a young film fanatic, John Fox heard the legend of how a teenage Steven Spielberg had snuck on to the Universal Studios lot and set up shop in an unoccupied office. So, when it came time to launch his own career, he borrowed a page from the master's playbook and snuck on to the very same lot to offer people his services. "I would knock on doors, hand them my resume and say, 'I'm John Fox. I'll work for free,'" says Fox, who earned a bachelor's degree in English at UCLA. "It's amazing how many doors I got slammed in my face." One door didn't -- the unit production manager of the ABC series "Timecop" hired him as a production assistant. "That job was lousy, but they had a kick-ass golf cart," Fox says. "The teamsters took off the regulator on the engine, so it went 35 miles per hour. It was awesome!"
THINKING CREATIVELY: Fox subsequently took a job as the assistant to Gaylord Films production head Casey La Scala. "I know a lot of people say it, but I truly was the worst assistant imaginable," Fox says. "I sent him to so many wrong restaurants. I literally couldn't tell the difference between Koi, Toi and Bob's Big Boy. But I think I was an asset creatively. They needed a (creative executive), so they decided to promote me." Fox joined DreamWorks as director of development in late 2002 and was promoted to vp 18 months later. During his tenure, he has overseen development and production of the 2004 Will Ferrell hit "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy," as well as the planned 2007 releases "Norbit," starring Eddie Murphy, and "Transformers," directed by Michael Bay.
FILM SCHOOL ON THE CHEAP: As a college intern at Baumgarten/Prophet Entertainment, Fox spent his time analyzing scripts from the company library to find out why some got shot, while others collected dust. "I learned that every greenlight decision is predicated on different criteria," he says. "There are always different factors, sometimes random and sometimes definitive."
POSITIVE CHARGE: "The hardest part of my job is saying no," Fox says. "We have to do it all day long, but it's always difficult. I try to operate with as much integrity as I can, so, if you hear a yes from me, there is genuine enthusiasm and passion behind it."
vp production, Universal Pictures
BORN: Dec. 9, 1971
When you're a young woman new to Hollywood and your first job is working for Michael Bay on a movie called "Armageddon," you'd better have a sense of humor. "It was hilarious -- totally baptism by fire," Kristin Lowe says of her gig as a production assistant on the 1998 film. "It was every Hollywood cliche: working on a Jerry Bruckheimer movie, starring Bruce Willis, for Bay Films." Lowe has continued to hone that sense of humor during her intervening years as a studio executive, overseeing such projects as Universal's summer comedies "The Break-Up" and "You, Me and Dupree." Before joining Universal, she was director of development at Warner Bros. Pictures, shepherding films including 2004's "Troy" and "Starsky and Hutch."
WORD PROCESSOR: Let other people walk the red carpet and fly first-class. "I love the endless script meetings, all the 'microthings,'" Lowe says. "I just love the process itself, especially when I'm working with passionate people. Someone like Vince Vaughn is a force of nature, so it can get heated, but that's what's invigorating." It also helps take the edge off when the public doesn't love a movie as much as Lowe does. "Not every movie is going to be a home run," she says. "That's why the process needs to be not only a joy but something you can take pride in."
PLAYING FAVORITES: When it comes to her sensibility, Lowe says there are two types of projects to which she responds with the most enthusiasm: "I love comedies, and I'm an easy laugh," she says. "I also love smart, filmmaker-driven material. I'm thrilled about 'Children of Men,' for instance." Lowe is overseeing that Alfonso Cuaron film, which is slated for a December release.
LISTENING UP: One lesson Lowe has learned is to pay careful attention, especially during the first meeting on a film. "We're usually all on the same page, but once you're in the process, you're in it -- and if you're on the wrong page, you're doomed," she says. "You have to listen really closely to the first things (filmmakers say) when you're in a room with them because that's not going to change. They're telling you from their hearts and with their instinct what they're going to do."
vp production, Fox Searchlight
BORN: Jan. 4, 1974
It takes guts to come to Hollywood and seek out an internship at a studio, but it takes fearlessness to give up a lucrative career as a corporate attorney in order to do so. Zola Mashariki did just that in 2000, when she left a promising job at a New York law firm in order to sit at a desk at Fox Searchlight. "I loved law, but film was my passion, and I wanted to try it," Mashariki says. "I got here, having gone to Harvard Law and Dartmouth undergrad, and they said, 'That's great, you can start as an intern,'" she remembers with a laugh. "So, I went and got people coffee." But Mashariki wasn't running errands for long -- within eight months, she was promoted to a creative director position and to director two years after that.
TEAM SPIRIT: Mashariki has shepherded films including 2002's "Antwone Fisher," 2003's "In America" and 2004's "The Clearing" and "Kinsey." Her current projects include Mira Nair's adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel "The Namesake" and Tamara Jenkins' "The Savages," both slated for release in 2007. "So much of my job is working with people in very emotional situations," she says. "They're putting their hearts out every time they make something, so to give a director notes about what's not working -- but at the same time letting them know they can do anything -- is a great challenge. The point is that together, we're all going to make something the best it can be."
MASTERING THE ART OF KICKING AND SCREAMING: Mashariki is quick to admit that she's always up for a challenge. In her spare moments -- and they are spare -- she has earned her black belt in tae kwon do and is training as a triathlete. "That time is absolutely sacred," she says. "When I'm on the job, I'