Is That LAX? Nope, It's an Ikea in Burbank: 25 Top Physical Production Execs Reveal Feats of Movie Magic

6:45 AM 4/4/2019

by Bryn Elise Sandberg

These two-dozen-plus executives, tasked with translating scripts to the screen, will be honored (together with others in the field) at an April 4 brunch as part of AFCI Week.

Marvel’s Victoria Alonso (left), on the set of 'Captain Marvel' with star Brie Larson.
Marvel’s Victoria Alonso (left), on the set of 'Captain Marvel' with star Brie Larson.
Courtesy of Marvel

These two-dozen-plus executives know a thing or two about movie magic. Hollywood's highest-ranking physical production pros, tasked with translating scripts to the screen, are highlighted by THR for their prowess and wide-ranging portfolios. And on April 4, they will be honored (together with others in the field) at a brunch that's one of the highlights of AFCI Week — the second annual confab hosted by the Association of Film Commissioners International, a group of 300 film commissioners on six continents. At the Physical Production Power Brunch, THR editorial director Matthew Belloni will moderate a panel with five of these pros, who will share some of their hairiest (and happiest) on-set adventures, a few of which they outlined here ahead of their honor.

  • Victoria Alonso

    Marvel

    Courtesy of Subject

    Alonso was key in getting the studio's first female-led superhero movie, Captain Marvel, made. She also said goodbye to years of work on Avengers films, with the final two shooting back-to-back at Atlanta's Pinewood Studios. "It was intense," says Alonso. "We shot for 12 months straight and then went back for more."

  • Kevin Berg

    CBS

    Courtesy of Subject

    Berg oversees production for all CBS and CBS All Access programming, with the exception of news and sports, so he has a lot of experience with procedurals. Among those he's been most intimately involved with are CSI, NCIS, Blue Bloods and Criminal Minds.

  • Debra Bergman

    Paramount

    Courtesy of Subject

    Heading up TV production meant overseeing Cary Fukunaga's trippy Netflix drama series Maniac, led by Emma Stone and Jonah Hill. Other titles include TNT's Alienist, Amazon's Jack Ryan and Netflix's The Haunting of Hill House.

  • Lee Rosenthal

    Paramount

    Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

    From Top Gun: Maverick to Mission: Impossible to Rocketman, Rosenthal has had his hands full. "Telling Elton John's life story as an epic musical fantasy with over a dozen production numbers spanning the '50s to the '80s was challenging enough," he says. "But making it all happen in London with very little stage space available was like solving a Rubik's Cube of epic proportions."

  • Mark Binke

    NBCUniversal TV

    Chris Polk/NBC

    Between UCP and Wilshire Studios, Binke oversaw 28 series in 2018 — including Amazon's Homecoming, Hulu's The Act and Netflix's Umbrella Academy. "We've shot in U.K., Ireland, Hungary, Norway, Canada and all over the U.S. in the past year," he says.

  • Jerry DiCanio

    NBCUniversal TV

    Chris Haston/NBC

    As the Universal TV point, DiCanio splits time between dramas (Law & Order: SVU), comedies (The Good Place) and late night (SNL). What's surprised him lately is the uptick of production in New York. "In 2011, there were only 24 TV series shot there," he says. "Last year, there were 70."

  • Janet Graham Borba

    HBO

    Courtesy of Subject

    Though she oversaw Game of Thrones for its entire run, she only recently stepped into the top HBO post after Bruce Richmond's exit. Current and upcoming series and films include Chernobyl, Barry and Euphoria. "It's more challenging and more expensive to do projects than ever before," she says.

  • Brad Carlson

    Skydance

    Alex J. Berliner/ABImages

    His two biggest movies — Gemini Man, Ang Lee's upcoming sci-fi film starring Will Smith, and Terminator: Dark Fate, led by Mackenzie Davis — shot in Budapest, Hungary. "I'd known about Budapest as a viable production center for years," says Carlson, "but had never been fortunate enough to work there till now."

  • Andy Davis

    Sony

    Courtesy of Subject

    Davis is the film studio's main production exec overseeing projects including Men in Black: International, Spider-Man: Far From Home and Little Women. A useful production tip he discovered in the past year? "Manchester, England, is a great double for Brooklyn."

  • Ed Lammi

    Sony

    Craig T. Mathew/Mathew Imaging

    At the TV studio, Lammi juggles broadcast series like CBS' S.W.A.T. and streaming projects including YouTube's Cobra Kai. He says his greatest production challenge this year was "navigating the financial models of the shortened episodic orders in the new world of streaming services."

  • Nissa Diederich

    20th Century Fox

    Corey Nickols

    As the production point for Fox 21 TV studios, Diederich handles Ryan Murphy's shows, plus Showtime's The Chi and Homeland. On the final season of the latter, which is filming in Morocco, language has been a tricky barrier: "We're learning it's possible for things to get lost in translation."

  • Joe Hartwick

    20th Century Fox

    Courtesy of Subject

    In addition to tentpoles like the Avatar sequels and X-Men follow-up Dark Phoenix, Hartwick heads up production on Fox Searchlight movies. But he has one less outfit to oversee now that Fox 2000, the label that put out such mid-budget hits as Hidden Figures, has been shuttered post-Disney merger.

  • Jim Sharp

    20th Century Fox

    Courtesy of Subject

    With network juggernauts like This Is Us and Empire, Sharp runs point on Fox's TV projects, though the growing scramble over talent is making his job harder. "Now, actors are taking multiple shows and it falls on the production departments to work around each other's schedules," he says. "It's a complicated jigsaw puzzle."

  • Bill Draper

    Warner Bros.

    Courtesy of Subject

    Draper has kept busy this year with the triple threat of A Star Is Born, Aquaman and Crazy Rich Asians. Upcoming is Michael B. Jordan awards bait Just Mercy, Wonder Woman 1984 and Joaquin Phoenix's Joker. Draper also knows all about Christopher Nolan's next film — just don't expect him to spill any details about it.

  • Kevin Fortson

    Warner Bros.

    Between TNT's Claws, Netflix's You and OWN's Queen Sugar, Fortson's plate at Warner Horizon TV is full. Though he spent time in Belfast filming Syfy's Krypton and in London for Epix's Pennyworth, his dream location to shoot is Pebble Beach, California.

  • Sue Palladino

    Warner Bros.

    Courtesy of Subject

    Over at the TV studio, Palladino is responsible for nearly 40 WB series. Among those projects are The CW's Riverdale, Hulu's Shrill and HBO's highly anticipated Damon Lindelof drama Watchmen.

  • Michael Elias

    Showtime

    Tessa Viles/Showtime Networks

    In addition to recurring dramas Billions and The Affair, Elias is currently working on the network's upcoming series: Halo, City on a Hill and The L Word.

  • Gary French

    ABC

    Courtesy of Subject

    French's roster of 30-plus shows spans veteran series (e.g., Grey's Anatomy) and buzzy projects yet to be seen (Reese Witherspoon-Kerry Washington Hulu drama Little Fires Everywhere). The country he's dying to film in? "Iceland."

  • Shayne Fiske Goldner

    Participant Media

    Courtesy of Subject

    Between Oscar winners Green Book and Roma, Goldner's had quite a year. On the former film, she learned it's easier to find 1950s-style New York City architecture in Montreal than it is in NYC — "not to mention, the weather continues to be increasingly challenging," she says.

  • Jeff LaPlante

    Universal Pictures

    Alex J. Berliner/ABImages

    His top titles include Jordan Peele thriller Us, which shot in California, and the upcoming Jurassic World sequel, which filmed in Hawaii and the U.K. With so much production in the latter now, "It can be challenging to secure stage space," LaPlante adds.

  • Cory Bennett Lewis

    Bad Robot

    Courtesy of Subject

    As the production head for J.J. Abrams' company, Lewis worked on Overlord and Castle Rock. She's in the weeds on Allison Janney thriller Lou, and Peele's HBO drama Lovecraft Country. While Lewis' work has taken her all over, she "wouldn't mind shooting a big project in L.A. again."

  • Nick Lombardo

    FX Productions

    Frank Micelotta/FX

    Lombardo handles FX's portfolio of series, from Better Things to Legion to What We Do in the Shadows. Two high-profile projects of his to look out for: Cate Blanchett limited series Mrs. America and an adaptation of the beloved comic Y: The Last Man.

  • Jillian Longnecker

    Annapurna

    Courtesy of Subject

    On the heels of Oscar nominees Vice and If Beale Street Could Talk, Longnecker has Olivia Wilde's feature directorial debut, Booksmart, and Richard Linklater's Where'd You Go, Bernadette up next. Though they weren't able to shoot part of Bernadette in Antarctica as they'd hoped, they sent their DP, "who ended up getting some fantastic B roll," she says.

  • John Lynch

    Amazon Studios

    John Salangsang/January Images/REX/Shutterstock

    Lynch has overseen production on original TV series The Man in the High Castle, Bosch and Transparent. Among the international locations he had the chance to film in this past year was Thailand. "Shooting [there] proved to be more challenging politically than we anticipated," he says.

  • Jason McGatlin

    Lucasfilm

    Courtesy of Subject

    McGatlin had the enviable task of overseeing production on Star Wars: Episode IX. For the final film in the trilogy, they shot at Pinewood Studios in London and in Wadi Rum, Jordan, where the "deserts are shockingly beautiful and the country and its people are extremely accommodating."

  • Lisa Niedenthal

    Blumhouse

    Craig T. Mathew/Mathew Imaging

    Coordinating Jason Blum's TV slate, Niedenthal handles Hulu's Into the Dark, USA's The Purge and Facebook's Sacred Lies. In the queue: Showtime's Roger Ailes drama The Loudest Voice and Ethan Hawke limited series Good Lord Bird.

  • Jeanette Volturno

    Blumhouse

    Courtesy of Subject

    Blumhouse's upcoming films include Octavia Spencer thriller Ma and a Fantasy Island adaptation, which is filming in Fiji. "We can find the beauty or horror in most of our films just about any place on earth," says Volturno.

  • Peter Oillataguerre

    MGM

    Courtesy of Subject

    Talk about an enviable film slate: Bond 25, Candyman and Legally Blonde 3 are all forthcoming. On the TV side, Oillataguerre has The Handmaid's Tale and the upcoming season of Fargo starring Chris Rock.

  • Louis Phillips

    Focus Features

    Phillips spent the past year working on the Downton Abbey feature, Mary Queen of Scots and BlacKkKlansman, on which he enjoyed "watching Spike Lee shoot period Colorado Springs in New York City."

  • Phil Steuer

    Disney

    Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

    After wrapping up 2018 with Mary Poppins Returns, Steuer has helped make several CG-live-action versions of classic animated movies, from Dumbo to The Lion King.

  • Shelly Strong

    Amblin Partners

    Courtesy of Macfly Corp.

    Having wrapped on A Dog's Journey, Strong has moved on to Bios, a sci-fi drama starring Tom Hanks, and Sam Mendes' World War I film 1917. On her wish list: an L.A. shoot. "It happens so rarely these days!"

  • Carol Trussell

    Apple

    Courtesy of Subject

    As Apple revs up its original content, Trussell has delved into its many projects, including Steven Spielberg's Amazing Stories, which — due to its anthology format — has challenged her team to find "several distinct-looking locations in a single state," she says.

  • Ty Warren

    Netflix

    Jordan Strauss/Invision for Producers Guild of America/AP Images

    Warren straddles film (Bird Box, Triple Frontier) and TV (Stranger Things, The OA) at the streamer. His most impressive production feat? "Being able to double LAX at the Burbank Ikea store."

    This story first appeared in the April 3 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.