Next Gen 2020: The Hollywood Reporter's 35 Rising Executives 35 and Under

6:30 AM 11/18/2020

by Bryn Sandberg and Lacey Rose

Meet the industry's next generation of power players as THR unveils its 27th annual list of breakouts who are minting stars, cutting nine-figure deals and ushering the industry into the future.

Execs list
Courtesy Photos

Not even a global pandemic could slow these 35 standout executives.

Meet The Hollywood Reporter’s Next Gen Class of 2020, a mix of agents, managers, lawyers and executives — all age 35 and under — who’ve spent this past year brokering groundbreaking deals (see, for instance, WME’s Ben Davis, whose client Parcast was acquired by Spotify for upward of $100 million), minting new stars (among them, UTA’s Ali Berman, whose client list includes TikTok breakout Charli D’Amelio and family) and shepherding Emmy- and Oscar-worthy projects, even if you’re unlikely to see many of them in theaters for a while.

Run down THR's 27th annual list, and each entry is more impressive than the last. Take Higher Ground's Ada Chiaghana, who was tapped to develop series, films and documentaries for the Obamas at Netflix; UTA’s Jason Richman, who parlayed Celeste Ng’s best-seller Little Fires Everywhere into an Emmy-nominated series; or WME partner Ashley Holland, whose roster includes, among others, Ryan Coogler, Boots Riley and Janelle Monáe.

The new crop of rising stars joins an esteemed list of Next Gen alumni that includes Marvel’s Kevin Feige, Disney’s Peter Rice, Endeavor’s Ari Emanuel and Crazy Rich Asians producer Nina Jacobson. But unlike the lists of years past, the 2020 installment is a reflection of a changing media landscape, with executives who specialize in, among other things, podcasting, video gaming, election awareness campaigns and, yes, TikTok stardom.

Profiles written by Ashley Cullins, Mia Galuppo, Natalie Jarvey, Borys Kit, Lacey Rose and Bryn Sandberg.

A version of this story first appeared in the Nov. 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

  • John Agbaje, 33

    FX, Director of Animation

    Agbaje didn’t spend his formative years in an agency mailroom or on Scott Rudin’s desk. Instead, the Wharton grad and son of an Episcopal priest moved to D.C. to work at a defense and aerospace consulting firm. But having long been drawn to animation, Agbaje and his brother Charles, now an exec at Cartoon Network, spent nights and weekends creating a graphic novel, Project Zero. (Not impressed yet? Their sister, Esther, just became the first Nigerian American elected to the Minnesota legislature.) The St. Paul, Minnesota-born exec kept up his creative pursuits while getting his MBA at Harvard Business School, producing his own animation and running a successful Kickstarter campaign for the animated series Spider Stories. Once he landed in L.A., he spent two years working for Disney’s Peter Rice before segueing into animation at FX. There, he’s helped launch the network’s more experimental vertical, Cake, a shortform animated and live-action comedy showcase. Agbaje, who also had a hand in the hit comedy Dave, has developed more than 40 projects, including the short film Thirsty, starring Maya Rudolph and Jay Ellis, and Oh Jerome, No, which notched an Emmy nomination for its star Mamoudou Athie.

    The talent I’m dying to work with is …

    “I feel like Michaela Coel is the only right answer here.”

  • Alissa Bachner, 34

    Tomorrow Studios, Senior VP Development

    Growing up a movie buff in suburban New Jersey, Bachner revered indie film producer Christine Vachon. “As a baby queer, I just idolized her work,” says the Boston U. grad, who then scored an internship at Vachon’s production company. But a later one, in ICM’s TV lit department, shifted her focus to television. “I thought I’d come out here and make really cool, artsy indie movies, but there was a lot happening in TV,” she says. Stints as a line producer assistant on Scrubs and as an assistant to showrunner David Zabel led to a formative gig at Peter Berg’s company Film44 — but Bachner has spent the bulk of her producing career at Marty Adelstein’s Tomorrow Studios, where she’s known for her hands-on style. The voracious reader has been key to the success of the long-gestating and since-renewed TNT drama Snowpiercer, which ranked as the No. 1 new cable series this year. “I’ve been producing Snowpiercer literally every single day since Sept. 5, 2016,” says Bachner, who lives in Studio City with her cat, Stella. She’s also shepherding the indie studio’s redevelopment of Let the Right One In, in addition to the Rose Byrne aerobics dramedy Physical at Apple.

    The recent project I wish was mine is …

    “A tie between I May Destroy You and Unorthodox.”

  • Ali Berman, 33

    UTA, Partner, Head of Digital Talent

    In her nine years repping digital talent like Rhett & Link and Andrew Bachelor at UTA, Berman has seen the boom and bust of several social media platforms. But nothing has caught fire quite like TikTok, which she watched blow up last winter while she was on maternity leave with her now 13-month-old daughter. “Before going on maternity leave, I would walk into a room and say the word TikTok and everyone would look at me sideways,” says L.A.-born Berman, who spent her teen years in St. Louis. “When I got back, if you weren’t mentioning TikTok, people were looking at you sideways.” As the head of the agency’s digital group, the Tufts grad is now leading its push to work with the most promising talent from the fast-growing app, including top creator Charli D’Amelio and her family. Whether she’s working with a fresh-faced beauty influencer like Hyram Yarbro or helping YouTube “It” girl Emma Chamberlain launch her own line of coffee, Berman approaches her work with an entrepreneurial perspective. “Every day there’s some sort of new business model or new sort of ask when negotiating a deal,” says Berman, who is married to ACE Entertainment head of TV Spencer Berman. “It’s just endless creativity.”

    I’m currently obsessed with …

    Architectural Digest’s YouTube channel. #goals”

  • Kara Buckley, 31

    HBO, VP Drama Series

    The New York City native spent much of her childhood training at the School of American Ballet, only to hang up her pointe shoes ahead of college. But a plum internship at The Daily Show With Jon Stewart sold the Columbia student on her Plan B: a future in entertainment. Upon graduating, Buckley scored a gig at WME, which she accepted without considering how her inability to drive would make the cross-country move a challenge. “I ran my car into, like, three poles in the parking lot there,” she jokes of her early WME tenure. She jumped from Ari Greenburg’s desk to a gig at Legendary TV before ultimately landing at HBO, where she worked on prestige fare like Big Little Lies, Sharp Objects and Westworld. She took a quick detour to Fox Searchlight TV a few years in, only to return to HBO several months later in an elevated role. Now, Buckley, who’s married to WME’s Meyash Prabhu, runs point on some of the network’s most highly anticipated dramas, including Joss Whedon’s The Nevers, Steven Moffat’s The Time Traveler’s Wife and the Game of Thrones prequel House of the Dragon.

    The talent I’m dying to work with is …

    “Jodie Comer (and all of her personalities from Killing Eve).”

  • Samantha Chalk, 34

    Gersh, Talent Agent

    The New York-born musical theater nut had big plans for a future onstage. Then something shifted during her time at Washington University in St. Louis: Chalk found herself more interested in pitching friends for roles than going out for them herself. So, post-graduation, she took a gig in Gersh’s New York office, where she received her crash course in representation. During stints on Randi Goldstein’s and Rhonda Price’s desks, she began signing such clients as Adrienne Warren, who, now hot off her Tony nom for playing Tina Turner in the eponymous musical, has secured her first major TV role in ABC’s buzzy miniseries Women of the Movement. Among Chalk’s other finds: Jeremy Pope, for whom she parlayed a pair of Tony-nominated Broadway performances (in Choir Boy and Ain’t Too Proud) into an Emmy-nominated turn in Netflix’s Hollywood. “He sat in my office and I just knew,” says the newly engaged rep, who also works with Hari Nef and Bridgerton star Phoebe Dynevor. “The way I sign clients is so instinctual.”

    What I miss most about the pre-COVID world is …

    “Sitting in the theater on opening night.”

  • Ada Chiaghana, 34

    Higher Ground, VP Development and Production

    As the daughter of immigrants, Chiaghana always assumed there were three acceptable career paths for her to choose from: doctor, lawyer or engineer. Then, halfway through Baylor’s pre-med program, the Houston, Texas, native had her come-to-Jesus moment: “I was watching a Danny Elfman commentary on Edward Scissorhands when I realized that movies were made by people,” she says, “and that the names in the credits were all jobs.” Chiaghana managed a transfer to USC, which she worked up the nerve to tell her parents about on the car ride to the airport. She’d later score jobs at Bosch producer Fabrik Entertainment and in ABC Studios’ comedy department. From there, she spent three-plus years in HBO’s comedy group, where she had a hand in Insecure, Los Espookys and A Black Lady Sketch Show, when the Obamas’ production company, Higher Ground, came calling. “They’re just who they present themselves to be,” she says of the former president and first lady. Since joining their team last year, she’s been developing shows, films and docs as part of the company’s Netflix deal. Crip Camp and Becoming were the first two projects she touched, but her fingerprints will be all over several upcoming titles, including Callie Khouri’s fashion drama Bloom, The New York Times’ obit column anthology series Overlooked and a nonfiction series based on Michael Lewis’ The Fifth Risk.

    The fictional character I most identify with is …

    “Princess Shuri from Black Panther, my soul twin and the embodiment of moxie.”

  • Patrick Chu, 35

    Annapurna, Senior VP Television

    Chu was convinced he’d have a career in front of the camera — until he got into the theater program at the University of Michigan. “While there, I realized I was a terrible actor,” he explains. So, fresh out of college, the Bellingham, Washington, native moved to L.A. eager to get a foot in the door at a major agency, which he did with a mailroom gig at WME. After putting in his time there, the husband of Gloria Sanchez TV head Brittney Segal jumped to The Montecito Picture Co., which was making Up in the Air and No Strings Attached at the time. From there, Chu moved first to FilmNation and then to Amazon, where he worked on such dramas as Hanna and Hunters. Since coming aboard at Annapurna in 2018, Chu has been a vital piece of the pipeline, shepherding a hotly anticipated scripted college admissions scandal series and a buzzy adaptation of Celeste Ng’s novel Everything I’ve Ever Told You. Of the latter, Chu says, “It’s a book about a mixed-race Chinese American family, which is the ethnic composition of my family, so it speaks to me a lot.”

    The recent project I wish was mine is …

    "The Shrink Next Door, based on the podcast. We went hard after it. In a tragic twist of fate, we not only lost the project but a couple of months later my wife got a new job and is now producing it! So I get to overhear the progress of the show every day … how great it is, how much fun everyone’s having. It haunts me."

  • Sarah Cunningham, 33

    Gendler & Kelly, Senior Associate

    Despite growing up in the Valley with family in the business, Cunningham never planned on working in entertainment. The Stanford Law grad started out doing white-collar criminal defense work until her aunt (former CBS exec Deborah Barak) heard Gendler & Kelly was hiring and insisted that her niece consider a career change. Cunningham says she’d been too busy to realize she wasn’t thrilled with her job, but knew after taking a meeting at the firm that it would be a smart leap. Now she works with multiple Hollywood Chrises — Pine and Messina — and other top firm clients like Meryl Streep, Shonda Rhimes and David E. Kelley. “I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say he has a dozen projects going on at a time,” she says of the latter. Her home life is busier than ever, too, as Cunningham and her husband welcomed their first son in March.

    The fictional character I most identify with is …

    “We’re reading a lot of Goodnight Moon these days. I’m the quiet old lady whispering ‘Hush.’”

  • Ben Davis, 31

    WME, Partner, Digital Agent

    A 9-year WME veteran, Davis is proof that you can still have a successful Hollywood career after getting fired off of Ari Emanuel’s desk. “I was not a good assistant,” says the New York native, who admits he hopped around desks for a while before finding his place at the agency’s then nascent digital department. There, Davis was just a 24-year-old coordinator when he was called upon to pitch The Rock on building a YouTube business. The endeavor became so successful that the University of Michigan alum, who also reps top YouTube talent like David Dobrik and Casey Neistat, teaches it as a case study at Harvard Business School each year. More recently, Davis has focused on carving out a niche for himself as one of podcasting’s go-to dealmakers. “In the last three years there’s been a crazy acceleration,” he says of the booming business, which really took off after Spotify began investing in the space, including acquiring client Parcast for upward of $100 million. Davis, who was named the agency’s youngest-ever partner at 29, works with not only established podcasters like Malcolm Gladwell and his Pushkin Industries but also personalities like Brené Brown and TikToker Addison Rae, who are looking to set up their own audio shows.

    The wildest way my world has changed since COVID hit is …

    “Everyone dresses like they’re in digital now.”

  • Allison Erlikhman, 32

    Walt Disney Studios, VP Production

    Early in Erlikhman’s career, during a stint at Columbia Pictures, the L.A. native received a piece of advice that’s stuck with her: “Your taste and your opinion are your currency.” Erlikhman has embraced both, often using her growing clout to champion diverse filmmakers, be it director Lena Khan on Disney+’s upcoming Kate DiCamillo adaptation, Flora and Ulysses, or Wanuri Kahui on the streamer’s Once Upon This Island. The U. of Pennsylvania grad, who recently moved to Silver Lake with her data scientist husband and has spent a good portion of lockdown navigating a virtual postproduction process on the Disney+ Isla Fisher-Jillian Bell comedy Godmothered, has an increasingly vital gig at The Walt Disney Co.; she has a hand in many of the original live-action movies on the company’s all-important streaming service. Overseeing comedies, musicals and female-centric stories, the star exec is at work on Little Mermaid and Snow White remakes and the Margot Robbie Pirates of the Caribbean spinoff. 

    What I miss most about the pre-COVID world is …

    “A tie between seeing movies in theaters and getting to have lunch at Kiwami.”

  • Zac Frognowski, 33

    Grandview, Partner

    Frognowski was about 20 minutes into his first day in the Gersh mailroom, wheeling a cart through the office, when an agent turned to the Cleveland transplant with a simple piece of advice: “Just stick around.” What Frognowski didn’t know then but does now: “If you can dig in and figure out ways to survive and stick around,” he says, “you will buy yourself the time to create opportunities.” It’s a motto that’s driven Frognowski as he moved over to what was then Jeff Silver’s Fourth Floor Management, working from Silver’s garage, and, later, Grandview, where he’d become a manager and, in October, a partner. Now, Frognowski helps guide clients Jonathan Entwistle, who recently went from I’m Not Okay With This to being the architect of the Power Rangers screen universe, Angelyne exec producer and director Lucy Tcherniak, Tony nominee Matthew López, King Richard writer Zach Baylin, and Project Power and The Batman co-writer Mattson Tomlin.

    The wildest way my world has changed since COVID hit is …

    “I take a much higher percentage of phone calls with my little white dog, Pinky, on my lap.”

  • Mitzi Gaitan, 26

    Instagram, Strategic Partner Manager, Creators & Emerging Talent

    When young talent need help navigating their newfound fame on Instagram, they turn to Gaitan, who oversees the Facebook-owned platform’s relationships with up-and-coming traditional and digital stars. That could mean working with a fresh-faced actor like former Dance Moms star Nia Sioux one day and a digital-first comedian like Louie Castro the next. “Who I’m working with changes all the time because the internet is evolving,” says the USC grad, who also serves as the internal and external liaison for emerging creators during major product launches like this summer’s rollout of TikTok competitor Reels. Born in the Bay Area to Mexican immigrants, Gaitan initially learned to read and write in Spanish, which proved valuable in helping her land her first Hollywood internship at Telemundo. Today, she regularly appears on Spanish-language television on behalf of Instagram and recently co-led the company’s first creator event during Latinx Hispanic Heritage Month. “I think about when I was a teenager looking for people that I could relate to in the industry and the place that I found them was the internet,” says Gaitan. “So, I want to help those people who deserve to have a voice.”

    I’m currently obsessed with …

    The Mandalorian because Baby Yoda is the cutest.”

  • Tiffany Graddick, 35

    Lichter Grossman, Associate

    Three years into her legal career, losing her father prompted Graddick to take a big leap of faith. While working as a mergers and acquisitions attorney in New York, the Harvard Law grad started studying for the California bar at night and planning a move to Hollywood. “I had no idea what I wanted to do or what was possible, but I knew I had to be involved in some way,” she says. She started at 20th Century Fox doing licensing deals with Apple and Google and eventually moved into legal affairs for the feature production department. But Graddick, who quotes Chappelle’s Show in describing herself as a “habitual line-stepper,” knew it wasn’t a fit. “As a studio lawyer, your job is to uphold policy and hold the line,” she says. “I envisioned myself on the side that’s knocking the doors down and fighting for people whose voices have been traditionally marginalized and underrepresented.” Today, Graddick handles legal work for some of Lichter Grossman’s biggest clients, including Barry Jenkins, Viola Davis and Dev Patel, while working to build a diverse roster of her own. In true 2020 fashion, she signed her first client, Jeron Braxton, via Zoom.

    The talent I’m dying to work with is …

    "Michaela Coel. Not only does she absolutely crush it, but she is such an inspiration — especially for young women of color like myself.”

  • Ryan Halprin, 30

    Rideback, Senior VP Production

    Hollywood might have seemed a long way off for Halprin, a neurobiology student at Harvard, if not for his involvement in the university’s Hasty Pudding Theatricals, where he performed in drag while choreographing and directing other musicals at the school. An internship at Dan Lin’s Lin Pictures (now Rideback) led to a full-time gig upon graduation. And once the company’s Lego Movie birthed a popular franchise, Halprin became the point exec on the slate. Now, he’s hard at work on a rebooted collection of Lego fare for Universal, while also shepherding live-action remakes of Inspector Gadget and Lilo & Stitch for Disney and producing a mega-budget live-action Avatar: The Last Airbender series for Netflix. Oh, and he still keeps a hand in live theater: As a side gig, he writes and choreographs first dances for weddings. “It’s a terrible business model,” he acknowledges, “but I enjoy doing it as a break from development hell.”

    The fictional character I most identify with is …

    “SpongeBob SquarePants — he’s optimistic, resilient, and his boss likes the smell of money."

  • Kris Heller, 34

    APA, Talent Agent

    Heller seemed destined for a career in music — he had graduated with a degree in ethnomusicology at UCLA and was studying guitar with King Crimson frontman Robert Fripp in Spain when a painful fall, in which he landed on his hand, cut that dream short. Heller segued into film, starting as an intern and moving up the ranks on a film set. “No task was beneath me,” he says. Knowing he wanted to work more closely with talent, the L.A. native transitioned once more, into agenting, ultimately landing on the desk of APA’s Jim Osborne, who took him under his wing. These days, Heller is busy making his own mark, often focusing on creating fresh acts for veteran actors. Among them: Delroy Lindo, who recently earned raves and now Oscar buzz for his starring role in Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods, along with Mira Sorvino (in Ryan Murphy’s Hollywood) and Cary Elwes (who turned up in Stranger Things and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel).

    The talent I’m dying to work with is …

    “Sam Rockwell. I continue to be blown away by his range.”

  • Ashley Holland, 34

    WME, TV Lit Agent and Partner

    “I was an agent before I knew it was even a job,” says Holland, a natural connector who was often busy at Stanford helping fellow students find jobs via her gig in the career center. Upon graduating with a bachelor’s in urban studies and a master’s in communication, she landed at CAA, where she spent eight years working up from floater to agent, servicing clients Ava DuVernay, Melina Matsoukas and Yara Shahidi. Along the way, the Dallas native also helped to build initiatives that champion diverse voices, like CAA Amplify. When Holland made the move to WME, where she was recently promoted to partner, she brought with her Prentice Penny, who she continues to rep as a producer-director. In her three years at the agency, she’s become intimately involved in WME’s inclusion efforts and has further bulked up her roster with red-hot talent like Ryan Coogler, Boots Riley and Janelle Monáe.

    The recent project I wish was mine is …

    "The Bel-Air adaptation at Peacock. My favorite TV show growing up was The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Excited for this generation to have their own version."

  • Jermaine Johnson, 34

    3 Arts, Manager

    Johnson was just an assistant at 3 Arts when he came across a piece by Cord Jefferson on Gawker’s website. He was so taken with the satirical entry, a searing parody about rioting surfers in Huntington Beach, that the Rutgers grad cold emailed its author for coffee. Before long, the New Jersey native had his first client. “[My bosses] were like, ‘You think you’re hot shit signing people from a desk? Figure it out for real now,’” Johnson jokes — but then he did exactly that, negotiating prestige gigs for Jefferson on The Good Place, Succession and Watchmen, for which he scored his first Emmy for writing this fall. “When it’s a guy you believed in from the beginning, it just feels good,” says the rep, who’s since brokered a rich overall deal for Jefferson at Warner Bros. TV. As for Johnson, who lives with his commercial property manager wife and their beagle, Malcolm Clifford Bean Johnson (named after Malcolm X, T.I. and Kobe Bryant), he’s filled out his impressive roster with showrunners Justin Hillian (Showtime’s The Chi) and Julia Bicknell (Netflix’s The Midnight Club), and buzzy writers Rembert Browne, Attica Locke, Mary H.K. Choi and Jia Tolentino.

    The fictional character I most identify with is …

    “King T’Challa, Killmonger and Suri, depending on the day, because [of] a dogged pursuit of making the ancestors proud, a distrust of the system I was born into and a hopefulness about what future innovations lie ahead.”

  • Quincy Kevan, 33

    Snapchat, Talent Partnerships Manager

    As a young girl, Kevan spent a lot of time on the set of shows like The Joan Rivers Show, watching her TV director mother at work. “That definitely made me very interested in the industry,” says the fourth-generation New Yorker, whose dad also exposed her to the business through his job as a rock ’n’ roll concert promoter. “But I definitely wanted to make my own way.” So, Kevan studied social policy at Northwestern before succumbing to the lure of Hollywood and taking a job as an assistant at ICM. She jumped to Snapchat in 2015, when the tech company was just starting to build out a partnerships team to work directly with the creator community that had emerged on its app. In her nearly six years there, Kevan has established its verified accounts program and overseen the growth of the initiative to thousands of creators around the world. She’s also the exec whom talent like DJ Khaled, Kevin Hart and the Kardashians call when they need to reach someone at Snapchat. “It’s quite high volume,” she says, “and I’m always available.”

    The talent I’m dying to work with is …

    “Katie Ryan. She’s a young Kate McKinnon.”

  • Jon Kurland, 34

    Audible, Corporate Counsel, Original Content & Entertainment

    NBA star Steph Curry’s Unanimous Media recently announced a first-look podcast deal with Amazon’s Audible, and it was Kurland who structured and negotiated the pact on behalf of the digital giant. The Boston native also struck deals with Will Smith’s Westbrook and LeBron James’ SpringHill Entertainment and was instrumental in launching Words & Music, an initiative that lets artists like Patti Smith, James Taylor and Common “tell the stories of their lives through spoken word and song.” Kurland, the son of South African immigrants, studied politics and literature at University of Pennsylvania before law school in Cambridge, where he helped found the Harvard Business Law Review. Now, he’s helping create a framework for deals in a new landscape. Says Kurland, “Audio is film in 1910.”

    The thing I need to get through my day is …

    “AirPods, podcasts and running — and often, all three at once.”

  • Olivia LaRoche, 34 

    Netflix, Manager of Nonfiction Series

    Growing up outside of Boston, a young LaRoche could often be found downloading music on LimeWire or devouring MTV reality shows like True Life and The Real World. “I swear I went outside once in a while,” she jokes now of the two hobbies she’d later parlay into a career. After dipping her toe in music management, the Boston University grad scored a job at iTunes, where she spent four years before jumping to another tech disrupter, Netflix. Following a short stint on the product creative team, LaRoche, who lives in Silver Lake with her new puppy, became one of the first hires in the streamer’s unscripted department. In the years since, she’s had a hand in several of its buzziest nonfiction projects, from competition series (Nailed It!) and makeover shows (Tidying Up With Marie Kondo) to reality docuseries (Deaf U) and interactive titles (You vs. Wild). LaRoche, who once hosted her own music podcast, has stayed loosely tethered to the music world, too — be it with the docuseries Hip Hop Evolution or as an “armchair music supervisor” on her many projects.

    If I could trade places with anyone in Hollywood for a day, I’d choose …

    “Paul and Prue from Great British Bake Off, just to taste all of those baked goods. And to work on one of my most favorite formats. But mostly the baked goods.”

  • Stephen “Dr.” Love, 30

    Made With Love Media, Producer

    Though Love does have degrees from Morehouse University and USC’s Peter Stark producing program, he earned his unofficial “Dr.” designation playing sax in his high school band. “People usually think, ‘Oh, you were a ladies’ man,’” he says, insisting he was “quite the opposite.” But it was a pair of back-to-back sales and not the nickname that caught the eye of Hollywood studio execs: They Cloned Tyrone, starring John Boyega and Jamie Foxx, to Netflix, and the Sterling K. Brown-Kerry Washington two-hander Shadow Force to Lionsgate, where Love now has a first-look deal via his Made With Love Media. “My brand is sugar with the medicine,” says the son of a preacher. “Every project is a Trojan horse for some social message.” Love’s first feature was Sundance indie The Land, directed by his USC classmate and Creed 2 director Steven Caple Jr. Now the producer is in Atlanta with his therapist wife, Mekala, shooting Tyrone. Love, who also has produced music videos for John Legend, credits his hustle to his South Carolina childhood, when he sold peaches from the family farm. “I had to get out there and sing songs or tell stories and slowly I’d lure customers,” he says. “Selling peaches and selling pitches are the same thing in a lot of ways.”

    The most overused phrase in my 2020 vocabulary is …

    “#JusticeFor___ because ‘freedom’ ain’t fair.”

  • Mike McGrath, 33

    Berlanti Productions, VP Film

    Unpregnant premiered to raves in September, but a road trip buddy comedy centered on an abortion wasn’t exactly an easy sell. “All the majors and streaming weren’t raising their hands to do it,” says McGrath, who had identified the source material and shepherded what became one of the first original movies and a win for both Berlanti Productions and distributor HBO Max. The Houston native, who’s moved back to Texas during the lockdown, has been in-house with prolific writer-producer Greg Berlanti since 2014, when he followed boss Sarah Schechter over from Warner Bros. In the six years since, the UT Austin grad has been tasked with building out the company’s film division, with a slate that includes the highly anticipated Ryan Reynolds action comedy Free Guy, the feature adaptation of musical hit Be More Chill and Lana Condor’s To All the Boys follow-up, Moonshot.

    The show I’m embarrassed to admit I watch is …

    The Kelly Clarkson Show (not really that embarrassed, to be honest).”

  • Allie Moore, 34

    AMC Studios, VP Scripted

    Moore studied foreign affairs at the University of Virginia with every intention of pursuing a career in international relations. Then, she spent a summer interning at Lionsgate and “completely fell in the love with the business.” From there, the Virginia native — who wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a kid — put in six weeks in the WME mailroom and nearly two years as Scott Rudin’s assistant. Then came what she calls her “master class in television”: working for Breaking Bad producer Mark Johnson at his company Gran Via. While on the Atlanta set of the Halt and Catch Fire pilot, another Gran Via production, Moore was recruited in-house at AMC. That was seven years ago. Moore spent the first five at the network, helping to put shows like Better Call Saul, Fear the Walking Dead and the newly launched Soulmates on the air. More recently, she’s moved to the company’s newly launched and externally facing studio, where she collaborates with AMC talent to create shows to sell to other platforms. At last count, Moore was leading development on more than 50 pilots.

    The fictional character I most identify with is …

    Almost Famous’ Penny Lane. She’s a dreamer, soulful and the biggest fan.”

  • Amy Neben, 29

    Select Management Group, Partner

    Growing up in Portland, Neben signed with the one acting coach-slash-manager in the region in the hopes of finding fame. Instead, “she was the first person to tell me I wasn’t good at something,” says Neben, who pivoted to a career behind the camera while studying film and TV at Boston University. After college, Neben relocated to L.A. for a gig at digital management firm Collective Digital Studio, where she got a crash course in representing early YouTube stars. Today, as a partner at Select Management Group, she works mainly with creators, particularly emerging talent like actress-singer Sophie Michelle, whose businesses have the potential to span the digital, traditional and physical worlds. Recently, she helped client Mindy McKnight launch a haircare line for Walmart that’s expected to gross $30 million this year. She’s also working with 12-year-old skateboarding phenom Sky Brown, who has expanded her social media presence (nearly 800,000 Instagram followers), nabbed endorsement deals with Visa and Samsung, and set up a line of merch with Claire’s while she prepares for the Tokyo Olympics. Neben, who has been getting surf lessons from her multi-hyphenate client, says her work with Brown is part of a larger goal “to help athletes build a brand beyond their competition years.”

    The fictional character I most identify with is …

    “Siobhan Roy [Succession] because she owns every room she walks into.”

  • Hannah Ozer, 32

    Kaplan/Perrone, Manager

    Ozer once harbored dreams of being a writer herself. “Then,” she jokes, “I wrote this horrible pilot.” Fortunately for the USC grad and onetime competitive swimmer, it didn’t take long to see that she was better suited to amplify the work of other writers. After stints with then-producer Scott Stuber and Good Universe, the Austin, Texas, native parlayed her relationships into a management job at Kaplan/Perrone, where she’s spent the past four years building her own roster of up-and-coming scribes. Among them: Rafe Judkins, the creator of Amazon’s highly anticipated big-budget fantasy series Wheel of Time and screenwriter of the upcoming Mark Wahlberg-Tom Holland Sony feature Uncharted; Katie Lovejoy, the writer of the next installment in Netflix’s To All the Boys franchise; and Michelle Dean, the co-creator of Hulu’s The Act. The avid traveler, who’s married to Hulu’s Rob Gati, also reps The 100 creator Jason Rothenberg and Unpregnant authors Jenni Hendriks and Ted Caplan, who recently sold their latest novel to Amazon.

    The talent I’m dying to work with is …

    "Elisabeth Moss. I find her mesmerizing onscreen."

  • Praveen Pandian, 30

    CAA, Agent, Head of TV Lit

    At just 29, Pandian was asked to head CAA’s TV lit department, working with such A-list clients as the Duffer brothers and Darren Aronofsky. The New York-born rep inherited his love of cinema from his father, who’d sneak out of medical school classes in India to catch whatever American movie was playing at the time. After the younger Pandian’s internship at Disney, he joined CAA in 2012 and quickly focused his energy on helping auteur filmmakers transition to TV. The avid gamer, Lego collector and theme park enthusiast has negotiated high-profile producing deals for Jason Bateman at Netflix, Simon Kinberg at Apple and Rian Johnson at MRC. Pandian, a Penn State grad who played upwards of 20 instruments growing up, was also integral to the sale of the Dune TV series to HBO Max, the Ben Stiller directed thriller Severance to Apple and Ratched to Netflix. The self-proclaimed “horror nerd” has become a go-to agent for genre creators like David Sandberg and James Wan, too, and is bummed the pandemic thwarted his annual trip to Orlando with his fiancee for Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights.

    The thing I need to get through my day is …

    “30 mins with my guitar, Peloton or golf clubs.”

  • Jason Richman, 33

    UTA, Media Rights Agent

    As UTA’s go-to media rights rep, Richman is behind some of the biggest book-to-film deals in Hollywood. The Stanford grad helped turn Celeste Ng’s best-seller Little Fires Everywhere into the Emmy-nominated Hulu miniseries starring Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington. Then he sold Ng’s debut novel, Everything I Never Told You, to Annapurna. In his 11 years at UTA, Richman has had plenty of success transitioning authors to writers rooms too: He scored novelist Charles Yu his first gig on HBO’s Westworld and has since brokered deals for Yu to develop projects for Apple, FX and Hulu, which is adapting his acclaimed novel Interior Chinatown. Richman, a Chicago native who lives in West Hollywood with his labradoodle, Fozzy, also arranged for Nico Walker’s book Cherry to be adapted into a big-budget Apple feature, directed by the Russo brothers and starring Tom Holland. Other powerhouse clients include Salman Rushdie, Erik Larson, Jesmyn Ward and a cadre of New Yorker writers: Jia Tolentino, Jelani Cobb, Rachel Aviv and Ben Taub. Says Richman, who also reps the Ray Bradbury and Norman Mailer estates, “It’s a relationship game.”

    The talent I’m dying to work with are …

    “Jason Reynolds, Sally Rooney and David Sedaris.”

  • Kevin Rowe, 34

    Elia, Founder

    “It was a lot of beating down people’s doors,” says Rowe of building out his roster of writer-directors, which now reads like a who’s who of young auteur filmmakers of the A24 variety. The Cleveland transplant, who received a film school education from the University of Texas after a foray into mechanical engineering, started in management at Principato Young (now Artists First) where, while still an assistant, he signed Hereditary director Ari Aster, fresh out of AFI. “I love filmmakers who want to do something different and meaningful,” he says of his modus operandi, which he maintained as he jumped to Odenkirk Provissiero and then into the 2018 launch of his own firm, Elia, which counts Zola director Janicza Bravo and the record-breaking Tony nominee Jeremy O. Harris as clients. Up next: his first child with his lawyer wife.

    I’m currently obsessed with …

    “The How I Built This podcast.”

  • Richard Ruiz, 35 

    Searchlight Pictures, Director of Production

    Before the pandemic hit, Ruiz found himself in the Searchlight offices listening to Italian auteur Luca Guadagnino profess his love for the very R-rated animated comedy Sausage Party. “The idea of Luca laughing his ass off watching Sausage Party is so perfect," says the exec, who then paired the Call Me by Your Name director with Sausage Party filmmakers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg for another, now hotly anticipated, bawdy comedy, this one about “male madame” Scotty Bowers. In Ruiz’s half-decade at Searchlight, which he joined after a stint working for director Kimberly Peirce, he’s been known to shepherd left-of-center projects, including horror thriller Ready or Not, which grossed $58 million on a $6 million budget for the now Disney-owned specialty label. The St. Louis-born, Chicago-raised exec is also a major proponent of filmmaker-centric fare (see credits including The Favourite and Sundance doc pickup Step), making it appropriate that he began his L.A. journey as the roommate of Harvard classmate Damien Chazelle.

    What I miss most about the pre-COVID world is …

    “I should say ‘going to the movies,’ which is true, but if I’m being really honest it’s letting loose at a club and dancing like crazy.”

  • Howie Tanenbaum, 35 

    ICM Partners, Agent, Partner, Co-Head of TV Lit

    When Tanenbaum was 14, his podiatrist dad attempted a career pivot into acting. While the detour turned out to be short-lived, it proved crucial in shaping his son’s trajectory. Sitting in on a meeting with his dad’s agent piqued the Houston native’s interest in talent representation, which ultimately led to an internship at ICM during his final semester at the University of Texas. Thirteen years later, he’s one of the agency’s homegrown success stories, culminating in his promotion to partner in 2019. As the co-head of the literary department, he was instrumental in getting two of 2020’s highest-profile animated series — Hulu’s Solar Opposites and CBS All Access’ Star Trek: Lower Decks — off the ground and has seen a handful of longtime clients get their own shows ordered this year: Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen’s Bridget Everett comedy Somebody Somewhere at HBO, Erica Saleh’s YA mystery drama One of Us Is Lying at Peacock and Marissa Jo Cerar’s civil rights miniseries Women of the Movement at ABC. As for how the married father of three — ages 2, 5 and 7 — has managed to get any work done from home: “The first order of business,” he says, “is getting a lock on your door.”

    If I could trade places with anyone in Hollywood for a day, I’d choose …

    “The Rock. Have you seen his Instagram?”

  • Natalie Tran, 34

    CAA Foundation, Executive Director

    Though Tran was born and raised in East Los Angeles, she’d never heard of CAA when she got a call about an open position at the agency not long after she graduated from the University of Redlands. “I was just looking for a job to start paying my student loans back while I was still figuring out what I wanted to do,” says Tran, the daughter of Vietnamese immigrants who had planned to pursue a career in the art world. She said yes to the job and became the assistant to an executive at the CAA Foundation but made sure to tell him, “I’ll give you 12 months.” Thirteen years later, Tran is now running the foundation at a time when the work has never been more crucial. At the beginning of the year, as the pandemic first took hold in the U.S., she brought CAA together with Thrive Global and Harvard Chan School of Public Health to launch the #FirstRespondersFirst program to provide resources to workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 response. The 11-person CAA Foundation, which she’s led since 2016, also partnered with Democracy Works to launch nonpartisan group Civic Alliance to increase voter turnout during the 2020 election. It’s a continuation of work to drive election awareness that Tran began in 2018 as a co-founder of the “I am a voter.” campaign, which has worked with the NFL and several corporations to encourage voter registration. “I’m looking forward to 2021,” says Tran, “when I can resume some of my hobbies.”

    The thing I need to get through my day is …

    “A really good laugh and chocolate.”

  • Galen Vaisman, 34

    Warner Bros., VP Creative Development for DC Films

    It was seeing Star Wars (or at least the 1997 special edition release) in the theater that set Vaisman on his eventual course. Though his start, as a production assistant for an Extra crew in New York, may not have seemed auspicious, he credits the hours he logged watching directors’ commentaries as his unofficial film school while studying econ and history at Duke. An assistant gig with Jon Berg, then running DC Films, fast-tracked the New York-reared Vaisman’s career, which now finds him part of the trinity, with Walter Hamada and Chantal Nong, shaping Warner Bros.’ blockbuster DC slate. Among his proudest professional moments: watching Joker win two Oscars while Birds of Prey shot to No. 1 at the box office on the same weekend. As Vaisman, who shares an L.A. home with his girlfriend, dog and two cats, goes into preproduction on Aquaman 2 and Flash, he’s contemplating the unique challenges of his comic book-based job: “You have to satisfy the fans’ core desires but also show them something new,” he says.

    When will Hollywood stop talking about …

    “Making COVID content at home.”

    And start talking about …

    “Doug Liman and Tom Cruise trying to make a movie in literal outer space.”

  • Maya Watson, 35

    Netflix, Director of Editorial and Publishing

    Watson was studying marketing at Indiana University when she decided to show up unannounced at Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Productions in Chicago to ask for a job. The five hours she spent waiting in the lobby that day paid off. First she got a business card, then an internship and, eventually, a full-time job that would kickstart her career in entertainment. During her eight years at Harpo, Watson shaped Winfrey’s social media strategy. “We used to give her report cards on how she did,” says the Midwest native, who recalls discovering that photos of the broadcasting legend in the garden with her kale haul outperformed snaps of her with other celebrities: “She was a star student.” Watson — who became a mom to her now 15-year-old daughter at 19 — joined Netflix in 2017 to lead its 40-person U.S. social media team, which manages a suite of accounts that have a combined 100 million followers. Her purview includes not just the streaming giant’s main social pages but also the portfolio of verticals — including Netflix Is a Joke (1.5 million Instagram followers), Strong Black Lead (565,000) and fandom-focused NX on Netflix (494,000) — that were created to appeal more directly to the varied identities and interests of its subscribers. Sometimes, they even influence the content that Netflix serves up. After the Strong Black Lead fan base demanded access to UPN classics like Moesha and Girlfriends, Netflix’s licensing and acquisitions team was able to bring them to the platform. Says Watson, “We had never really bought content with that frame of mind.”

    The thing I need to get through my day is …

    “Prayer, devotional, my daughter, my dogs and a tequila on the rocks.”

  • Sloan Whiteside, 29

    Hirsch Wallerstein, Senior Associate

    “I thought Hollywood was the greatest secret weapon for changing society,” says Whiteside, who studied political science and African American studies at UNC Chapel Hill. She adds, “I wanted to help those who were leading the movement.” All these years later, the Spindale, North Carolina, native, who was the first Black valedictorian of her high school, is focusing her practice on amplifying the voices of women, people of color and those in the LGBTQ community. The Berkeley Law grad works with some of Hirsch Wallerstein’s top talent, including Jane Fonda and Maya Rudolph, leads the firm’s diversity committee, and is building her own roster of up-and-comers like Jonica Gibbs, Dominic Colón, Mykal-Michelle Harris and Claire Ayoub. “My clients need something more than a damn good lawyer,” says Whiteside, who lives with her fiancee in Inglewood. As a queer Black woman, she brings a perspective that’s been missing in her industry: “Having someone who not only represents you but represents your lived experience changes how you create art.”

    The wildest way my world has changed since COVID hit is …

    “Being able to sign potential clients in an oversized T-shirt in front of my refrigerator is pretty wild.”

  • Ryan Wyatt, 34

    YouTube, Global Head of Gaming

    Wyatt played video games competitively while he was studying at Ohio State University, but knew he needed to find a more business facing job in the gaming industry if he wanted to make money from his passion. That’s how he ended up running the online tournaments for professional esports organization Major League Gaming while he was finishing college. In 2014, after a stint at Machinima, Wyatt joined YouTube to lead its then-nascent gaming efforts. “Because there was not anything done before this, it allowed us to have a blank canvas,” says Wyatt, whose No. 1 priority was to make the video game vertical central to YouTube’s long-term strategy. Today, more than 200 million logged-in users watch gaming videos on YouTube each day. And though the platform is still home to mostly on-demand video game content, it has started to compete with live-streaming leader Twitch by signing a handful of top streamers — including fast-rising female personality Rachell “Valkyrae” Hofstetter — to exclusive deals. Wyatt, who fills the free time he once spent gaming with his wife, a Fandango executive, and their 5-month-old son, notes, “My ability to have the perspective of a player, a commentator and a streamer has made me uniquely fit to operate this business.”

    I’m currently obsessed with …

    The Queen’s Gambit.