Next Generation 2011: Digital

40 FEA Next Gen Digital H IPAD

From left: Bruss worked on the Funny or Die launch; Zepp helped YouTube license feature films for rental; and Leigh educates the DGA and other groups on 3D technology.

PICTURED From left: Funny or Die's Chris Bruss, Google/YouTube's Jonathan Zepp and Sony's Michelle Leigh

Chris Bruss | 28
President of Branded Entertainment, Funny or Die

A few years ago, Bruss was a CAA business-development assistant helping to create a company that would monetize humorous video clips from Will Ferrell and others on the Internet. Obviously, he impressed the company he helped launch: Funny or Die. The Kenosha, Wis., native came aboard in July 2009 and now oversees branded entertainment, making him responsible for creating entertaining videos that are actually subtle commercials for major brands, like one starring Snoop Dogg, LL Cool J, Zachary Levi and Wayne Newton called "Ultimate Halo Smackdown" that promotes Xbox (it won this year's Webby Award for best branded entertainment video). "I probably work with CAA just as much now as I did when I worked there," the newly married Bruss says. That's because some CAA clients make FOD videos, and the agency remains a stakeholder in the fast-growing company. Since Bruss joined, FOD has doubled its ranks to 70 employees, and some of the new hires were culled from the radio, TV and film department at his alma mater, Northwestern University. "I work with some of my best friends. It's a dream environment," he says. "CAA was great, but nothing can top FOD."

Michelle Leigh | 34
Executive Director, 3D Technology Center, Sony

Leigh's path to Hollywood was through her thesis, "Digitization and Its Effects on
the Hollywood Film Industry," which she wrote while earning her bachelor's degree in Film & TV at Brunel University in London. That thesis led her to an internship with Ken Ralston, then president of Sony Pictures Imageworks. "And the rest, as they say, is history," she says. That led to her doing preproduction work on Avatar, where Jon Landau and James Cameron introduced her to 3D filmmaking. "They were inspirational," she says. "Jon is a fantastic mentor, and Jim is a visionary. It was challenging, but wonderful." Nowadays, Leigh, who is single, spends her time educating the DGA and other organizations about 3D technology, and in the past year she helped produce the 3D elements for The Green Hornet and the Sony short film Xelerate. She's now the 3D producer on Planet B-Boys, the working title for Screen Gems' first natively shot 3D movie. Says Leigh, "We're incorporating the aesthetics of traditional film narrative with the limitless frontiers of a new technology."

Jonathan Zepp | 34
Strategic Content Partnerships, Google/YouTube

Zepp grew up in Kentucky, Florida, New York, New Jersey and West Virginia. So maybe it was preordained he'd move around a lot in his career. After a stint as a lawyer at Latham & Watkins, he joined Napster in 2004, then jumped to Paramount Digital Entertainment, then Sony Network Entertainment. In July, the Baruch College graduate came to YouTube to lead its worldwide content acquisitions arm, where he has helped license some of the 3,000 feature films users can rent. The married Zepp also has launched YouTube's movie-rental business in Canada and the U.K., and he and a team in Beverly Hills are "exploring" the same model for TV shows. When he's not licensing content, he's an amateur screenwriter who likes to watch baseball and play basketball. "We're at a pivotal, fundamental point in time," Zepp says. "Distribution opportunities increase through companies like ours."