Uni’s next president of production: the short list

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It’s not exactly a secret that Universal’s new co-chairman Donna Langley has been looking around the business, trying to find a new head of production for the studio in the wake of her recent promotion and the departure of studio chairmen Marc Shmuger and David Linde. But who should she hire? To be a studio production chief, you need strong talent relationships, good development skills, savvy commercial instincts and a bevy of hit movies you can (at least partially) take credit for.

I know Donna is really busy trying to turn the Universal ship around, so I thought I’d offer a little help by compiling a list of the top 14 most eligible studio executives. I don’t pretend to be a huge expert, so I called a dozen or so producers, agents, managers and studio insiders, who provided a wealth of intriguing choices. Some of the people on the list probably wouldn’t take the job, either being too comfortable where they are or actually in line for a promotion already. (Since Langley has signaled that she is unlikely to promote from within the company, I’ve left off Jeff Kirschenbaum off the list, the popular Universal production exec who’s been a key exec on the studio’s successful ‘Fast and the Furious’ franchise.)

But at the least, this list provides a snapshot of some of the most talented next-generation studio executives who probably will end up being production chiefs or even studio heads in the near future.

Nathan Kahane: head of Mandate Pictures. He’s a hot property, especially for having great instincts for commercial material, especially at a lower budget -- just the sort of talent that would suit a studio like Universal, whose films have often been saddled with ridiculously inflated budgets. He was involved in the production of such hits as ‘Juno,’ ‘Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist’ and ‘The Harold and Kumar’ comedy franchise.


Greg Silverman: One of the top production execs at Warner Bros. As Jeff Robinov’s key lieutenant, he may be in a line for a top job at the studio already. But he knows how to run big movies, has loads of production experience and specializes in comedy and action, the two most commercial genres in the business.

Mark Sourian: co-president of production at DreamWorks. A onetime assistant to Scott Rudin, he worked his way up the ranks, shepherding such films as ‘The Ring’ and ‘The Kite Runner.’ He’s tenacious, great at development, accessible and a straight-shooter.

Ange Giannetti: Sony Pictures production executive. Has tons of studio experience, having worked on a host of high-profile Sony projects, including ‘The Da Vinci Code’ series. Has a great eye for good material and is beloved by talent and filmmakers for her willingness to tell the truth.

Carla Hacken: Elizabeth Gabler’s No. 2 at Fox 2000. A real pro and straight talker with a great sixth sense for material. She also has broad production skill sets, having worked on such hits as ‘The Devil Wears Prada,’ ‘27 Dresses’ and ‘Walk the Line.’

Kevin Feige: head of production at Marvel. If anyone deserves a lion’s share of the credit for Marvel’s astounding success, it is Feige, who knows how to pick material, build strong filmmaker relationships and develop a commercial slate of pictures.

Jason Reed: production exec at Disney. One of the best-kept secrets in the business. Very smart, great talent relationships and strong commercial instincts. He’s been the studio’s go-to-guy for most of its Jerry Bruckheimer films.

Pam Abdy: Runs Scott Stuber’s Stuber Productions. Was president of production at Jersey Films before a stint as a production executive at Paramount, so she knows how to develop material as well as knows how to get movies made. Has good taste and filmmaker relationships (having worked with Oliver Stone on ‘World Trade Center’ and Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu on ‘Babel’), with a smart, no-nonsense approach to moving projects to the finish line.

Mark Evans: production executive at Paramount. He’s already been rumored to be in line for a bigger job at Paramount. Considered smart and accessible, he’s especially good at working with talent, having become the inside man at the studio for both J.J. Abrams and David Fincher.

Debbie Liebling: 20th Century Fox production executive. One of the studio’s top talents, she ran the short-lived Fox Atomic label. She has great talent relationships and a great eye for comedy, having worked on such hits as ‘Borat’ and ‘Dodgeball.’

Erik Feig: production chief at Summit. He would be tough to lure away, but it would be a coup to land the guy who acquired ‘Twilight,’ one of the hottest youth culture brands in recent memory. He is smart, has commercial tastes and understands the intricacies of the new global movie business.

Richard Brener: head of production at New Line. Is already rumored to have been interviewed for the job. His appeal is obvious: He’s great with talent, has shrewd commercial instincts and has a long history of developing comedy hits like ‘The Wedding Crashers’ while also being involved in the success of New Line’s ‘Sex and the City’ chick-flick franchise.

Scott Aversano: producer on the Paramount lot. A former MTV Films exec who tried, in vain, to keep ‘Twilight’ from being put into turnaround, he has canny development skills, great taste (he used to run Scott Rudin’s company) and has proven his worth as a producer on films like ‘Failure to Launch.’

Eric Newman: Marc Abraham’s partner at Strike Entertainment. Has a leg up already running a company based at Universal, he’s worked on genre hits (Zack Snyder’s ‘Dawn of the Dead’) as well as top filmmaker fare like ‘Children of Men.’ A real grown-up, he has good taste, strong development skills and knows how to make movies.