These 30 executives scour the globe in pursuit of movie magic. As Hollywood’s top physical production pros, highlighted by The Hollywood Reporter for their work behind the scenes, they are charged with realizing a script’s vision on the screen. And on March 27 they will convene at a weeklong conference at the Sofitel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills, hosted by the Association of Film Commissioners International, a group of more than 300 film commissioners on six continents. Newly named AFCI executive director Jaclyn Philpott says the organization welcomes commissioners and other industry insiders “from all across the world to build best practices and collaborate with the goal of gaining knowledge and building connections.”
The conference includes a professional development day, panels on topics ranging from navigating government relationships to the future of streaming, and a tour of Orbital Virtual Studios. The week is headlined by a March 29 power brunch where THR editorial director Nekesa Mumbi Moody will moderate a panel with three of Hollywood’s top execs. Here, production pros share the issues they troubleshot during some of their hairiest and most rewarding adventures on set.
Mitchell Bell, Marvel
Two titles this longtime Marvel executive handled, Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, were heavy on VFX, but Bell says he pushes to shoot on location whenever possible. His attention has turned to Captain America: New World Order, which is shooting in Atlanta, London and Washington, D.C. He points to the “sheer volume of projects” in production as causing a shortfall in studio space and production talent. “One of my prop masters in London has told me it is so busy that while working on a previous film, he received a call from a producer on a different project offering him double his salary if he left to join them,” recalls Bell.
Kevin Berg, CBS
Berg oversees spending in excess of $4 billion for productions including the NCIS franchise, Ghosts, Fire Country, Criminal Minds, The Talk, The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, Frasier and Your Honor. Of Showtime’s King Shaka, shooting in South Africa, he says, “We were able to work in the actual locations where King Shaka lived and grew up, which has been pretty special.”
Kate Beyda, New Line
Top titles from Beyda, known as a franchise builder, this year include the sequel to Shazam! and a new installment of the Conjuring franchise. On Shazam! Fury of the Gods, she says, the production was forced to move from Toronto to Atlanta because of COVID border closures, which “involved moving massive set pieces, including the original house, which we reconstructed.” She adds that The Nun2 shot in the south of France because it “allowed us to maximize resources with the VFX uplift” while achieving the script’s creative vision.
Mark Binke, UCP
Now that quarantines are over, Binke says, he can take advantage of international locations with favorable tax credits such as Brisbane, Australia, which substituted for ’70s West Palm Beach in Apples Never Fall. Binke, who has also overseen A Friend of the Family, Dr. Death, Chucky, Resident Alien, Ted and The Umbrella Academy, notes an emerging trend of using new technologies to drive efficiency and help control costs. “Emerging and new production technologies in cloud, remote and virtual production workflows create a growing requirement that the production execs have expertise and understanding of technical areas not typically considered in the traditional production space,” he says.(Video) How Vladimir Putin's Bodyguards Respond to an Attack
Veronica Cajigas, Netflix
The newly named vp live action manages globe-trotting titles including David Fincher’s The Killer (Dominican Republic), the spy thriller Heart of Stone (Iceland) and the Adam Sandler-led Murder Mystery2 (Paris), as well as projects anchored in well-established production centers such as Los Angeles (Rebel Moon, Unfrosted), New York (Maestro, Leave the World Behind), the U.K. (Luther, Heart of Stone) and South Africa (One Piece). Cajigas says the rising cost of resources, a result of supply chain issues and the war in Ukraine, continues to constrain budgets.
Brad Carlson, Skydance
A pair of the executive vp’s blockbuster movies to come out this year shot on opposite sides of the Atlantic, with Heart of Stone filming in Portugal and Ghosted in Washington, D.C., where the production was granted rare access to the National Gallery of Art. Action juggernauts are Carlson’s bread and butter, and he will continue feasting with the releases of Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, a reboot of the Spy Kids franchise and The Gorge, starring Miles Teller and Anya Taylor-Joy. Of his success he says, “Never underestimate the creativity, spontaneity and efficiency of getting everyone in a room with a whiteboard and marker to help figure out production, budget and logistic issues.”
Damien Carr, Legendary
The senior vp visual effects and 3D shoots in practical locations to allow the VFX team to “focus its efforts on embellishing an already stunning frame” to create the “more palpable world” essential for Legendary’s immersive tentpoles. “I am seeing world building, usually done in post, now onstage in photography,” he says. “We can now show these incredible actors the world they are living in and give them depth beyond a blue wall.” Following up on Denis Villeneuve’s Dune, he’s turned his attention to its sequel and Book of Clarence (LaKeith Stanfield, Benedict Cumberbatch, James McAvoy), both of which shot in Hungary, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Italy.
Tim Clawson, Amazon Studios
The head of worldwide production and postproduction has been busy overseeing the Donald Glover-led TV adaptation of Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Christmas action blockbuster hopeful Red One, while continuing to handle the second seasons of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power and tentpole series Citadel. While he maintains a number of productions in the U.K. and throughout Canada, Clawson says he’s made expanding into Africa and Southeast Asia a priority. “Overall, it’s a return to choosing locations with a balance of creative needs, cost effectiveness, available infrastructure and incentives,” he adds.
Andy Davis, Sony
Upcoming projects from the president of physical production include Kraven the Hunter, Madame Web, No Hard Feelings and The Equalizer3. Davis says resourcefulness is important when planning, noting that Gran Turismo involved determining how to shoot the film without transporting 50 race cars to locations as far away as Budapest, Austria, Slovakia, Dubai, Tokyo, Wales and Germany. They found the solution in Hungaroring racetrack, just outside Budapest, where they re-created multiple international locations and racing scenes.
Jerry DiCanio, Universal Television
DiCanio says he’s noticed an increased willingness this past year among cast and crew to travel and shoot in locations other than production hubs, noting that Navarre, Spain, stood out in the past year since Universal had never used it as a location before shooting Vampire Academy. “Showcasing and keeping this incredible location pristine included coordination with the government of Navarra and the Spain Film Commission,” says DiCanio. “I’m still friends with some of the monks we met at the Monasterio de San Francisco.”
Nissa Diederich, 20th Television
The executive vp manages over 20 productions, including How I Met Your Father, Only Murders in the Building and The Resident. Though global activity slowed during the pandemic, Diederich says international production shoots have picked up again with the reopening of additional locations outside the U.S., including Vancouver, where Percy Jackson and the Olympians just wrapped filming. As one of the studio’s first hybrid productions, the series used Industrial Light & Magic technology. “It was an extremely ambitious undertaking using new technology in one of the most advanced stages in the world,” says Diederich.(Video) Moments the Queen Made Us Laugh in 2021
Kevin Fortson, Warner Bros. Television
Post-pandemic production is not without its challenges, saysthe executive vp unscripted television, who oversees 30-plus series including ABC’s The Bachelor franchise, Peacock’s Paris in Love, Bravo’s The Real Housewives of New York and NBC’s The Voice. “It’s become more difficult as things have become relaxed,” he says of COVID-19 safety protocols on set. “In the beginning, it was easier to keep everyone in line when they were just happy to be back in production, but still privately scared to death.” Fortson adds that it’s chaotic to manage as many as five or six stops in a week, governed by different local health authorities and regulations. He plans to retire this summer after his 30 years at Warner Bros.
Janet Graham-Borba, HBO
This year, productions under this executive vp shot in Hungary (Dune), the U.K. (House of the Dragon, The Palace, Industry), Alberta, Canada (The Last of Us), Jamaica (Get Millie Back), New Zealand (Our Flag Means Death), Tokyo (Tokyo Vice) and Italy (The White Lotus), among other places with “A+ crews and robust incentive programs.” Of shooting True Detective: Night Country in Iceland, she stresses thatthe local crew that had to film “outdoors in the cold and dark for long stretches” navigated the elements with “startling ease.” She adds that the past year has been full of weather surprises, with “hurricanes, unexpected snow (or not enough!), wind or temperature drops and heavy rains.”
David Grant, Marvel
The next two titles from Grant set for release, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.3 and The Marvels, shot in Georgia and London, both of which he says offer generous tax incentives that serve as an “integral part of our blueprint planning.” He observes that there’s been an “industrywide content contraction occurring,” which may result in “crews having to look harder for jobs,” “empty production facilities” and “equipment sitting on shelves not being rented.”
Marcy Kaplan, MGM
The head of production of MGM TV and MGM+ swiftly took the reins of the studio’s robust production slate in fall 2022, handling the next seasons of Fargo, The Handmaid’s Tale, Wednesday and Vikings: Valhalla. With budgets tightening across the board on top of extended prep and shorter episodic orders, she says she’s increasingly prioritizing filming in locations with heartytax incentives and favorable exchanges rates, “using VFX and second units as needed.”
Jerry Ketcham, Disney
The senior vp says Disney is increasingly relying on film commissions worldwide, not only to navigate the governments of the regions where they film, but also to guide productions to the best locations to tell stories. “Each location has its draw,” Ketcham says, noting that Dashing Through the Snow shot in Atlanta because of its top-notch crews, stage space availability and valuable city locations. Shooting a Christmas movie in Georgia during sweltering weather had its challenges, Ketcham says, but hot nights were no match for the manufactured snow that was created for the film.
Ed Lammi, Sony Pictures Television
Titles from the executive vp shot all around the world, with The Boys in Toronto, The Good Doctor in Vancouver, Obliterated in New Mexico, Wheel of Time in Prague and Outlander in Scotland. He notes that a recent increase in the accessibility of tax credits has been beneficial for production.
Jeff LaPlante, Universal
The president of physical production manages Universal’s sprawling Fast & Furious franchise and all films from Illumination Entertainment, including the Despicable Me series, with top titles like Oppenheimer, The Exorcist and The Last Voyage of the Demeter releasing later this year. While he still heavily utilizes film commissions across the world for access to their photo libraries in the early stages of preproduction, he observes there’s been a transition back to in-person location scouting when possible. On the issue of sourcing crews, he stresses that pipelineprograms, like Universal’s Below-the-Line Traineeship, have become a staple of the studio’s projects domestically and internationally.(Video) Actors Roundtable: Adam Driver, Shia LaBeouf, Robert De Niro, Tom Hanks, Jamie Foxx | Close Up
Matt Leonetti, Lionsgate
The physical production president has a potentially massive year ahead of him, with the release of new installments to the John Wick, Hunger Games and Now You See Me franchises. He says of John Wick 4, which filmed in Germany, France, Jordan, Japan and New York, “The script was actually written with the shooting countries in mind. Chad Stahelski is a master of taking natural locations and making them look even more stunning.” He observes that the war in Ukraine continues to inflate the cost of lumber and fuel, “especially in Europe, where we film many of our movies.” Also on the slate: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret; About My Father; and Joy Ride.
Liz Miller, Paramount TV Studios
Miller scours the globe for the best tax incentives, mobilizing the Jack Ryan production to venture as far as Budapest, Croatia and the Canary Islands for “creative needs as well as to capture the rebates.” The executive vp has at least six upcoming projects this year releasing across multiple streamers, including the next season of Reacher, Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies and The Spiderwick Chronicles. She’s also working on Taika Waititi’s Time Bandits, the limited series Before and Cross, an adaptation of a James Patterson novel. With the demand for content reaching an all-time high in 2022, Miller observes there was a “race to secure the best crews, which forced studios to hold purpose-built stages for shows that were not yet greenlit” and “created a shortage of labor.”
Lisa Niedenthal, Blumhouse
The head of physical production for film and television at the horror production house knows how to stretch a budget, explaining that House of Spoils shot in Budapest because they were able to “increase our shooting schedule by over 30 percent compared to the U.S. locations we were considering.” Other projects she oversaw coming out this year include The Exorcist, which filmed in Atlanta and the Dominican Republic, and Insidious: Fear the Dark, which shot in New Jersey.
Sue Palladino, Warner Bros. Television
As executive vp scripted television, Palladino, who has been with the studio for over 20 years, manages more than 60 scripted movies and series, including Ted Lasso, Shrinking and the upcoming Bad Monkey for Apple TV+, ABC’s Abbott Elementary, HBO Max’s The Sex Lives of College Girls, CBS’ Young Sheldon, Peacock’s Mrs. Davis, and The CW’s The Flash and Superman & Lois.
Louis Phillips, Focus Features
Phillips stresses three factors when choosing a location to shoot: crew, tax rebate and look. That’s why he chose to film Robert Eggers’ remake of Nosferatu in Prague, horror comedy Lisa Frankenstein in New Orleans and the Amy Winehouse biopic in London, where the events of the film took place. He’s also overseeing Ethan Coen’s untitled solo debut, starring Margaret Qualley.
Bruce Richmond, Apple Studios
The head of production has a big year ahead of him, with the much-anticipated releases of Ridley Scott’s historical epic Napoleon; the star-studded spy thriller Argylle; the rom-com thriller Ghosted; Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon, which stayed true to its source material and shot in Oklahoma on Native land; and the Tom Hanks-produced, $200 million war drama Masters of the Air.
Lee Rosenthal, Paramount
The president of worldwide physical production is back at another star-studded tentpole featuring complex, on-location sequences with the release of Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One on top of Transformers: Rise of the Beasts. “What’s more impossible: Tom Cruise flying a motorcycle off a cliff in Norway or driving a Fiat down the Spanish Steps in Rome?” says Rosenthal, who notes that the location team for the film worked hand in hand with Roman officials to “secure the heavily trafficked Via dei Fori Imperiali for the franchise’s most massive car chase.” The Paramount exec also oversees live-action content from Nickelodeon and Awesomeness, including Zoey 102, Monster High2, School Spirit and The Really Loud House.(Video) The Richest Women In The World (2023)
Liz Sayre, Searchlight
The head of physical, postproduction and VFX boasts one of the more eclectic movie slates this year, with a pair of Yorgos Lanthimos movies in AND and Poor Things on top of Taika Waititi’s upcoming sports dramedy Next Goal Wins and the biopic Chevalier, which shot in the Czech Republic to mirror 18th century Paris. Pointing to climate change, Sayre says that “unexpected weather definitely had an impact on several of our recent productions.”
Mark Scoon, Warner Bros.
The executive vp says he chose to shoot Magic Mike’s Last Dance in Miami and the U.K., as those areas were referenced in the script on top of having favorable exchange rates, strong infrastructure and robust tax incentives. He notes that Furiosa faced “significant weather issues” during production because it filmed almost entirely on location. Scoon also has Joker: Folie à Deux and Minecraft filming this year.
Momita SenGupta, Lucasfilm
The executive vp is juggling the ever-expanding Star Wars universe, overseeing Andor, The Mandalorian, Ahsoka, The Book of Boba Fett, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Skeleton Crew, a coming-of-age story featuring a group of kids lost in the galaxy that wrapped production in January after shooting in Los Angeles. She also handled Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, which filmed in England, Italy, Scotland and Morocco, among other places.
Todd Sharp, Fifth Season
Sharp managed some of the year’s buzziest titles, including Severance and Tokyo Vice, which filmed in New York and Japan, respectively. He shares a story from Hawaii, where Chief of War (starring Jason Momoa) was filmed: “The Mauna Loa volcano erupted for the first time since 1984 the day we were scheduled to start photography at a black lava field nearby. After assessing conditions, we determined it was safe to proceed. The crew, many of whom were locals, saw the eruption as a sacred partnership between the earth and the series.” Also on the slate: Flora and Son, Anne Hathaway starrer Eileen and Lady in the Lake, featuring Natalie Portman in her first series starring role.
Carol Turner, Disney TV/ABC
The executive vp oversees upwards of 20 television series, including ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy and The Rookie, Freeform’s Grown-ish and FX’s Fleishman Is in Trouble. When choosing locations, Turner says versatility is an important factor. Disney+ miniseries A Small Light shot in Prague, she says, because the location had “the right look” to substitute for late ’30s and ’40s Amsterdam but also “a fabulous local crew.” She notes: “We even built an authentic Dutch canal on a backlot.”
Pamela Chelin contributed to this report.