Innovators List 2019: 12 Hollywood Disrupters, From Jordan Peele to CBS News Boss Susan Zirinsky

TheGrill 2019: We honor some of the industry’s most revolutionary new figures

innovators list 2019

The filmmakers, artists, entrepreneurs and pioneers on TheWrap’s 2019 Innovators List aren’t content with just telling groundbreaking stories or establishing successful ventures: They’re setting out to build empires and change the world.

Jordan Peele didn’t just direct a second feature that could rival “Get Out.” He had to prove he could do it all as a director, producer, activist and actor. Anna Serner didn’t just set an aggressive benchmark to achieve 50/50 gender parity, she created a system that ensured the rest of the industry was on board. For Matt Sacks, the 28-year-old head of Luminary, the goal wasn’t just to build a great podcast network but to build the next Netflix.

The individuals on this year’s list come from a variety of backgrounds and each have their own goals, but they all share an ambition to do something great and then surpass already lofty expectations. Congratulations to all of them.

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1. Ian Bricke & Matt Brodlie, co-heads of Netflix’s original independent film

As co-heads of original independent film at streaming giant Netflix, Ian Bricke and Matt Brodlie have been the architects behind a lot of nearly 150 million subscribers’ favorite movies. The duo recently set out to revive a tried and true film genre that had seen tough times at the theatrical box office: the romantic comedy.

Movies like “Set It Up,” “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” and “Always Be My Maybe” have helped reinvigorate the rom-com and led the way for a resurgence in theaters as well. “When we were building our slate, we asked ourselves, ‘What genres feel like opportunities?’ Rom-coms were huge for studios in the past, and that type of movie isn’t made much anymore,” Bricke and Brodlie told TheWrap earlier this year. “But, they’re heavily watched on Netflix. Our hunch was there was an appetite for more — and we were right!”

Brie Miranda Bryant, Lifetime SVP and guiding force behind “Surviving R. Kelly”

The first half of 2019 has established itself as a moment in which high-profile figures have been subjected to closer scrutiny by people who have accused them of serious wrong-doing. Brie Miranda Bryant, Lifetime’s senior vice president of unscripted development and programing, gave the filmmakers of “Surviving R. Kelly” and the singer’s accusers a platform to share their stories in a way that has had a real-life impact.

Accusations of sexual misconduct by the R&B singer had long been circulating, but it wasn’t until Lifetime’s six-part docuseries that the publicly really began to focus on the young women who said they had been subjected to sexual, mental and physical abuse. One month after the show aired, Chicago prosecutors charged Kelly with 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse; authorities added 11 additional felony counts last week. (The singer has denied the accusations.)

Anthony Carrigan, actor on HBO’s “Barry”

Anthony Carrigan has not only redefined the onscreen roles for mobsters — apparenlty they can be quite funny and affable — but he’s become a spokesperson for a different kind of body positivity. The breakout star of HBO’s “Barry” was diagnosed with alopecia — an auto-immune disease that results in hair loss — at the age of 3. “When I was a kid I used to have these patches of hair that would fall out,” he told TheWrap. “I was very insecure about it and I was very shy.”

Acting helped to give him a confidence he never had before — at least until he was 30 and went completely bald. “I had to make a choice as to whether to embrace it or try to keep hiding it.” He decided to embrace it and soon landed a series of high-profile roles. He played Batman villain Victor Zsasz in Fox’s “Gotham,” then starred in ABC’s short-lived drama “The Forgotten,” before breaking out on HBO’s “Barry” as the lovable Chechen mobster known as “NoHo Hank.”

Now Carrigan wants to use his bigger platform for good. “I feel pretty compelled to speak to people about self-acceptance, body positivity,” he said. “Just letting go of the shame that people are made to feel about themselves, no matter what it is.”

sara clemens twitch
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Sara Clemens, chief operating officer of Twitch

Sara Clemens is looking to take Twitch to the next level. The Amazon-owned company has already established itself as an international powerhouse in livestreaming video games, making gamers into rock stars and racking up views behind “Fortnite” and other popular games. According to Streaminglabs data, Twitch pulls in more than twice the amount of viewers as Google’s YouTube Gaming, which reported 200 million viewers per month before being shuttered in May.

But Clemens, who took over as COO in early 2018, is expanding Twitch beyond its gaming roots. Twitch partnered with The Washington Post last year to stream key congressional news, as well as launch “Playing Games With Politicians,” where reporter Dave Weigel interviews politicians… while gaming. Moving even further away from its niche, Twitch debuted its first scripted series last year, “Artificial.” The show, about an AI robot named Sophie, comes with a twist: It’s broadcast live and allows viewers to weigh in on where the story goes, in real time.

Doubling down on one of its key ingredients — the immediate connection between streamer and viewer — paid off for Twitch and “Artificial”: The show was awarded a Peabody “Future of Media” Award earlier this year. Twitch has also recently started testing subscription-only livestreams to drive more revenue.

Lizzo, music star

Lizzo isn’t new to the music world; she released her debut album “Lizzobangers” back in 2013, but has rocketed into pop stardom in 2019. Both through her music and personal brand, Lizzo has been an advocate for body positivity and self love.

She released her major-label debut album, “Cuz I Love You,” on April 19 to overwhelming critical acclaim. And, following a much-lauded performance at Coachella, her sold-out “Cuz I Love You” North American tour began on April 22, with a second sold-out leg kicking off on July 18 in Portland, Oregon.

The singer, rapper and flautist also lent her voice for STX’s animated musical adventure “UglyDolls,” and will appear in the studio’s fact-based drama “The Hustlers at Scores,” along with Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu, Cardi B andKeke Palmer.

Walter Parkes
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Walter Parkes, co-founder of Dreamscape Immersive

A veteran film producer on films such as “Catch Me If You Can,” “Minority Report,” “Men in Black” — and its upcoming sequel, “Men in Black: International” — Walter Parkes co-founded Dreamscape Immersive in 2016 to develop new, immersive ways to tell stories.

The company garnered early attention and investment from the likes of Steven Spielberg, Viacom, Fox, UTA and IMAX. Earlier this year, Dreamscape saw sold-out showtimes at its first immersive storefront in Century City, where patrons paid for a one-of-a-kind theatrical-like virtual reality experience.

Guests at Dreamscape’s venues put on backpacks, headsets and monitors that allow them to enter a virtual world where they either enter an “Indiana Jones”-style temple to steal a pearl before everything crumbles, explore a wildlife refuge in space or embark on a deep-sea mission to reunite a family of whales.

Jordan Peele photographed by Corina Marie for TheWrap
Jordan Peele photographed by Corina Marie for TheWrap

Jordan Peele, actor-writer-director-producer and pop culture phenomenon

So much for the sophomore slump. Jordan Peele made an era-defining movie with “Get Out,” capturing the pulse of the country’s views on race and identity while enjoying a pop cultural smash. Suddenly as an actor turned auteur, the world was Peele’s oyster.

Though he could’ve had his pick of franchises, Peele instead committed to making “original stuff” — starting as a producer of Spike Lee’s Oscar-winning “BlacKkKlansman.” He reinvented “The Twilight Zone” for CBS All Access as a socially conscious allegory. And he wrote and directed a follow-up feature, “Us,” that proved to be just as subversive, richly plotted and challenging as “Get Out,” not to mention another blockbuster. (He’s even re-teaming with his former onscreen partner Keegan Michael Key in this month’s “Toy Story 4.”)

Peele even led Hollywood in another way, releasing a joint statement with J.J. Abrams to donate their episodic fees from the Georgia-based production of the upcoming HBO series “Lovecraft Country” to nonprofits challenging that state’s new anti-abortion law. It help set the tone for the industry’s response to a tricky situation, supporting a political cause as well as the hundreds of people who make a living on the state’s growing production crews.

Dave Rubin, host of “The Rubin Report” on YouTube

The TV news business is broken in Dave Rubin’s eyes. Too curt, too partisan, too inane. That’s why he’s looking to reinvent the talk show with “The Rubin Report,” his YouTube show that focuses on social and political issues with more than 1 million YouTube subscribers.

Rubin, a former stand-up comic-turned-interviewer, doesn’t want anyone or any idea to be off limits, whether left, right or libertarian. The self-described “former leftie” recently told TheWrap he’s willing to have an hour-long conversation with anyone, as long as they’re “interesting.”

At a time when it seems every cable news show is either condemning or championing President Trump, Rubin said he’s innovating by harkening back to what Larry King, his mentor, did for decades: long, intimate conversations that touch on divisive issues with guests from across the political and entertainment spectrum. It’s a distinct look in 2019.

Matt Sacks, co-founder and CEO of Luminary Media

Luminary Media’s goal is both simple and daunting: to become the Netflix of podcasts. Launched in April with $100 million in funding, the podcast app offers more than 40 ad-free shows for a monthly subscription fee of $7.99 — a gamble that sticks out in the ad-driven world of podcasting.

Luminary has lined up some high-profile talent, including exclusive podcasts from Russell Brand, Trevor Noah and Hannibal Buress, along with popular shows like “Guys We F—ed” from comedians Corinne Fisher and Krystyna Hutchinson.

According to Pew Research Center, 17 percent of Americans ages 12 and older now listen to podcasts on a weekly basis — up from 7 percent in 2013 — and 26 percent listen on a monthly basis. But will they be willing to pay for exclusive audio content the way they did for Netflix when it pushed into original programming?

“We really do feel like what we’re introducing is choice and optionality and trying to help elevate premium and paid podcasting, which would be good for creators and listeners, as well,” Matt Sacks, Luminary’s 28-year-old chief executive, recently told The Verge.

Anna Serner
Marie-Therese Karlberg

Anna Serner, CEO of the Swedish Film Institute

The raw numbers show that Hollywood so far has only given lip service to gender equality in the film business. Anna Serner knows all about those numbers, and she thinks it’s nonsense. Serner has stood out in pushing for gender equality in the inudstry thanks to her no-nonsense approach: setting firm, deliverable goals. As CEO of the Swedish Film Institute since 2011, she pledged that her government-backed organization would achieve 50/50 gender parity by 2020 among directors of the roughly 15 feature films that receive funding each year. And she’s already shattered that goal, making a big dent in the look of Sweden’s film output.

“The industry is driven by fear. What I always say is you have to start to count, but you have to put up a target. What do you want to do? What do you want to achieve?” Serner said. “Every time you ask difficult questions about this topic you create an uncomfortable atmosphere.”

This year, her institute launched a new initiative to encourage the hiring of female screenwriters for big-budget films. “I’m not afraid of quotas,” Serner has said. “I think we’ve shown that they [women filmmakers] do deliver, so let them. The pure commercial money, they don’t give a s—, they want what they expect to be safe. That’s why I’m not leaving my position for a while.”

Jhanvi Shriram and Ketaki Shriram, CEO and CTO of Krikey

When sisters Jhanvi and Ketaki Shriram took a safari in Africa and were in awe of the nature they discovered, they realized the methods available to share their experience with the rest of the world were inadequate. Your average mobile video just wouldn’t do. So they created Krikey, a mobile augmented reality app that hopes to do for entertainment and media sharing what YouTube did for online video.

Launched last year, Krikey allows users to create and share videos that feature interactive, AR objects. The company just teamed with The Ellen Fund, Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi’s wildlife fund, for a game called “Gorillas!” that allows you to interact with AR gorillas in a virtual look at their natural habitat in Rwanda, learn about the wildlife there and even donate to the preservation cause.

The sisters had a background that allowed them to realize their vision: Jhanvi holds and MBA from Stanford and an MFA from USC in producing, while Ketaki holds a Ph.D in virtual reality from Stanford.

Susan Zirinsky, president and senior executive producer of CBS News 

When Susan Zirinsky was named president of CBS News in January, it was just about the last high-profile job she hadn’t held at the network news division. Since starting with the company in 1972 as a weekend production clerk, Zirinsky rose through the ranks of a male-dominated news industry with stints in daytime, primetime, reporting and most recently as executive producer of the primetime series “48 Hours.”

Zirinsky took the helm of a division battered by a series of #MeToo scandals as well as eroding ratings for nearly all of its shows. In May, she engineered an across-the-board shake-up, placing women in significant positions of leadership including in the anchor’s chair for the evening news.

“CBS This Morning” was refocused around Gayle King; former morning co-anchor Norah O’Donnell bumped Jeff Glor from the “Evening News” desk while John Dickerson joined “60 Minutes.” And veteran Bill Owens was named executive producer of that Sunday-night flagship following the ouster of longtime head Jeff Fager last fall.

Challenging situations sometimes call for bold measures. Time will tell how her moves will pay off.