Wave’s Adam Arrigo, Emmanuel Acho, IFC Films’ Lisa Schwartz and more make the annual list of industry disrupters
The artists, entrepreneurs and pioneers on TheWrap’s 2020 Innovators List brought about meaningful change in a time when the coronavirus pandemic altered the world drastically. They adjusted to the worst case scenario and responded to the moment when America erupted in protest over racial injustices.
This year, actor-writer-director-producer Tyler Perry gave back to those in need while helping the industry get back to work, Rashad Robinson elevated his years-long fight for civil rights by putting pressure on Facebook and the major fall film festivals came together to collaborate on a shared platform of virtual cinema.
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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.
Eight of the 2020 Innovators will participate in a panel discussion on Thursday at 5:30 p.m. PT for TheGrill media conference with TheWrap Executive Editor Thom Geier, presented by Sony in partnership with DotLA.
1. Tyler Perry, media mogul
On April 8, Tyler Perry had a wake-up call. He shared a photo of himself with Charles Gregory, a hairstylist with whom he had worked frequently who died of COVID-19, and he implored Black people to take the virus seriously, explaining to his audience that Black people were disproportionately dying from the virus in America.
Shortly thereafter, he formulated a plan that would become “Camp Quarantine” — housing and testing the cast and crews of four TV shows at his Atlanta-based studio facilities with housing and frequent testing. Starting in July, he managed to safely produce new seasons of all four shows, including “Sistas,” “Bruh” and “The Oval” without a single positive COVID-19 test. That bubble model offered a template for Hollywood to get back to work — and also influenced the NBA’s own bubble to restart its season.
And he didn’t stop there. Perry also partnered with governments in New Orleans and Atlanta to provide free testing, gift cards to grocery stores for the elderly needy families and even paid for George Floyd’s family to attend his funeral via private plane. As a result, Perry and The Perry Foundation were recognized as the recipients of the 2020 Governor’s Award from the Television Academy.
“I had the option to go away and just sit and wait for a vaccine. But I have 360 employees or so on these shows who have bought houses and cars and are taking care of their families and needed to work, so I had to do something. I couldn’t wait around for a plan. I had to do something,” Perry told Gayle King on “CBS This Morning.” “Black and brown people are the people who are dying the most from COVID. I knew I had to go far, far beyond.” –Brian Welk
2. Lee Trink, CEO of FaZe Clan
Lee Trink’s FaZe Clan is at the forefront of the esports revolution. Five years into his run as chief executive, Trink has built a formidable lineup of pro gamers under FaZe Clan’s banner, spanning megahit game franchises like “Call of Duty” and “Fornite.”
The Los Angeles-based company also boasts the largest following in the gaming world, with a fan base of 230 million people across all of its social platforms. And in 2020, Trink spearheaded FaZe Clan’s expansion into Asia and helped facilitate a $40 million Series A round of funding.
Beyond his gaming expertise, Trink’s ties to the entertainment industry run deep. Before joining FaZe Clan, Trink served as GM and COO of Virgin Records, and was later named president of EMI’s Capitol Music Group. –Sean Burch
3. Steven Galanis, co-founder and CEO of Cameo
Odds are, there’s at least one celebrity you’ve always wanted to hear from — and Cameo wants to help make it happen. The trailblazing online platform connects fans with their favorite celebrities — whether it’s actors, athletes, reality stars, musicians and top social media influencers — who produce often personalized messages for a fee.
Cameo’s appeal is straightforward: For as little as $25, fans can receive personalized video shout-outs from a lineup of 40,000 celebrities (which is growing by the day).
The Chicago-based company, founded in 2016 by Galanis alongside Martin Blencowe and Devon Townsen, has seen its popularity skyrocket in 2020 thanks in part to the coronavirus shutting down most live interactions. With live events on pause, including star-studded charity galas, fans have a more virtual way to connect with their favorite stars. Thanks to Cameo, people are now able to receive a special birthday or graduation message from that one star that’s always held a special place in their heart. –Sean Burch
4. Lisa Schwartz, co-president of IFC Films
As theaters began to shut down in March and studios and distributors hastily bumped back the releases of their major tentpole films, scrambling to streamers and premium video on demand releases (with varying degrees of success), Lisa Schwartz and IFC Films held strong. The veteran indie distributor, now in its 20th year, already released its films on multiple platforms day-and-date and decided to stick with theatrical releases for nearly its entire slate.
Where Schwartz and her team did pivot was to drive-in theaters, giving the few venues that could operate early on in the pandemic an influx of new content where most studios just stopped. They even proudly continued to report box office numbers when no one else would.
As a result, IFC actually saw some growth in a down year for the rest of the industry — even compared to other indies. IFC’s horror film “The Wretched” hit No. 1 on the box office charts for six weeks straight last spring, bringing in $1.8 million domestically almost entirely from drive-in revenue alone, a total that would have made it one of the distributor’s top-grossing films in any year, pandemic or not.
“Our business, in particular, is an interesting intersection of whole services that are designed to be viewed at home or on-the-go or in theaters and then in an integrated fashion as well,” Schwartz told TheWrap back in May. “So I think it gave us an opportunity to flex some familiar muscle, which is being able to really be nimble and pivot and put emphasis on different platforms.” –Brian Welk
5. Emmanuel Acho, sports analyst and host of “Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man”
Acho is a former NFL linebacker who played with the Cleveland Browns, New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles. He is currently a sports analyst for Fox Sports 1.
On June 3, just a week after the killing of George Floyd, Acho posted a video to his YouTube page introducing a new conversation series he dubbed “Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man.” The series began as a means to educate and inform white people on issues of race, system racism and social injustice — conversations that can be uncomfortable and often lacking in America.
The series has touched on issues of interracial relationships, race and religion, and reverse racism, and has featured conversations with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey, and Acho himself has appeared as a guest on the “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.”
“I fervently believe that if the white person is your problem, then only the white person can be your solution,” Acho said in his first episode. “This is made for you, my white brothers and sisters, to increase your level of understanding so that you can increase your level of compassion and lead ultimately to change.” –Trey Williams
6. Cameron Bailey (TIFF), Eugene Hernandez (NYFF) and Julie Huntsinger (Telluride), film festival directors
In March, the coronavirus shut down productions and theaters, and threatened film festivals that were already scheduled for the rest of the year. Austin’s SXSW festival was first to cancel due to the rise in cases, and quickly festivals in Toronto, New York City and Telluride were forced to adapt.
TIFF Co-Head Cameron Bailey, NYFF Director Eugene Hernandez and Telluride Director Julie Huntsinger each made a decision to keep people safe but to also continue to celebrate film. All three directors decided to go virtual this year, screening films through an online platform. For die-hard theater lovers, the festivals also offered certain drive-in screenings for films like Chloé Zhao’s “Nomadland” at NYFF or Chloë Grace Moretz’s “Shadow in the Cloud” at TIFF.
“The pandemic has hit TIFF hard, but we’ve responded by going back to our original inspiration — to bring the very best in film to the broadest possible audience,” Bailey said when virtual TIFF was first announced. “Our teams have had to rethink everything, and open our minds to new ideas. In countless video calls over the past three months we have rebuilt our festival for 2020 drawing on our five decades of commitment to strong curation, support for filmmakers, and engagement with audiences.” –Beatrice Verhoeven
7. Sarah Cooper, author and comedian
Even if you don’t know her name, you’ve definitely seen Sarah Cooper’s viral TikTok videos lip-syncing to Donald Trump’s voice. But unlike the plethora of other Trump parodies on social media and late-night television, Cooper’s comedy hinges not on vocal mimicry or orange makeup and bad wigs, but on the inanity of replaying the president’s own words — and in doing so, the Jamaican American comedian has offered a subversive look at the presidency and earned millions of followers along the way. “Person, woman, man, camera, TV,” anyone?
Cooper isn’t just a one-trick pony, though: This fall, she will star in a Netflix comedy special directed by Natasha Lyonne and executive produced by Maya Rudolph that will touch on issues of race, gender, class and politics. She’s also signed to develop a CBS comedy based on one of her books, “How to Be Successful Without Hurting Men’s Feelings,” with Cindy Chupack (“Modern Family,” “Sex and the City”) as co-writer and showrunner. –J. Clara Chan
8. Adam Arrigo, CEO of Wave
As the co-founder and CEO of the virtual-concert startup Wave, Adam Arrigo gave musicians a lifeline when the COVID-19 pandemic erased virtually all live performances for nearly an entire year, with nobody knowing when they’ll be allowed to take the stage in front of throngs of fans again.
We’ve come a long way since that infamous hologram of Tupac Shakur performed at Coachella eight years ago. Thanks to “metaverses” created by popular online games “Fortnite” and “Minecraft,” artists have flocked to virtual spaces like Wave to perform.
What was at first seen as a source of additional revenue and a slick marketing tool has now become a socially-distanced haven. Platforms like Wave have allowed artists to simulate a live show and make up for money lost because of canceled tours. Back in April, during the early months of the pandemic, Wave signed partnerships with Jay Z’s Roc Nation and Warner Music Group to produce concerts featuring their artists.
Since then, the likes of John Legend, Tinashe, Lindsey Sterling and Glitch Mob have done virtual shows. In August, Wave also linked with TikTok to put on a virtual show for The Weeknd to drive donations to the Equal Justice Initiative. –Tim Baysinger
9. Bobby Sarnevesht, executive chairman of Triller
Despite the similarities in video-sharing apps, Triller doesn’t want to be TikTok — it wants to beat TikTok. And Bobby Sarnevesht, Triller’s executive chairman, is looking to turn that ambition into a reality — regardless of what happens to its (currently) Chinese-owned rival.
In early August, Triller rocketed to the top of Apple’s App Store rankings, as its rival faced a possible ban in the U.S. due to national securities over TikTok’s algorithms. Triller, which allows users to create punchy video clips set to music, has more than 65 million active users and has been downloaded hundreds of millions of times.
To make Triller the go-to app for the 2020s, Sarnevesht and his team are working to make the platform as creator-friendly as possible. In July, Triller announced a $200 million fund to help creators — a fund the company hopes to expand to $1 billion in the next three years. Creators have noticed Triller’s commitment, too, with a number of TikTok’s top users — including Josh Richards, Noah Beck and Charli D’Amelio — joining the app in recent months. –Sean Burch
10. Julie Uhrman, president; and Natalie Portman, co-founder, Angel City Football Club
A few years ago, Upfront Ventures partner Kara Nortman and actress Natalie Portman wanted to bring a professional women’s soccer team to Los Angeles called Angel City. When veteran video-game entrepreneur Julie Uhrman was hired as president, the women decided to build a professional sports team from scratch. Los Angeles had nine professional teams as well as NCAA teams from USC and UCLA, but not one women’s team. It was time to change that.
The three women also partnered with the LA84 Foundations, which brings sports to underserved communities. “Together, we will be bigger than a game; we will be game-changers,” Uhrman wrote on the Angel City website. And in July, the group was granted a new expansion franchise in the National Women’s Soccer League — with the club set to play its first games in 2022. –Beatrice Verhoeven
11. Rashad Robinson, president of Color of Change
Robinson is a civil rights leader who has been fighting racial injustice for years as president of the Van Jones and James Rucker progressive nonprofit civil rights advocacy organization Color of Change.
Founded in 2005, the group works primarily in online advocacy to fight for racial and social justice, and, as Robinson says, “to hold institutions accountable to create a more human and a more just world for Black people.”
The organization recently took on one of the largest and prominent social media platforms around in Facebook, pressuring the company to conduct an independent audit of the site’s hate groups and begin to take the steps necessary to provide more oversight on Facebook. –Trey Williams
12. Emily Ramshaw, co-founder of The 19th*
During the 2016 presidential election, which itself was a catalyst for massive disruptions across media, politics and culture, journalist and Texas Tribune editor in chief Emily Ramshaw started to develop an idea for a newsroom that covers gender, politics and policy in a way that serves those who have historically been overlooked or misrepresented by traditional American media outlets.
Four years later, in the midst of one of the most consequential election campaigns in history, that idea is now a reality. The 19th*, co-founded by Ramshaw and former Texas Tribune chief audience officer Amanda Zamora, is a nonprofit news organization with a staff that is almost all women or nonbinary, and predominantly nonwhite.
“At the end of the day, this isn’t about me. And honestly, it’s not even really about my daughter,” Ramshaw told Poynter in February, six months before The 19th*’s official launch. “It’s about the little girls who look nothing like my daughter and have not had the experiences or the opportunities that my daughter has had or that I’ve had or that my mother has had. This is about elevating the voices of women whose voices haven’t been elevated in media, and that’s the biggest responsibility and the driving force.” –J. Clara Chan