A grid of headshots

For six evenings from 6-7:30 pm this Winter Quarter, the Department of Film and Media Studies was joined by established Hollywood industry professionals who took students through five major stages of a film’s lifecycle: from writing the script to producing and packaging it, directing, acquisitions, and marketing. Hosted by Entertainment Executive and FMS alum Paul Davidson, and FMS professor Fatimah Tobing Rony, this series of seminars gave students the opportunity to learn how a Hollywood film is made and the jobs required to do so. We were lucky to have Grant Nieporte, Fabian Marquez, Natalie Qasabian, Roxanne Benjamin, Danielle DiGiacomo, Julie DanskerAdam Waldman, Alan Schoolcraft, and Brent Simons lead these conversations with our community. 

Grant Nieporte:
Grant received his Bachelor’s degree from Social Science at UC Irvine with a Minor in Film Studies. Grant is best known for writing Seven Pounds, starring Will Smith, Rosario Dawson, and Woody Harrelson. His original script for Seven Pounds was a top ten finalist on The Blacklist, the annual ranking of the “most liked” scripts in Hollywood. Grant went on to work on over 150 episodes of network shows like Sabrina the Teenage WitchJack & Jill, and 8 Simple Rules, but his first love has always been feature films. Grant wrote the screenplay for Breakthrough for producer DeVon Franklin (Flamin’ Hot), NBA star Steph Curry, and 20th Century Fox. Breakthrough grossed 50 million at the box office and won Inspirational Film of the Year at the 2019 Dove Awards. Recently, Grant co-wrote the true-life legal drama Cobalt, adapted the book Liz Here Now, and just finished writing the Nick Vujicic biopic for Reserve Entertainment (Blue Miracle). 

Fabian Marquez:
After receiving a Bachelor’s degree from the Film Studies program at UC Irvine, Fabian went to work in the post-production department of New Line Cinema and Fine Line Features. Learning the intricacies of the post-production process, Fabian ascended to Post Production Supervisor. Fabian left New Line in 2001 to work full-time on the feature film he wrote with director Justin Lin, Better Luck Tomorrow.  The film was accepted into the 2002 Sundance Film Festival (Dramatic Competition), becoming one of the most controversial films that year. It was purchased by MTV Films and Paramount Pictures and released theatrically in the spring of 2003. Better Luck Tomorrow went on to make $4 million at the domestic box office and was nominated for an IFP Spirit Award in 2004 (John Cassavetes Award). 

Natalie Qasabian: 
Natalie Qasabian is an Armenian-American film producer based in Los Angeles. In 2018, Natalie produced SEARCHING, a thriller starring John Cho which was acquired by Sony at the Sundance Film Festival and went on to gross $75M at the box office. Natalie has also produced three films for the Duplass Brothers, including DUCK BUTTER directed by Miguel Arteta. Recently Natalie produced RUN, a thriller starring Sarah Paulson for Lionsgate which was released on Hulu and broke the record for most most-watched original film on the platform. Currently, she’s working on a TV on a series based on the novel THE FUTURE IS YOURS, and most recently she produced the sequel to SEARCHING, titled MISSING for Sony with her frequent collaborators Aneesh Chaganty and Sev Ohanian. In 2021 Natalie was awarded the Sundance Institute Amazon Studios Producers Award for narrative feature film. She earned a bachelor’s degree from USC’s School of Cinematic Arts and an MBA from Pepperdine University.

Roxanne Benjamin:
Roxanne Benjamin is an LA-based filmmaker known for writing, directing, and producing genre films. She is currently finishing a feature directorial effort to be released in 2019 by Magnolia Pictures. She served as the Head of Acquisitions and Development for Snoot Entertainment (YOU’RE NEXT, THE GUEST, ANOMALISA), co-producing FAULTS (2014) and Sean Byrne’s THE DEVIL’S CANDY (2015) before making her directorial debut SOUTHBOUND, which she also co-wrote and produced. The film premiered at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival. She followed that up with directorial and producing duties on the anthology XX for Magnolia, which premiered in 2017 at the Sundance Film Festival. Prior to that, she ran the Bloody Disgusting Selects label, where she oversaw the acquisition and distribution of 12 titles per year through Vivendi Universal. She also developed and produced the anthologies V/H/S and V/H/S/2, both of which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2012 and 2013, respectively. Both films were acquired and released by Magnolia Pictures.

Danielle DiGiacomo:
Danielle DiGiacomo is an entrepreneurial, creative, and intelligent go-getter with a passion and commitment to developing, financing, packaging, producing and distributing high-quality independent films and episodic content. She has a keen eye for emerging talent, strong narrative and effective filmmaking, and the ability to develop and maintain strong, supportive relationships with filmmakers, writers, distributors, marketers, publicists, etc. She has a broad knowledge of film distribution and production models, in particular the ever-changing landscape of theatrical and digital distribution platforms and models, as well as digital, traditional, and grassroots marketing.

Julie Dansker:
A seasoned entertainment executive with long-standing relationships with content creators, all content buyers, multichannel video programming distributors, digital and streaming platforms, and networks, Julie Dansker recently served as Vice President of Sales & Marketing at The Orchard and oversaw all distribution and content strategy before becoming Head Of New Content Sales of Shout! Studio. In 2019, she was promoted to Chief Revenue Officer when new ownership rebranded the company 1091. Over the years, Dansker helped propel many films to industry and press acclaim. Critically acclaimed titles include Academy Award® -nominated documentaries CARTEL LAND and LIFE, ANIMATED, Golden Globe-nominated NERUDA, Taika Waititi’s cult hits HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE and WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS, the crowd-pleasing film THE HERO, starring Sam Elliott, the award-winning documentary THE DAWN WALL and most recently the box office success LINDA RONSTADT: THE SOUND OF MY VOICE which won a Critic’s Choice Award.

Adam Waldman:
Adam Waldman, based in Studio City, CA, is the co-founder & Creative Director at The Refinery. The boutique creative advertising agency creates key art, trailers, on-air promotional materials, and social & digital campaigns for the entertainment industry. The Refinery’s clients include Hulu, Amazon, Netflix, Disney, Paramount, Sony, Universal, Warner Bros., and almost every other major entertainment network, studio or streamer. The agency is one of the top global forces in entertainment creative, with offices in Los Angeles and the EU.

Alan Schoolcraft and Brent Simons:
Alan Schoolcraft and Brent Simons met as roommates at Emerson College in Boston. Upon graduating, Alan went to work for the Coen Brothers while Brent pursued comedy as a member of the sketch comedy group TROOP! While Alan was in New York and Brent was in Los Angeles, they started writing scripts over the phone. Their long-distance bills gave rise to their 2003 script MASTERMIND, which would later be produced by Dreamworks Animation under the title MEGAMIND. Screenwriting partners for over twenty years, their credits include MEGAMIND, MEGAMIND & THE BUTTON OF DOOM,  and THE PENGUINS OF MADAGASCAR. They’ve also developed and written projects for Universal, Warner Brothers, Disney, Laika and Skydance Animation, NBC, FX, and Fox Animation, as well as for producers Neil Moritz, Ellen DeGeneres, and Michael B. Jordan. Along with MEGAMIND VS. THE DOOM SYNDICATE and MEGAMIND RULES!, Schoolcraft & Simons are currently writing NICO BRAVO based on the book series by Mick Cavallaro for Dreamworks Animation. 

About co-host Paul Davidson:
An alum of UCI’s Film Studies, Paul Davidson is an Entertainment executive who has over twenty years working in Film and TV development, production, acquisition, distribution and marketing. Most recently, Davidson led IDW Entertainment’s TV & Film division, producing series like Netflix’s Locke & Key, Apple TV+’s Surfside Girls and CBC’s Essex County. Prior to that, Davidson ran The Orchard’s film and TV division, growing the company into a robust independent film distribution studio. Under his leadership, The Orchard netted multiple Oscar nominations (Life, Animated, and Cartel Land) and released well-known favorites like What We Do in the Shadows, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, American Animals, The Overnight, and more. Prior to The Orchard, Paul ran Microsoft’s global digital entertainment service — Xbox Video. Paul is also the author of four books, including Company of Foos (2023), The Small Stuff (2022), Consumer Joe, and The Lost Blogs.

Film and Media Studies