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Speaker Bios

Steven Gaydos

Steven Gaydos is an American screenwriter, songwriter and journalist. As a screenwriter, he has frequently collaborated with American independent film director Monte Hellman, and is best known for writing his 2010 film “Road to Nowhere.” Gaydos is an entertainment journalist and the co-author of several books on the entertainment industry, and is currently Vice-President and Executive Editor of Variety.

Gipson, Darrien

Darrien Michele Gipson

Darrien Michele Gipson is the National Director of SAGindie, an educational program that teaches independent filmmakers with limited budgets how to hire professional actors for their films. Darrien is an M.F.A. recipient from the Peter Stark Producer’s Program at USC and was formerly the Vice President of Production for DEF Pictures. As National Director of SAGindie, Darrien is responsible for the strategic planning and oversight of the organization and acts as a liaison between filmmakers and SAG-AFTRA, the actors union.

Hertzberg, Paul

Paul Hertzberg

Paul Hertzberg is the President and Chief Executive Officer of CineTel Films, Inc. Under his auspices and direct involvement since its founding thirty years ago, CineTel has become one of the leading independent production and distribution companies in the entertainment industry. In addition to theatrical features, the firm has been highly successful in the production of pay television specials for HBO, Lifetime and the SyFy Channel. New Line, Warner Bros., Lions Gate, Miramax, MGM, Anchor Bay and Columbia/Tri-Star have distributed much of the CineTel product, 16 of which have been released theatrically.


“Seven years ago, there seemed to be a sizable number of independent film companies that on the surface appeared to be doing quite well,” noted Mr. Hertzberg, who has been duly recognized for his contribution to the entertainment industry by his inclusion in Who’s Who in America. Mr. Hertzberg is also a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences-Producers Division, the Screen Actors Guild, and serves on the Board of Directors of the Independent Film and Television Alliance (I.F.T.A.). “Then, one by one, they began to disappear. Now there are only a handful of us left. CineTel’s strength has always been to remain on target with a certain philosophy: to produce, acquire and distribute motion pictures that appeal to a wide variety of audiences, yet are economically feasible for continued success.”


Mr. Hertzberg’s most recent theatrical productions include, A Rumor of Angels, starring Vanessa Redgrave, Ray Liotta and Catherine McCormick, was distributed by MGM/UA. The action film KILLING MACHINE, starring and directed by Dolph Lundgren and the remake of the 1978 classic film I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE.


CineTel was founded in his home state of Illinois by Mr. Hertzberg in 1980 and was originally known as Chicago Teleproductions. During its early days, Mr. Hertzberg and Chicago Teleproductions produced comedy and musical programming for HBO, Showtime, ON-TV, and RCA/Columbia Home Video. Among their programming was The Four Tops in Concert, An Evening at La Cage, and Well…It Seemed Funny at the Time starring Martin Mull. In 1982, the company was awarded a regional Emmy for the show Terminal Laughter, which starred Robert Klein, Tim Reid and Bruce Baum.


Changing the company’s name to CineTel Films, Mr. Hertzberg moved the corporate offices to Los Angeles in 1983. After arriving on the West Coast, CineTel had continued success with television productions, which included a special starring Jayne Kennedy and two 30-minute HBO specials entitled And If I’m Elected…, hosted by the Smothers Brothers. Other titles include The Monterey Jazz Festival, and Aretha Franklin, Queen of Soul.


In 1985, Mr. Hertzberg began to direct his focus on the production of feature films and that year, CineTel produced The Tomb, starring John Carradine and Sybil Danning. Since then, among the 100 features CineTel has produced and distributed under Mr. Hertzberg’s charge are Armed Response, Cyclone, Cold Steel, Bulletproof, Tripwire, Hit List, 976-Evil, Out of the Dark, Fear, Far Out Man, Masters of Menace, Robert Downey’s Too Much Sun, Fast Getaway and Relentless, a psychological thriller starring Judd Nelson, Robert Loggia, Leo Rossi and Meg Foster. It became the company’s highest grossing feature to date, and spawned three sequels.


CineTel and Mr. Hertzberg have also produced the following feature films: Serious Money, starring Dennis Farina, Leo Rossi and Fran Drescher; Past Midnight, starring Rutger Hauer, Natasha Richardson and Clancy Brown; Where the Day Takes You, a gritty drama about homelessness that stars Dermot Mulroney, Lara Flynn Boyle, Will Smith and Sean Astin, directed by Marc Rocco; and Teresa’s Tattoo, starring Lou Diamond Phillips, Jonathan Silverman and C. Thomas Howell.


Mr. Hertzberg produced Carried Away, a romantic drama starring Dennis Hopper, Amy Irving, Gary Busey and Hal Holbrook. Directed by Bruno Baretto and based on the Jim Harrison novel “Farmer”, Carried Away was released by Fine Line Features.


Mr. Hertzberg also completed Below Utopia, starring Alyssa Milano and Ice-T, directed by Kurt Voss and released domestically by Artisan.


“We’ve now finished our thirtieth year,” says Mr. Hertzberg, “and it’s been an exciting, tremendously rewarding experience for all of us. In November of 2003 we sold our 100 film library and in 2010 we plan to produce and distribute twelve new films as we continue to build a new library which now totals 72 films.”

Kiska Higgs

Kiska Higgs is SVP and head of acquisitions & co-productions at a Focus Features, the specialty division of Universal Pictures, whose fall slate includes Joe Wright & Gary Oldman’s “Darkest Hour” and Paul Thomas Anderson & Daniel Day-Lewis’s last collaboration, and the international distribution of “Lady Bird.” She’s spent the last eleven years in the Universal family, as a production executive in Los Angeles and at the studio’s international head office in London, before joining Focus’s new management team in 2016. A seventh-generation Californian and San Diego native, she graduated from Princeton in 2001 with a degree in Philosophy.

Thomas Hughes

Thomas Hughes oversees sales and distribution for all of Lionsgate’s businesses in the on–demand, digital and non-theatrical arenas, including multi-channel video providers and digital retailers. He also manages business development opportunities surrounding the rapid emergence of digital platforms worldwide, including mobile, as well as other new and emerging technologies.

He has played an instrumental role in Lionsgate’s launch on several new platforms. He also led the negotiation and subsequent launch with Valve’s STEAM platform entry into global VOD and EST. Mr. Hughes has negotiated expanded global content licensing deals with digital retailers such as iTunes, Amazon and xBox as they enter new territories around the world.

Additionally, Mr. Hughes shepherded the Company’s exploration of new windowing strategies, including the day-and-date theatrical/VOD releases. He is a key member of the executive team which has guided Lionsgate to industry leadership in VOD-to-box office and digital-to-box office conversion rates. In addition to his distribution and sales responsibilities, Hughes leads business development efforts for the division.

Mr. Hughes joined Lionsgate in March 2011 after serving as Vice President of Worldwide Digital at MGM for three years and prior to that he was at Scripps leading a digital sales team. Mr. Hughes has years of diversified media experience including distribution, sales, marketing, production and operations, with a major focus on innovating new business models for content creation and distribution in the digital marketplace.

Early in his career, Mr. Hughes served as personal and production assistant for Emmy award-winning producer, director, and choreographer Kenny Ortega on projects like Michael Jackson’s Bad Tour and Dirty Dancing (TV). He began his media career in local broadcast TV news at WIS TV (NBC) while studying Media Arts the University of South Carolina in Columbia, SC.

Kevin Iwashina

Coming Soon.

Tania Jones

Tania Jones is the VP of Marketing & Customer Success for SHIFT72, a leading provider of secure Video On Demand platforms to the entertainment industry, including the AFM Screenings on Demand service. SHIFT72 have become a leading authority on VOD distribution, digital film marketing and the film industry’s paradigm shift from physical to digital. Tania regularly advises entertainment brands, filmmakers, exhibitors, distributors and festivals on digital distribution, sales and marketing strategies to increase revenues and capture audiences with premium viewing experiences.

Martin Katz

Martin Katz is Founder and President of Prospero Pictures. One of the most prolific feature film producers in Canada, Martin’s credits include Hotel Rwanda, which was nominated for three Academy Awards and three Golden Globe Awards, and four films with celebrated director David Cronenberg, including Spider, A Dangerous Method, Cosmopolis and Maps to the Stars, for which Julianne Moore received the Best Actress Palme d’Or at Cannes. Martin’s television projects include Spectacle: Elvis Costello With…, an award-winning music and performance series co-produced with Rocket Pictures and Ice Road Truckers, now in its tenth season, one of History Channel’s highest-rated documentary series.


Martin holds degrees in law from the University of Toronto and the Université de Paris I (Panthéon-Sorbonne). He is a member of the Law Society of Upper Canada, a Director of the Institute for Canadian Citizenship, a recipient of the Queen’s Jubilee Medal and Chair of the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television.

Ken LaZebnik

Ken LaZebnik writes for television, film, and the theatre. He shares story credit with Garrison Keillor for director Robert Altman’s last film: A Prairie Home Companion. LaZebnik wrote the Lionsgate film Thomas Kinkade’s Christmas Cottage, starring Peter O’Toole. He has written for television for twenty-five years, including seven years as a writer/producer for Touched by An Angel. He also has written for Army Wives, Providence, Star Trek: Enterprise, and the new series When Calls The Heart on the Hallmark Channel.


His many plays have been performed across America. Three of his plays have focused on autism, including On The Spectrum, which was awarded a Steinberg Citation from the American Theatre Critics Association, and had a successful run in Los Angeles at the Fountain Theatre.


He is the Director of the Stephens College Low-Residency M.F.A. in Television and Screenwriting. Its a new M.F.A. based in Los Angeles, with a mission to increase the number of women writing for film and TV. It features two ten-day workshops each year, held at the Jim Henson Studios in Hollywood.

James F. Lopez

James F. Lopez is a Producer/Head of Motion Pictures at Will Packer Productions. In the position he is responsible for developing and overseeing production on all film projects through the company’s first look deal with Universal Pictures.

He is an executive producer on the $100M + grossing massive hit comedy Girls Trip starring Regina Hall, Tiffany Haddish, with Jada Pinkett-Smith and Queen Latifah. He is also a producer on the upcoming projects Breaking In starring Gabrielle Union and City of Saints and Thieves starring Kerry Washington. He was an executive producer on the recently released Almost Christmas, starring Gabrielle Union, Danny Glover, Mo’Nique, Romany Malco, Nicole Ari Parker, Kimberly Elise, JB Smoove, Jessie T. Usher and DC Young Fly and as well as Jacob’s Ladder, a reimagining of the 1980’s thriller classic, starring Michael Ealy, Jesse Williams and Nicole Beharie.

Prior to joining Will Packer Productions, Lopez was Senior Vice President of Production at Screen Gems, a division of Sony Pictures Entertainment. During his tenure, Lopez oversaw some of the company’s top grossing and most anticipated projects. He was the production executive for the box office hit Think Like A Man. He also oversaw production on About Last Night, Think Like A Man Too, The Wedding Ringer, The Perfect Guy and When The Bough Breaks for the studio. He also produced and conceived the story for the acclaimed short film #AmeriCAN, directed by Nate Parker.

Formerly Senior Vice President of Marketing for Atlantic Records before joining Screen Gems, Lopez played an instrumental role in developing and overseeing the marketing campaigns for several multi-platinum artists including T.I. during his tenure in the music business. He also oversaw the soundtracks for numerous films including Hustle & Flow, P.S. I Love You, Step Up 2: The Streets, Tyler Perry’s Daddy’s Little Girls, Meet The Browns, Why Did I Get Married? and Avatar. In addition to overseeing marketing for artists, Lopez has directed a series of television commercials for album campaigns and led efforts for film soundtracks and brand partnerships. His music video for T.I.’s “No Matter What,” from his double platinum album Paper Trail, was nominated for an MTV Video Music Award. Lopez also has a Grammy nomination for his producing of long form video “The World According to Nappy” by Nappy Roots.

Lopez is a member of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences and has been included on Ebony Magazine’s Power 100 list and Imagen Foundation’s Most Powerful & Influential Latinos in Entertainment. He is also a board member for the African American Film Critics Association and ICON MANN.

Dana Lustig

Dana Lustig has directed five feature films and produced over 20 independent features.

Dana is now busy producing the second season of successful Israeli TV show with Yehuda Levi Very Important Man, which shoots in Los Angels in December.

In 2017 Dana completed producing the feature film Look Away with acclaimed director of Fauda Assaf Bernstein, starring Jason Isaacs, Mira Sorvino and India Eisley.

In 2016 along with Arclight films, Dana produced the amazing true survival story Jungle, based on the book by Yossi Ghinsberg , starring Daniel Radcliffe.

Dana’s previous production, a film noir The Frontier, premiered at SXSW and was picked up for distribution by Kino Lorber.

Dana directed the dark love story A Thousand Kisses Deep starring Jodi Whittaker (Dr. Who) that was nominated to the British Independent Film Award. Other directing credits include the comedy Wild Cherry with Rob Schneider, Kill Me Later starring Selma Blair (Lionsgate), Confessions of a Sociopathic Social Climber starring Jennifer Love Hewitt, the highest rated telecast for Oxygen’s original programming and Wedding Bell Blues.

For ten years, Dana was a partner at Bergman Lustig Productions along with Ram Bergman (Star Wars). Amongst many of the movies, BLP produced Brick, nominated for the Independent Spirit Award and Dancing at the Blue Iguana, directed by Oscar nominee Michael Radford (Il Postino).

In 2018 Dana is going to direct the remake of an Israeli movie The Man in the Wall and she is now developing two movies to be shot in Israel.
Dana was born in Israel, and after her army service she moved to LA to graduate from the American Film Institute. Besides producing, writing and directing Dana also gives lectures about Independent movie making, at the AFI and other universities.

Stefan Lütje

Stefan Lütje is partner and chairs the Media Sector Group. The team was voted “Best Media Law Firm” by the well-known legal publishing house JUVE in 2010, has since been nominated many times, and is regularly recognized in all the important legal directories such as The Legal 500, Chambers & Partners and JUVE for their expertise and high-quality work. As an expert in the media industry, Stefan has advised national and international industry players for more than 25 years on strategic as well as commercial and corporate law issues. He has wide-ranging experience handling development, production, distribution, financing of content issues  as well as M&A and financing matters within the media and entertainment sector.


His practice includes cross-border transactional matters, public, regulatory and EU law issues as well as M&A and restructuring mandates and intellectual property law, including litigation. Some of Stefan’s clients include media companies and studios as well as banks, investors, insurance companies, funding and other public institutions. He also has an established practice in advising CEOs and companies on employment law regulations and contractual matters.


Prior to Greenberg Traurig, Stefan spent eight years working for Olswang in Germany and was a partner and group head of the Intellectual Property team at Linklaters for more than 15 years.