• Facebook - White Circle
  • Twitter - White Circle
  • Instagram - White Circle

© 2018 by A-List Speaker Series.

2016 Panelists

Michael Swanson

Michael Swanson is an Emmy Award winning producer and studio executive at NBCUniversal. He is also an innovative entrepreneur and founder of the Los Angeles based production company, Faith Filmworks.

 

At the studio, Michael oversees production operations for some of Universal Television’s most popular shows including Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Fox) starring Andy Samberg, Master of None (Netflix) starring Aziz Ansari, The Good Place (NBC) starring Kristen Bell, Parks and Recreation (NBC) starring Amy Poehler, Community (NBC/Yahoo) starring Joel McHale and Maury (Syndication).

 

In the movie world, Michael executive produced the 2015 original cable movies To Hell and Back, a contemporary retelling of the Biblical story of Job, starring Ernie Hudson and Vanessa Bell Calloway; and For The Love of Ruth, based on the Biblical character Ruth, starring Denise Boutté, Gary Dourdan and Loretta Devine. Michael’s other productions include the award-winning features, All About Us, starring Boris Kodjoe, Ryan Bathé and Academy Award winner Morgan Freeman; and All About You, starring Tony Award winner Renée Elise Goldsberry, Terron Brooks and Debbie Allen.

 

Michael also produced the inspirational documentary films The Wayman Tisdale Story, featuring Wayman Tisdale, Dave Koz, Jonathan Butler and Michael Jordan; and the Gospel music documentary featurette, Andraé Crouch: Making of The Journey, featuring Grammy Award winners Andraé Crouch, Chaka Khan, Take 6, Donnie McClurkin, Sheila E. and Marvin Winans.

 

Michael did graduate work at Princeton Theological Seminary and earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Film & Television from the University of Notre Dame. He serves on the Board of Directors for the Asomugha Foundation, Holy Name of Jesus School, the STEP Foundation and is an Academy of Television Arts & Sciences member. From the Southside of Chicago, Michael resides in Los Angeles with his wife, filmmaker Christine Swanson, and their four children.

Leeann Trotter

LeeAnn Trotter is NBC5's entertainment reporter, covering everything from restaurants to celebrities to what's happening around town. She also contributes regular "Making a Difference" segments. This Chicago native joined NBC 5 in December 2005, after working at CLTV for eight years. There, she anchored the weekend news and hosted the award winning entertainment show, "Metromix: The TV Show," which earned her a local Emmy and several nominations for Best On Camera Performance.


Prior to working at CLTV, she was the News and Public Affairs Director at WUSN-FM, where she reported news on the morning show and hosted, "Chicago Up Close," a weekly public affairs show. She also worked briefly at Fox News and WGN Radio. LeeAnn began her broadcasting career at WBBM Newsradio 780, where she held numerous positions, including production manager and traffic reporter.

LeeAnn graduated from the University of Illinois at Champaign with a degree in Broadcast Journalism, and attended high school at the Latin School of Chicago.

Clarence "Coodie" Simmons

With one half hailing from Chicago and the other New Orleans, the award winning duo crossed paths in New York in 2002. Their first collaboration in 2004 resulted in a chart topping video that instantly catapulted the career of one of the world’s largest entertainers Kanye West. The videos success would be attributed to its unique style that displayed soulful documented footage combined with mixed media elements. This unique approach that separated and continues to distinguish the directing team from other elite directors can be accredited to their individual backgrounds ranging from television and comedy to motion graphics and network packaging. The duo solidified there working relationship from this point on and continue to collaborate with high profile artist such as, Pitbull, Mos Def, The Black Keys, Christina Aguilera, Erykah Badu, Ed Sheeran, Gil Scott-Heron, Wale and Joey Badass just to name a few.

 

They set their sights on transitioning their talents beyond music videos and on their abilities to tell stories across multiple verticals. Coodie & Chike formed their own production company “Creative Control”. In 2009 they launched their own digital network “CreativeControl.TV” that showcases the versatility of their storytelling.

 

Creative Control’s great success behind building a brand digitally, the directing duo’s storytelling talents began to manifest in more long form projects. This  allowed them to produce and direct several award winning documentaries and narrative film. These Projects include a highly acclaimed ESPN 30 for 30 documentary entitled “Benji” which premiered in 2012 as the Gala film at the Tribeca film festival; an independent feature film “KONO” took take first place the Nappa Valley film Festival and most recently a BET Networks documentary titled “Muhammad Ali: The Peoples Champ” which won an 2016 NAACP IMAGE AWARD for best television documentary.

 

Currently Coodie & Chike are in production on a highly anticipated independent documentary “The First To Do It” about the first African American to play in the NBA. Their production company has several projects in development ranging in Television, Film, Digital and Tech.

Carl Seaton

Carl graduated Magna Cum Laude from Columbia College Film School earning a B.A. in directing and screenwriting. From the beginning, Carl immediately became aware that his cinematic purpose was to tell stories that showcase the complexities of men of color.

 

His first feature, the ultra-low budget film, One Week, won The Lincoln Filmmaker Trophy Award and Best Film at The American Black Film Festival; Best Film at Urbanworld and The Audience Award at the Chicago International Film Festival.  The film, a drama about a heterosexual man awaiting the results of an HIV test in the week leading up to his wedding, was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival, Fespaco, and other world cinema festivals, and was later distributed by Film Life, receiving the highest per screen average of any film in release during its opening weekend. One Week also received the Lillian Benbow Award for Community Outreach from Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., a non-profit Greek-lettered organization dedicated to public service among African Americans. The film became a centerpiece for the discussion of HIV/AIDS awareness in the black community and continues to screen on cable television.

 

Following that success, Carl co-wrote the screenplay Step In The Name Of Love, acquired by MGM. His next directorial effort was the family drama, Of Boys and Men, starring Angela Bassett and Robert Townsend. The film centers around a family dealing with the loss of its matriarch.

 

In line with his purpose, Carl has written and directed, several short films tackling issues like gun control, the killer of Trayvon Martin and Karim. Inspired by the senseless murders happening in Chicago, the highly stylized 12-minute short, written sans dialogue, won the Audience Award at both the Hollyshorts Film Festival and the San Francisco Black Film Festival, and later acquired a global distribution deal with ShortsTV.

 

Carl recently directed the critically acclaimed TV One film, Bad Dad Rehab, in Atlanta. The film is about four fathers sent to a rehab program to become better dads, airs in July on TV One starring, Robert Ri’Chard (One on One), Rick Gonzalez (Mr. Robot), Wesley Jonathan (The Soul Man), Rob Riley (Hit The Floor), and Malik Yoba (Empire, New York Undercover).

Next up, Carl is completing the screenplay Line and is in town shadowing on the NBC show Chicago PD.

Natasha Parker

Chicago native, Natasha Parker is a director, producer, writer and location manager raised on the West Side in Chicago's North Lawndale Community. She has written, produced and directed numerous short films that have competed in the Urban World, Martha’s Vineyard and the HBO Film Festivals.  Her short films have been screened at the Library of Congress and nominated for an African Movie Academy Award in Nigeria. Natasha has also produced a number of feature films.

 

As the first and only African American female Location Manager in the Director’s Guild of America/Chicago, and a member of IATSE 476, her credits include the tv show “Sirens”, “Empire”, "The Man of Steel" and "Transformers 3”.  Natasha is a graduate of the University of Illinois, member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. and studied at the Chicago Screenwriters Group. Proudly, Natasha is the founder and President of a non-for-profit The B.I.G.G. Hearted Foundation (www.biggheartedfoundation.org), which awards college scholarships to inner city high school students.

Pepe Vargas

Pepe Vargas personifies creativity, dedication and leadership. As Founder and Executive Director of the International Latino Cultural Center, he fosters the understanding of Latino culture through the universal language of the arts by showing, through our cultural expressions, that Latinos are defined by more than 20 different nationalities and come from all social and racial backgrounds.

 

In 1985, with a budget of $10,000, an audience of 500 and 14 films projected on a wall, the Chicago Latino Film Festival was born. The Film Festival encompasses all nationalities of Latino culture and transports viewers across boundaries into the lives of others. 2016 marked the 32nd anniversary of  the Chicago Latino Film Festival.

 

Under the direction of Vargas since 1986, the Chicago Latino Film Festival has evolved into the largest and best Latino film festival in the U.S. and is now Chicago’s biggest International Latino cultural event. After 30 years, the Chicago Latino Film Festival is better than ever and its vitality is a story in itself. The audience has grown from 500 people in 1985 to more than 70,000 who enjoy the multinational cross-cultural exchanges offered every year by the Center.

 

Building on the success of the Film Festival, Vargas created the International Latino Cultural Center  of Chicago to showcase the boundless multinational talent of Latino artists. The Center prides itself for its outstanding multidisciplinary and international cultural programming that includes a wide variety of art forms from Latin America, Spain, Portugal and the United States. 

 

Pepe lives with his dream of building, in downtown Chicago, a world-class, state-of-the-art cultural complex that will allow us to share the visual and performing arts, language, music, comedy, poetry, films, the culinary arts and many other cultural expressions that reflect the lives of more than 600 million Latinos worldwide. This majestic place will be a point of encounter for all.

 

Vargas grew up in a small town in Colombia and in 1976 he received his degree in Law & Social Sciences from the National University of Buenos Aires, Argentina. In 1980, Vargas arrived in Chicago with only a few dollars in his pocket and without speaking much English. He studied at Columbia College Chicago and earned a degree in Broadcast Journalism & Television/Film production in 1985.

 

He has served as a juror in various film festivals in Latin America and Spain, and as a media panelist for several institutions including the Illinois Arts Council and the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, amongst others. He also served as a trustee of the Illinois Humanities Council.

 

He has received many recognitions and awards, including Chicago Tribune’s Chicagoan of the Year 2003 and an Honorary Doctoral Degree from Lake Forest College. He was one of the two winners of the Chicago Community Trust 2006/7 Fellowship for Community Leaders, which allowed him to travel extensively through Latin America, Spain, France, and the United States visiting other cultural institutions. In 2011, the Chicago Tribune named Pepe Vargas as a Remarkable Person, and in December of 2015 Crain’s Chicago featured him in their “Take Away” column.

Michael Alan Stein

Michael Alan Stein, is an accomplished and noted costume designer. His professional journey began at Parsons School of Design and The Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, where he studied Clothing Design.

In a career spanning more than two decades, Michael’s work has graced many of the nation’s premiere stages, including: The Guthrie Theatre, The Goodman Theatre, and The Kennedy Center for The Performing Arts. Mr. Stein is known for his striking silhouettes and vibrant use of color. Due to his versatility, his design skills seamlessly span across theatre, film, and television. Michael has been commissioned to design projects ranging from Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd, to uniform design for Lettuce Entertain You Restaurant Group. Michael brands every project with his distinct sensibility and signature design aesthetic.

“My purpose, through character development, is to tell the stories of the people I encounter. My goal is to give form and function that is authentic to their situations, through their respective wardrobe choices.”

Because of his commitment to his craft, Michael is a sought after lecturer. He is also on the advisory board for the School of Fine Arts at Dominican University. He is the recipient of many awards and honors including, a Fellowship from The National Endowment for The Arts and a Joseph Jefferson Citation for outstanding achievement in costume design. After many years at the forefront of costume design he continues to express his creativity as Chief Designer of his eponymous clothing line the Michael Alan Stein Collection.