Keynote Panel May 18, 6:00 pm EDT

Panelist Biographies

John Wells

John Wells

John Wells is one of the most prolific writers, directors and producers in television, film and for the stage. Over the past three decades, Wells has been a creative force behind some of primetime's biggest hit series, including ER, The West Wing, and Third Watch. He currently serves as executive producer on the TNT drama series Animal Kingdom, which premieres its fifth season in Spring, and on Showtime's Emmy®- nominated Shameless, which begins production of its eleventh season this Spring. He previously served as Executive Producer on the critically acclaimed Southland for TNT, the Emmy® and Golden Globe® winning Mildred Pierce for HBO, and the Emmy® and Golden-Globe® winning China Beach. He is executive producer and director on the series MAID for NETFLIX this Summer and is an executive producer for RED BIRD LANE at HBOMAX, also this Spring.

Shows produced by John Wells have received over 300 Emmy nominations with 65 Emmy wins, and 6 Peabody Awards. During its fifteen-year run, ER earned 124 Emmy nominations, the most in television history. A seven-time Writers Guild Award nominee, in 2007, Wells received the WGA's prestigious Paddy Chayefsky Television Laurel Award, given to writers who have advanced the literature of television and made outstanding contributions to the profession of television writers. In 2005, Wells was awarded the David Susskind Achievement Award in Television from the Producers Guild of America. 

Wells also served as President of the Writers Guild of America, West from 2009-2011 and previously served as its President from 1999-2001 and was vital to the success of the 2001 MBA contract negotiations. 

He directed Burnt featuring Bradley Cooper, and helmed the acclaimed August: Osage County, based on Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name. The film featured an all-star ensemble cast led by Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, and was nominated for two Academy Awards®. Wells also wrote and directed The Company Men, starring Ben Affleck, Kevin Costner, Tommy Lee Jones and Chris Cooper, which was his feature directorial debut. Previous feature production credits include: Carroll Ballard's acclaimed drama Duma; Peter Kominsky's White Oleander; Neil Jordan's The Good Thief; Andrzej Bartkowiak's Doom; and Michael Mayer's A Home at the End of the World. Additionally, Wells executive produced Todd Haynes' Far From Heaven and I'm Not There, Mark Romanek's One Hour Photo, Todd Graff's Camp, Fenton Bailey's Party Monster, Robert Altman's The Company, John Waters' A Dirty Shame, Mary Harron's The Notorious Bettie Page, Phyllis Nagy's Mrs. Harris, Tom Kalin's Savage Grace, Douglas McGrath's Infamous and Jordan Scott's Cracks
Born in Alexandria, Virginia, and raised in Denver, Colorado, Wells graduated from Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with a Bachelor of Fine Arts and later earned a master’s degree in film and television at the University of Southern California, where he also serves on the school's Television Executive Advisory Council.

Molly Smith Metzler

Molly Smith Metzler

A playwright and screenwriter from Kingston, New York. She is the creator and showrunner of Maid, a forthcoming Netflix series based on Stephanie Land’s memoir of the same name, which Metzler is executive producing alongside John Wells and Margot Robbie’s LuckyChap Entertainment. Before Maid, she was a writer/producer for three seasons of Shameless (Showtime), and also wrote for Casual (Hulu),  Codes of Conduct (HBO), and Orange Is the New Black (Netflix). In film, Metzer has written features for Universal, Disney, and Fox 2000. Her 2017 adaptation of Ali Benjamin’s The Thing About Jellyfish (Universal/Made Up Stories) made the 2017 “Black List.” Currently, Metzler is adapting the graphic novel Dan and Sam for Universal, with Marc Platt/Automatik producing. As a playwright, her body of work includes Cry it Out (2018 Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award Citation; 2018 Ovation Award for Best New Play; 2018 Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Playwrighting),  Elemeno Pea, The May Queen, Carve, Close Up Space (Susan Smith Blackburn finalist) and Training Wisteria (winner of three KCACTF playwrighting awards/The Kennedy Center).  Her work has been produced by Manhattan Theatre Club (NY), Humana Festival/Actors Theatre of Louisville (KY), South Coast Rep (CA), City Theatre (PA), Northlight Theatre (IL), Studio Theatre (DC), Geva Theatre Center (NY), Echo Theatre Company (CA), Detroit Public Theater (MI), Chautauqua Theatre Company (NY), Dorset Theatre Festival (VT), PlayMakers Rep (NC), Merrimack Theater (MA), and many more. Metzler is a recent alum of the LA Writers’ Workshop at Center Theatre Group and is currently under commission at MTC and South Coast Rep. Metzler was educated at SUNY Geneseo, Boston University, NYU Tisch, and The Juilliard School, where she was a two-time recipient of the Lecomte du Nouy Prize from Lincoln Center.  She lives in Los Angeles with her tiny family and giant dog.

Sheldon Epps

Sheldon Epps

Sheldon Epps conceived and directed the Duke Ellington musical Play On! which received three Tony Award nominations, and was produced at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, where it received four Jefferson Awards including Best Musical.  The Pasadena Playhouse production was filmed by PBS for broadcast as part of the “Great Performances” series.

He also conceived and directed the highly acclaimed musical revue, Blues in the Night. The Broadway production was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Musical of the Year, and the London production, which he also directed, was nominated for two Laurence Olivier Awards, and ran for over a year on the West End before being broadcast in Europe by Thames Television.  His 2018 production of the show in Los Angeles received unanimously positive critical acclaim and set box office records at The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Arts.

Mr. Epps was honored to be the Artistic Director of the renowned Pasadena Playhouse for two decades (1997-2017), and is widely credited with the rejuvenation and rebirth of that respected theatre company. His directing credits at The Playhouse include the record breaking production of Fences (starring Laurence Fishburne and Angela Bassett), Kiss Me Kate, Twelve Angry Men, Intimate Apparel, Blues for an Alabama Sky, The Night Is a Child, As Bees In Honey Drown, Blue, Play On!, Les Liaisons Dangereuses, The Importance of Being Earnest, The Old Settler, The Real Thing, On Borrowed Time, Mr. Rickey Calls a Meeting, Blues in the Night, Purlie (a co-production with the Goodman Theatre), and the world premiere productions of the musicals Sleepless In Seattle, Breaking Through, and Ray Charles Live!  He inaugurated Hothouse at The Playhouse, the theatre’s hugely successful new play development program.  He also co-directed the Broadway production of Baby It’s You!, which was originally produced at The Playhouse.  He now continues his association with the theatre as Artistic Director Emeritus.

Under his leadership, The Pasadena Playhouse once again established a reputation for outstanding productions distinguishing themselves in their artistic excellence and theatrical diversity.  During his tenure several productions successfully transferred to Broadway, off Broadway and numerous theatres all over the country.  Among many other honors he received the NAACP Community Service Award and the James Irvine Foundation Leadership Award for his efforts and accomplishments during his tenure at The Playhouse.

Mr. Epps was a co-founder of the off-Broadway theater The Production Company, where he staged the world premiere of Scenes and Revelations, which he also directed on Broadway at the Circle In The Square Theatre. Mr. Epps has directed plays and musicals for many of the country’s major theatres including the Guthrie, the Old Globe Theatre, Manhattan Theatre Club, Seattle Repertory Theatre, Playwrights Horizons, Crossroads Theatre, Cleveland Play House, Arizona Theatre Company, Laguna Playhouse and the Encores Series in New York.  He directed the world premiere of Blue at Arena Stage Theatre, which was also produced off-Broadway by the Roundabout Theatre.  Following its hugely successful production at the Pasadena Playhouse, Blue was produced across the country on a six month national tour.   He also served as Artistic Advisor for Theatre Under The Stars in Houston, Texas and directed their highly acclaimed production of Dreamgirls.  Most recently he directed the West Coast premiere of Ken Ludwig’s adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express, and remounted his production of Twelve Angry Men at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, DC, and a new production of The Lion in Winter.

For television he has directed episodes of “The Upshaws,” “Frasier,” “Friends,” “ The George Lopez Show,” “Everybody Loves Raymond,” “Hannah Montana,” “Instant Mom,” “Evening Shade,” “Sister, Sister,” and many others, as well as several pilots.  For five seasons he was also producer/director for the hit series “Girlfriends.”  In recognition of his work in television, he was invited to be the Pankey Chair/Filmmaker in Residence at Chapman University.

He is currently a Guest Lecturer at the Yale School of Drama.  He has also taught acting, directing and theatre management at USC, UCLA, University of San Diego,   Occidental College, and Cal State LA among others.  Recently he received the prestigious Alumni Achievement Award from his alma mater Carnegie-Mellon University.

He is a long time member of the Executive Board of the Society of Directors and Choreographers, and he is Chair of the SDC Foundation Board of Trustees.  He also serves on the board of the Ten Chimneys Foundation.  Mr. Epps is a two-time recipient of the Theatre Communications Group/Pew Charitable Trust National Theatre Artists Residency Grant, which supported his four-year tenure at the Old Globe Theatre as Associate Artistic Director.

Daniella Topol

Daniella Topol

Originally from the suburbs of Washington, DC, Daniella moved to Pittsburgh to get her undergraduate degree in directing from Carnegie Mellon where she also received her Masters of Arts Management. She became the Associate Producing Director of City Theatre, where she directed plays while developing programming for the Lester Hamburg Studio Theatre and running the education and literary departments. Daniella then moved to New York and became the New Works Program Director at the National Alliance for Musical Theatre, then became the Managing Director and subsequently the Artistic Program Director of the Lark Play Development Center until June 2008 when she became a freelance director. She has directed readings and workshops for a number of companies and is currently a member of the board of the Lark Play Development Center, has been a grants review panelist for the National Endowment for the Arts, NYC Department of Cultural Affairs, NY State Council on the Arts and TCG. She is an NYTW Usual Suspect, member of EST, a Women’s Project Lab alumnus, and a New Georges affiliated artist. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and daughter.

Daniella Topol is a New-York based freelance theater director primarily focused on working with writers to develop and direct relevant, theatrical and adventuresome new plays and musicals. Upcoming world premiere productions include: Rachel Bonds' Five Mile Lake (South Coast Rep), Cori Thomas’ When January Feels Like Summer (Ensemble Studio Theatre in a co-production with P73).  Recent world premiere productions include: Jessica Dickey’s Charles Ives Take Me Home (Rattlestick Theatre) and Row after Row (Women’s Project), Rajiv Joseph’s Monster at the Door (Alley Theatre), Lloyd Suh’s Jesus in India (Magic Theatre and MaYi Theatre), Carla Ching’s Sugarhouse at the Edge of the Wilderness (MaYi Theatre), Willy Holtzman’s The Morini Strad (City Theatre), Sheila Callaghan’s Dead City (New Georges) and Lascivious Something (Women’s Project), and Janet Allard and Niko Tsakalakos’ Pool Boy (Barrington Stage Company). Other recent second productions include: Anna Ziegler's PHOTOGRAPH 51 (Theatre J), Susan Bernfield's STRETCH (People's Light and Theatre Company).

Paula Wagner

Paula Wagner

Ms. Wagner is a co-founder of Cruise/Wagner Productions, where she produced notable films such as MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE I, II, III, THE LAST SAMURAI, VANILLA SKY, THE OTHERS, SHATTERED GLASS and executive produced Steven Spielberg’s WAR OF THE WORLDS. Earlier in her career she was a prominent talent agent at Creative Artists Agency. In all, films produced by C/W earned more than $3 billion in worldwide box office receipts.

Wagner most recently produced the critically acclaimed film MARSHALL, starring Chadwick Boseman, Josh Gad and Kate Hudson, through her production company, Chestnut Ridge Productions.

Broadway producing credits include the new hit, PRETTY WOMAN: THE MUSICAL; THE HEIRESS starring Jessica Chastain, GRACE starring Paul Rudd and Michael Shannon, and the Tony-nominated play MOTHERS AND SONS.

Wagner was honored at the Deauville American Film Festival in 2012. She was one of the recipients of the Women in Film Crystal + Lucy Awards in 2016, and the Cameraimage Producer with Unique Visual Sensitivity award in 2017, amongst other awards and honors she has received throughout her career.

Wagner is a member of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences, PGA and the Broadway League. In addition to her producing career she is an adjunct professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s MEIM program and serves on the Board Of Trustees at CMU.


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