Timothée Chalamet scored a coveted spot on the cover GQ in November, wearing a chic plaid coat and slick red boots by Prada with a read-me cover line: “Hiding Out in Woodstock With Timothée Chalamet.”
It would’ve been great promo for the actor’s big-budget epic Dune from director Denis Villeneuve that was, at one time, scheduled to hit theaters Dec. 18 (a month after an original date of Nov. 20). The COVID-19 pandemic had other plans, forcing an ever-shifting Hollywood release calendar that has upended blockbusters-in-waiting like Dune, Black Widow, No Time to Die, Top Gun: Maverick, Free Guy, Mission: Impossible 7 and many others. The moves have had a major impact on those whose business it is to book celebrities on magazine covers or for events, award and talk shows, and other personal appearances.
Alison Ward Frank, global head of talent for Condé Nast, said the key has been remaining flexible. “For the past 18 months, instead of coming to the table with one pitch idea, I’ve come with at least three at the ready,” she explains. “The most overused statement during the pandemic has certainly been, ‘Do you think it will move again?’”
Ward Frank praised the creativity of edit teams across all of Condé Nast as “incredible” during the challenging time which has also forced teams to come up with COVID-19 safe shoots, whether that was remote or in-person. She’s optimistic that there won’t be a crazy bottleneck come summer or fall once the content really starts rolling out full throttle. “Some films have waited two years to be released, so they will be very careful with their dates to prevent overcrowding,” she says. “I do think we will see the return of a film release schedule that sticks and the return of the summer blockbuster and big box office weekends for Memorial Day and July 4.”
Onetime magazine editors Andrea Oliveri and Nicole Vecchiarelli (Details, W, InStyle, DuJour) co-founded Special Projects in 2016, a firm that specializes in a wide array of services including editorial booking for print, digital and social media; tastemaker and influencer curation for events; talent and guest list curation; event programming; booking of performers, hosts, moderators and presenters; and casting for campaigns.
Their current client roster includes WSJ., Bustle Digital Group, Town & Country, Departures and dozens of others. In a joint interview, they said, in some ways, the past year was “actually liberating” as it forced a break from tradition. “For so many years, booking magazine covers was reactionary to this very set list. Everyone would put in their offers so far in advance and just wait for people to make a decision,” explains Oliveri. “In some ways, [the past year] allowed for more creativity and freedom because you could look at, what is everyone talking about right at that moment, versus saying, ‘This Marvel franchise comes out on this date and we’re holding our breath to book this talent for it.’”
Oliveri adds that with theaters and the release calendar empty, they could book a mix of personalities, from athletes and social media stars to business leaders and models. However, looking ahead to when the blockbusters dot the calendar with more frequency, some will be returning to theaters two or even three years after their last major showing. “It’s going to be interesting to recalibrate who the movie stars are and who can cover movie issues now that they’ve been off the radar for so long.”
Vecchiarelli says that as some publications decreased the number of print issues they published each year, others ramped up digital covers, and that has made for more of-the-moment features. “You could say, ‘I’m obsessed with this person and six weeks later, the cover could be out. It’s less traditionally reliant on a theatrical release schedule and easier to maneuver in some ways.”
She mentioned that there were moments during the pandemic when certain shows, such as The Undoing or Bridgerton, captivated the cultural conversation and that led to “more creative ways to feed people’s appetites” for entertainment coverage focused on the talent from those shows. Adds Oliveri: “It allowed you to connect the dots in a shorter period of time to make sure you’re capturing entertainment in a precise way.”
Jen Kasle, CEO and founder of The Talent, oversees a team of 13 that books for such clients as The Talk, Billboard Music Awards, American Music Awards, American Idol, Match Game, ACM Awards and Hollywood Game Night, among many others. She said the pandemic has been tricky for talk shows as there hasn’t been a deep bench of stars looking to promote new content because of the production stoppage and near-empty release calendar.
“Black Widow has moved like three different times,” she says as an example. “You might be working on a booking and then suddenly find out it’s being pushed again another three months.”
What they have found, however, is “incredible opportunities” to get guests who might not have confirmed before, but now they’ve been able to appear remotely from their homes. Because of that, Kasle says she expects the pandemic to have a lasting impact on the business.
“We have learned that we can do more in less time. It’s possible for a celebrity to be at home, do a talk show on the East Coast then turn around and do the West Coast. There’s an argument to be made that it’s cheaper and more efficient,” she says. “I don’t think it will be the end of in-person guests, but it will change the rigidity of always having to be in the studio. Are we going to see major movie stars do three days in New York and then turn around and do another round here? Only time will tell.”
A version of this story first appeared in the May 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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