Photographer: Julian Broad
Photographer: Yu Tsai
Photographer: Pari Dukovic
Creative Director: Chris Mihal
Director of Photography: Bailey Franklin
Art Director: Cheyne Gateley
Art Director: Chuck Kerr
Photo Editor: Michelle Hauf
Designers: Kevin Begovich, Vanessa Morsse and Sahar Vahidi
How long have you and Chris been collaborating on covers? You’ve seem develop this wonderful flow of type and image.
I joined the magazine in February 2013 and Chris came on board that May. We hit it off immediately, which was a huge relief given the incredibly fast pace and overall intensity of putting out a weekly like Variety with such limited resources. He always has ideas and opinions but never gets so married to them that it slows down the process. This applies to photographer selection as well, and I am lucky that he always defers to me when it comes down to the final decision. Chris has the ideal balance of vision and flexibility and I really couldn’t have asked for a better Creative Director.
I’ve noticed the covers are getting tighter on the subjects, the expressions more intense, which is refreshing for a cover image. How did this look unfold?
Since we aren’t a newsstand-driven publication, we have the luxury of putting our strongest single image on the cover every week. We also don’t have to deal with cover testing like at most publications. In the end it comes down to what options Chris and I recommend to editors that will make for the best cover. That said, we love the intimacy and power of a great, tight portrait and like the way it differentiates us from other magazines, especially those with lots of cover lines. We have also been lucky to get some really great faces to photograph.
Photographer: Peter Hapak
When did the cover series or multiple runs start to become more regular?
Did it start with the Power of Women Issue, and then roll into the recent images by Peter Hapak?
Yes, when we have situations with multiple cover talent that can’t be in the same space at the same time, we have (thankfully) opted to do split runs
and have so far avoided what we refer to as Frankenstein covers. With Peter, we loved his multiple exposure images and wanted a way to give those covers a separate identity from the other black and white portraits he shot of Christina, Aaron and Allison (as well as 49 other actors and actresses) for the Emmy stand alone issues that came out the week prior. We’ve done it three times before, first with Power of Youth (5), and Power of Women LA (5) and NY (6).
You are working with stars, I assume it’s perhaps easier to direct them?
Although everyone has been very professional, most of our cover subjects are not particularly interested in pushing things beyond your standard flattering portrait. They generally have a very strong idea of how they want to be presented, even if it goes against the expressed angle of the story. This really comes up whenever we have a specific concept that we are trying to convey through wardrobe or props. In some ways it has been the kind of limitation that is a blessing rather than a curse as it enables us to focus more on the choice of photographer and what he/she can bring to the equation regardless of the subject’s participation. I liken it to having very limited control over the specific ingredients of a dish but incredible freedom as to the particular chef and cuisine we feel makes the most sense.
About how much time do you typically get for cover shoots?
We generally get between 30 and 60 minutes of camera time with any given subject. 15-20 is not unusual depending on the logistics of the shoot. It took me a long time to not panic at this, but since we don’t really need clothing changes most of the time, 30 minutes has proven to be enough to get what we need. We make a point of letting people go as soon as we have it, no matter how quickly that is. Some of our best results have come in under 2 or 3 minutes.
Photographer: Craig Cutler
Humor and wit surfaces from time to time on the covers. Describe your cover process, what drives that image?
Humor is tricky, because it is so subjective on top of what is frequently an already subjective response to the photography by everyone involved in the final decision. With the Sex on TV cover we were lucky to have a concept that lent itself to visual interpretation, not to mention sex. I felt that there was something smart and fresh that could still be done using the naked human body, but it was our Art Director Cheyne Gately who sketched out the boom mic as fig leaf idea. Once we saw that we knew we had to go with it. Craig Cutler was a perfect fit as he has just the right balance of dry humor and dramatic lighting. As it happened on a super rush turnaround, his ability to help with casting the models and source the props with blinding speed was also key.
Photographer: Bart Cooke
How did Kermit end up upside down?
That was an example of Chris making something great out of a tricky situation. Bart Cooke took fantastic images of Kermit and Piggy, but we were VERY limited in terms of how we were ultimately able to shoot them. There was debate up until the last minute as to how Disney might interpret showing Kermit upside down, as it didn’t really relate in any literal sense to the headline or thrust of the story. We didn’t let up pushing for what we felt was fun, playful and totally unexpected, and in the end the editors decided it was worth the risk. Fortunately, Disney loved it, and distributed copies at the movies premiere the same day the issue came out.
Photographer: Ture Lillegraven
Does publishing weekly give you more creative freedom?
(There’s very little time to second guess)
Yes, I would say that putting out 50-odd issues a year gives us more opportunities to take risks compared to the pressure that monthly magazines put on their individual covers. Another benefit is if one doesn’t work out as planned for some reason, we aren’t stuck staring at it for a month. In some cases the specifics of a given deadline have informed the creative. For example, our post Oscar issue of Alfonso Cuaron had to be shot the morning after he won and sent to the printer by midnight the same day to make our deadline. That’s how the reference of the iconic morning after portrait of Faye Dunaway by Terry O’Neill came up. The last thing we wanted to do was recreate it, so the challenge was to do something that would resonate with someone familiar with the image but still look like a Variety cover and have photographer Ture Lillegraven’s unique voice. More of a wink than an homage, if that makes sense.
Variety had been publishing since 1905, over the years variety has developed it’s own slanguage or varietyese, (e.g. boffo (box-office biz) sitcom, and payola ) Are you trying to do the same visually with your cover portraits? Develop a visual language?
Funny that you mention it, because we were just talking about the importance of keeping an open mind in terms of what makes for a “Variety cover.” One thing we definitely want to avoid is a rigid formula. That kind of sameness would be even more pronounced with a word like variety printed across the top of it. Our primary goal is to have covers that are elegant, smart and graphic. Beyond that, we are hoping to surprise our readers and ourselves from week to week.