(photograph by  Francois Dischinger )
(photograph by  Jamie Chung)

Variety Magazine

Creative Director: Chris Mihal
Director of Photography: Bailey Franklin
Art Director: Cheyne Gateley
Photo Editor: Janine Lew

Variety has seen some changes recently with the redesign, going to a weekly. In terms of keeping the magazine moving forward what do you hope to do with the project?

Chris: I just put together a presentation for the group last week. It started with asking them to think back where they were 5 months ago, proceeded by showing images of old daily Variety pages. Followed by some of the highlights from that week’s issue. In this business we tend to forget how fast it’s moving and how far they’ve come in such a short amount of time. Robb Rice and Nelson Anderson did such an amazing job setting up an informative and smart product, but we need to keep working with the staff to keep it evolving and growing. I used the analogy of buying a Porsche but not knowing how to drive a stick. I figured automobile references were appropriate for LA, especially with our owner Jay. But keeping it moving forward, I think we need to be better at pacing throughout the book, planning, short form storytelling. We’re falling into the trap of thinking of every piece of content as long-form which is a tough newspaper mindset to break, but we’re getting there slowly. Planning is a big issue for us when approach celebrities and getting them to commit to shoots.

(photograph by  Jamie Chung)

You came from managing several different titles both weeklies and dailies, (Creative Director at Asbury Park Press Design Studio-Gannet) how is it to focus just one one project? What’s been your biggest challenge?

Chris: Ya, I came from a big operation of doing 15 daily newspapers and its weeklies with a staff of over 70 designers. In a situation like that you have to accept the idea of picking battles and living with a lot of simple, rudimentary pages and content. At Variety, it’s the opposite. We place a premium on every single page and these books are anywhere from 100-120 pages a week (150 for Cannes). We’re putting out a magazine that’s bigger than a lot of monthlies, so it gets pretty intense but that’s what makes it exciting. On top of that, I walked in at the worst possible time. It was two weeks before we started doing daily issues for the Cannes Film Festival as well as the weekly issue. That was then followed by putting out standalone issues for the Emmys during June which recently concluded. So there have only been a few weeks to focus solely on the weekly. But I think my previous experience prepared me a little for that workload, but it was a very intense first two months.

Tell us about the cover direction, is it mostly image or concept based?  What direction are you moving towards in terms of photography?

Chris: We try and keep a good balance of illustration and photography with the cover. Our stories tend to be more on the conceptual side which is what separates us from our competition, but I’m a firm believer in never limiting our tools to tell a story. I’m lucky to have rockstars like Bailey Franklin and Larry Williams to really think out how to best tell the story visually. We’ve run into subjects that want a little too much creative control, so we’ve taken the approach of finding the right image and pairing it with illustration. We’ve run into the issue of having to visually represent something as abstract as TV Upfronts, so we went with Andy Samberg who was staring in one of the more anticipated shows to be picked up. Right now we’re still building up a reputation for smart visual storytelling and photography, so getting access hasn’t been easy. But the more we shoot and the better we get at planning, the access issues will go away. We’ve done some of that by shooting Samberg, Steven Spielberg was on the cover a few weeks ago. J.R. Mankoof did some amazing work for us when we were doing panels for our Emmy content. But part of me is glad it’s hard to get access because it keeps us balanced with our approach. Otherwise we might fall in a rut of shooting celebrities for each cover and we start to look like every other magazine.


(photograph by  Brian Finke)

Heidi: How much movie Hollywood knowledge did you have coming into this project?

Chris: I remember sitting in the first edit meeting and thinking, “What the hell are these people talking about?” Names were being dropped left and right. Variety is well known for developing it’s own terminology, so for the first few weeks I had to preface my questions with “I hope I don’t sound dense, but …” It has probably been the hardest adjustment since taking on the new job. But luckily I have a staff that’s well versed in the industry from years of experience as well as Nelson to answer any stupid questions I might have.

What’s your favorite movie?

Chris: The favorite movie is a tough question. If I could only watch one movie for the rest of my life it’d probably be Fight Club. Norton and Pitt are amazing. Fincher is probably one of my favorite directors. The story is original. And it’s completely appropriate to end every single day with the Pixies’ “Where is My Mind?”

You arrived from the East coast, so far whats the biggest difference is terms of work?  East vs West?

Chris: I think the one thing I’ve noticed is the number of creatives in editorial are far less than what I would have expected for a city the size of Los Angeles. New York goes without saying is the epicenter for what we do, but I didn’t think there would be such a disparity between the two cities. So we’re constantly looking for up-and-coming talent in LA.

Hollywood has a busy schedule, how hard is it to plan shoots and secure time?

Bailey: Scheduling is definitely one of our biggest challenges. We often have only a day or two to put together a shoot from the time that we first hear about it, so we have had plenty of practice working with the subject to quickly assess a situation and come up with the best options available. We also have to be extremely flexible as we frequently have only ten to fifteen minutes with someone, and that time frame can shift multiple times in the course of production. Fortunately, we have a roster of very creative and experienced photographers who are very adept at quickly sizing up any given location and making something happen. It doesn’t always go as planned or hoped, but I’d like to think that we are getting better at reducing the number of clunkers over time.

If I were a photographer, how would I land a shoot with you? and do I have to have shot a celebrity to be considered?

Bailey: To be honest, although we sometimes shoot celebrities, we are primarily entertainment industry focused, so a celebrity portfolio isn’t really necessary. I love getting old fashioned promo cards, and I make a point of clicking on every email link he gets from photographers. We are big believers in taking chances and working with new talent, especially if their work shows a really strong visual identity and flexibility dealing with a range of subjects and lighting situations. The more they can demonstrate the ability to create smart, fresh and compelling images out of the most basic of elements, the better!

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