Peter Bart: In Tough Times, Hollywood & Media Celebs Look To New Revenue Streams

Anthony Scaramucci Teresa Giudice Gary Busey
(L-R) Anthony Scaramucci, Teresa Giudice and Gary Busey AP Images

With dealmaking on an uptick, record sums are being paid for hot material, while the “asks” for star talent are often met with pushback. Those, at least, are the reports from the battlefront. The reaction: “There should be some sort of stock market for stars,” observes one British packaging agent.

In years past, a star’s price would be tied in part to the foreign presale market. A Stallone or Schwarzenegger who diligently toured key territories would command healthy advances around the world, resulting in muscular offers from Hollywood distributors. Tom Cruise, of course, became the champion of this strategy.

But box office bumps would still confuse dealmakers along the way. Even Iron Man Robert Downey Jr melted last year in Dolittle. Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker helped distributors forget his 2017 turkey aptly titled You Were Never Really Here.

A couple of generations have passed since MGM could bank on a Clark Gable or Marilyn Monroe vehicle to guarantee an opening weekend. And streamers don’t even care about the opening.

Given the pandemic and the importance of new platforms, the quest for some sort of magic packaging algorithm has increased — but also been frustrated. At least one major Wall Street firm briefly introduced a stock market for upcoming movies, but the scheme unraveled after one season.

At the same time some perversely intriguing “underground” indices of star (or sub-star) value have quietly emerged. One example: the expanding app called Cameo. For sums ranging from fifty bucks to several thousand, a consumer can acquire the services of a celebrity to deliver a “shoutout” to fit precise specifications – a birthday note, congratulations on a deal or even a scripted scene for a pitch.

The talent pool available, as reported by Cameo, ranges from Dick Van Dyke ($500) to Snoop Dogg ($750) to Caitlyn Jenner ($2,500). The talent demands vary widely depending on the moment and the topic. Chris D’Elia, a standup, is said to be asking $50,000 for a comedic set, while Kevin O’Leary of Shark Tank is willing to contribute a congratulatory quickie for $1,200.

For $350, a smiling, silver-haired Gary Busey delivers a fatherly “get well” greeting – a calming presence in contrast to his hot-tempered past. To be sure, pricey players like Brad Pitt or Leonardo DiCaprio have not as yet checked in for prospective customers.

The Cameo market is even broader for present and former political “talent.” Anthony Scaramucci, briefly President Donald Trump’s mouthpiece, offers himself on Cameo with this declaration: “I’ll talk about anything, as you guys know, so dial me in and tell me what you want me to say.” He holds up a “Mooch” pillow to reinforce his brand.

Roger Stone, who faced jail until last week’s presidential pardon, has been promoted by Cameo for $75 shoutouts, as is Corey Lewandowski, another Trump aide. Their asks seemed reasonable compared to those of Teresa Giudice of Real Housewives of New Jersey, who is looking for $200.

With the election drawing near, Cameo anticipates a growing demand for the services of political figures, either as gags or endorsements. Even Rod Blagojevich, the newly released former governor of Illinois, is on Cameo’s available list.

Cameo was started by a group headed by Steven Galanis, an occasional film producer, who smartly observed that famous people these days have a lot of down time. The company claims a range of backers from the Kleiner Perkins investment firm to The Chernin Group.

Cameo acknowledges that star availability may become limited if production starts picking up; on the other hand, a new spectrum of political prospects will emerge that may even include an ex-president. “I think Donald Trump is a natural for Cameo,” a spokesman for the app declares. And given the post-election onslaught of litigation, his price may be obligingly fluid.

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