After the millennium came and went, vanity deals briefly flourished on a smaller scale.
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Vanity shingles reached new extremes in 1995—even by Hollywood standards—when Columbia Pictures cut a $10 million, three-year, first-look deal to fund Alicia Silverstone’s production company, First Kiss.
The 18-year-old Silverstone’s sleeper hit , felt the kiss of box-office death: a $20 million budget yielded just $14 million in domestic ticket sales.
As director Steve Mc Queen began his acceptance speech, Pitt looked heavenward, eyes shining.
Maybe it was the award-show lighting; maybe it was just a “hell yes” reaction to finally winning an Oscar after 27 years in the film business.
In 1992, a 30-year-old Tom Cruise set up the Cruise-Wagner Co. His sweet deal allowed the actor’s company to develop projects in exchange for Cruise starring in three films over two years. In Hollywood’s vanity fever dream, seemingly every 90s leading woman or supporting man was soon commissioning a production company logo.
Paramount grabbing the coattails of—and handing over two floors of office space to—a rising global superstar was the very definition of sound business practice. The year 1996 saw Chris O’Donnell hang his George Street Pictures shingle at Warner Bros., on the strength of reprising his role as Robin to George Clooney’s Batman.
A vanity shingle is often like a giant ball of string—used both to distract a star and to tether him or her to a studio in a throwback to the old star system. A studio can shell out anywhere from a few hundred thousand and up to million a year to foot each vanity deal. A few hits, a lot of flops, or, more often, not even one reel of exposed film.
In the past, some vanity shingles were described as little more than tax havens where actors could bill their private chefs.
Players don’t have meetings at all the studios; they “do the rounds.” On film sets, actors are referred to as “talent.” And the charmed few who secure a producing deal with a major studio “hang a shingle” on the lot.