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Sundance 2004 - How Wire Image Captured the Film Festival 2004

WireImage, a leading global digital photographic press agency and wire service, was selected, for the second year in a row, as the official photography provider for the 2004 Sundance Film Festival.

Photo of Danny DeVito, executive producer, “GardenState,” by Jeff Vespa.

From January 16 to 24 in Park City, Utah, WireImage co-founder and photographer Jeff Vespa led the company’s team of 80 photographers, editors, and support staff in capturing highlights from the Festival’s extensive events calendar—including portraits of the actors and filmmakers in attendance—and sending them to a global audience.

Randall Michelson had been covering the Festival since 1991. In 1998, Jeff Vespa joined the effort and in 2001, when WireImage was formed, the company began providing extensive coverage. Finally, last year, Patrick Hubley, head of press for the Sundance Film Festival, offered the entire project to Vespa and co. Their technical skill, experience with a project, and the good relationships created with program organizers, celebrities, and media outlets were fully recognized.

The Portrait Studio: Sundance Hot Spot

The Portrait Studio, formally known as the HP Portrait Studio Presented by WireImage, provided

Randall Michelson took this outdoor portrait of Zooey Deschanel, “Eulogy.”

official portrait photography for filmmakers and film talent in this year’s festival competition. Recalls Vespa, “My overall objectives were to fulfill my obligations to the Sundance Institute—ensure they received everything they needed—create a pleasing environment for talent, and deliver on sponsorship value promises.”

Among the celebrities Jeff Vespa photographed at the portrait studio (top to bottom): Ashton Kutcher and Amy Smart, “Butterfly Effect”; Christina Applegate, “Employee of the Month”; Eve Ensler, writer, producer, co-star, and Jane Fonda, co-star, “Until the Violence Stops”; Mena Suvari, “Trauma”; Melvin Van Peebles and Mario Van Peebles, “Basasssss.”

The Studio was open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. By 9, Vespa was usually there to work with the art department on sets for that day, review the appointment schedule, and meet with sponsor management.

“I shot back-to-back appointments all day and worked with the publicists and managers, who accompanied the celebrities. At the end of the day, I worked on the portraits I shot that day, attended one of our sponsor events, or shot an event myself. Sometimes, all three!”

Scheduling the portraits and coordinating talent is the real challenge. Vespa attributes their success to his producer Andrea Collins, “an extraordinary multi-tasker and overall perfectionist.”

“They’re on tight schedules, running between press conferences, viewings, and parties,” Collins explains. “If they only have time in their schedules for one photo shoot, I have to convince their publicists that ours is the one to choose. Each day poses a new challenge: appointments are rescheduled, talent show up unexpected, casts are late. It’s a constant juggling act.”

The WireImage team created 15 sets for the studio, for which everything was trucked in from L.A. They were constructing, setting up, and adding finishing touches until the last possible minute.

Recalls art director Edward Murphy, “The most gratifying thing was to finally see the sets captured in the photos. They looked better than I could ever have hoped for. It was a fantastic whirlwind—right up my alley.”

Photographer Randall Michelson took outdoor portraits for this year’s Festival. “I want these photos to have a definite sense of time and place,” he says. “This is Sundance and we’re out in the snow. We’re not in red carpet Hollywood.”

[Editor’s Note: Michelson is currently working on a book of his photos from Sundance, Pictures in the Snow.]

“I met Jeff Vespa at the Sundance Film Festival a number of years ago and we started working together. He dragged me into the digital age, introducing me to scanners and computers.”

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