How superstars can now earn ‘millions of millions’ by signing autographs – The Hollywood Reporter
For decades, a Hollywood star’s autograph has been a coveted piece in fandom collections, whether gathered on the street, at a premiere, or after hours of waiting at a meet and greet. After two years of the pandemic, however, the autograph industry has been upended by the cancellation of red carpets and conventions. As a result, a new avenue of autograph research has blossomed: private signings.
In the past year alone, Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Margot Robbie, Natalie Portman, Chris Pratt, Gal Gadot, John Boyega and Jeremy Renner are among the many A-listers who have attended private autograph events , raking up to seven figures in the process. Private signings — where stars are sequestered with a handful of team members in a hotel or meeting room and spend hours autographing items that fans have pre-ordered or mailed — aren’t a concept entirely new, but have recently had a blast, says Brittany McManus, marketing manager for CGC Comics.
“When COVID happened, a lot of big names suddenly started signing because you could get a big check,” says McManus, whose company has done 60 signings in 2020, 90 in 2021, and expects around 120. This year. “Customers get what they want, and no one should be exposed to anyone else.”
By making a signature, the teams up with one of the few autograph companies – including Ace Universe, SWAU and Celebrity Authentics – for a window of several hours or up to several days, and fights its way through posters, comics, Funko Pop characters and other collectibles like Thor’s hammer or Captain America’s shield. The items are then mailed back to fans, and the star is generously paid, with no physical interaction between the two.
SWAU co-founder Mike Tanski says a top actor can make “several million” over multiple signing days, while McManus says CGC, which only handles signed comics, can see the A’s. -listers charge fans $500 to $700 per signature, times 300 to 500 pounds. This is often in addition to a guaranteed flat fee paid by the autograph company, which alone can be in the six figures. Some, like Downey, held these events for charity, but others are tapping into a new revenue stream through their fan connections.
“There’s this level of talent now that’s looking to do this as an extension of their brand,” Celebrity Authentics president Joe Lamothe said, adding that production delays and fewer public appearances have created space. in the busy schedules of the stars. “Normally they would go from film to film, and they wouldn’t necessarily take the time to do it.”
With the private signature system, he adds, they are able to “receive similar or greater compensation than they would at Comic-Con, [which] gave fans the ability to provide fans with their autograph and fulfill that request without necessarily taking the three, four, or five days it takes to drive to a convention, make a one- or two-day appearance, and then fly home.”
It also widened access to stars who don’t typically attend conventions, like Portman, who hadn’t made a signing since she star wars the movies came out two decades ago. She was the only autograph missing from some fans’ collections, Tanski says, until she signed a three-day signing with SWAU last fall.
Signings are being arranged (via agents and talent managers) all over the world, with companies bringing pre-ordered items to the star — 14 pallets of merchandise for a recent signing, according to Lamothe. Some are capped at a certain number of signatures, and others will sign as many items as purchased.
And while selling signatures was once seen as a way for has-beens to make a quick buck and relive their glory days, the infusion of top talent into the space makes it clear that the perception changed. Lamothe compares it to the days when “movie stars doing TV shows would mean their careers were in decline”, but credits DC and Marvel’s market dominance for “helping to create a whole demand and a market for [signings] it wasn’t there. It’s become more common now.
The boom in the superhero genre has also made collecting a business, says Hollywood Show owner David Elkouby, who hosts conventions and get-togethers with more niche and old-school Hollywood talent. “What used to be for fans hasn’t worked that way in recent years, with a lot of bigger players coming in and asking way too much money,” he says. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s getting out of hand.” He also notes that the private signature system prevents fans from interacting with the star, which is a bummer for some diehards.
Then there is the question of how the collectibles and autograph industry will adapt to an increasingly online world amid renewed interest in digital goods and NFTs. While some, like Lamothe, say the lure of physical autographs won’t be replaced, McManus senses a change coming. She says, “For us to be relevant in the collectibles industry, we will also need to go digital and find a way to authenticate NFTs.”
In the meantime, the private signing trend appears to be full steam ahead, with Florence Pugh, Salma Hayek and Hailee Steinfeld taking part in the early 2022 events. “It’s kind of a win-win for everyone,” says Tanski. “I’m not going to say it’s not a lot of work, but compared to other things they could do, it’s pretty easy to do.”
A version of this story first appeared in the March 23 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.