Hollywood A-Listers Pitched Brands This Week at Michael Sugar’s Way Upfronts

This week, A-list Hollywood talent including Mark Wahlberg, Scarlett Johansson and John Legend, pitched marketers on their creative projects at the Way Upfronts, ADWEEK has learned from a source familiar with the first-of-it’s-kind event.

The virtual upfront is Oscar-winning producer Michael Sugar’s brainchild and debuted on Tuesday and Wednesday. Sugar, alongside his partner, Matt Rotondo and a broader team, are creating a new marketplace at the intersection of Hollywood and branding. Sugar’s eponymous company, Sugar23, helps brands and filmmakers orchestrate partnerships and funding deals.

The producer just last month announced the upfront, which attracted Hollywood talent to pitch their upcoming projects to brand marketers and their agencies.

The upfront streamlines a new funding pipeline for filmmakers, who sometimes contend with dried-up budgets that stymie their projects. Sugar evaluated more than 150 pitches from filmmakers for the event, where attendees represented more than 100 brands, plus several holding companies and a few independent creative agencies.

The event debuted as marketing and Hollywood are drawing closer, evolving from product placement partners to creative collaborators. Several filmmakers are now soliciting project funding directly from brands. Since the Barbie movie’s success, more marketers understand that associating their names with a successful project leads to long-term benefits.

“Hollywood and Advertising have been playing together for some time. But more often than not it feels like a forced play date. That’s why our conversations with Sugar23 have been so exciting—because the model gives us a very tangible glimpse into what the future of these two industries could look like together,” Greg Hahn, co-founder and chief creative officer at Mischief @ No Fixed Address, shared with ADWEEK after attending the event.

Hollywood figures are pitching marketers

Brands can fully or partially fund projects before they’re ever made, let alone pitched to Hollywood distributors. The entry-level cost for some of the projects is relatively low since only a few hundred thousand dollars can fund some of them, ADWEEK’s source said.

“The Sugar23 Way Upfronts were a one-of-a-kind experience in entertainment. We are always looking for creative ways to integrate within the entertainment space. I walked away impressed with the concepts and the caliber of talent associated with the projects. It’s the future of marketing and entertainment,” Jeff Jenkins, evp of global marketing at Carters, said.

Hollywood figures pitching or attached to a showcased project included Mark Wahlberg, Scarlett Johansson, John Legend, Whitney Cummings, Jose Andres, Padma Lakshmi, Cat Cora, Bear Grylls, Terry Crews, Rudy Mancuso, Amy Schumer, Robin Roberts, Mindy Kaling, Elizabeth Banks, Chris Voss, Josh Gad and Peyton Manning, the source shared.

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