LOS ANGELES—The 10th annual Vulture Festival—which New York Magazine’s Vulture site describes as its “pop culture extravaganza”—took place Nov. 11-12, which meant that the lion’s share of the planning process took place during the writers' and actors’ strikes.
The historic strikes were spars between the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents major studios like Disney, NBCUniversal, and Netflix, among others. While the WGA reached an agreement on Sept. 27, concluding a work stoppage that lasted a whopping 148 days, SAG-AFTRA didn’t achieve a new contract until six weeks later, Nov. 9. Both organizations sought better compensation and benefits for its members, improved residual terms, and protections against artificial intelligence.
All the while, Vulture was seeking A-list talent to join the lineup of its Vulture Fest. Just how, you ask? In true event industry fashion, getting a head start certainly didn’t hurt. “We began planning this event almost immediately after last year’s event to keep our learnings fresh in our mind, so we had to be mindful of the strike as soon as it became a potential factor,” explained Tara Reilly, vice president of experiential and partnerships at Vox Media, Vulture’s corporate parent. Also, by leaning into pop culture and other industries fans love, such as food, comedy, podcasting, books, and more, Reilly told BizBash.
And once the strike brought Hollywood to a grinding halt, Reilly noted the importance of keeping up with the WGA's and SAG-AFTRA’s evolving rules for workers on the picket lines. One hurdle: “We were unable to work with actors or writers who would be promoting a specific show or movie,” Reilly said, though the team could skirt around that by “making meaningful inroads with talent that has an influence on social platforms.”
Reilly pointed to a panel featuring TikTok sensation Brian Jordan Alvarez, who’s developed a cultlike following on the video-sharing platform—where he has more than half a million followers—for his viral song “Sitting.” Thus, during a live concert and conversation, Alvarez invited fans to sit or stand as he performed his famed tune. He then spoke on what makes him such a compelling cultural icon rather than promote his new comedy TV series that’s set to be on FX—a type of publicity campaign that would have gone against the union’s strike rules at the time.
Reilly noted that once a strike-conducive program was set, the Vulture team had to commit as no one really knew when to expect it to come to an end. “The greatest challenge in programming during the strike was the amount of talent who wanted to participate but only committed to doing so if the strike had ended,” Reilly said. “We didn’t anticipate that the strike would end the weekend of the festival, but were really happy with the programming direction despite this.”
It’s no wonder, as the Vulture team was able to secure a range of notable talent including iconic femme fatale actress Sharon Stone—who spoke on her impressive side gig of painting fine art pieces rather than her acting jobs, per SAG-AFTRA rules at the time—and Broadway’s “Kinky Boots” star Billy Porter, who similarly shied away from speaking on his 30-plus years on stage in favor of talking about his role in LGBTQ+ advocacy.
In total during the two-day Vulture Festival, there were 24 ticketed events that hosted 2,000-plus guests. “Each event was created with the fan in mind, and tailored to each obsessive fan group,” Reilly said. “All events were approximately one hour, and after the event guests were filtered into The Lot, our post-event hangout space where guests find music, food, beverages, and sponsor activations.”
This year, Vulture’s tentpole festival took place at Los Angeles’ nya studios, marking the first time in the event’s 10-year history that it had to seek out a bigger venue “that would give us more freedom to expand our vision creatively,” Reilly said.
Thus, Vulture Festival was really able to spread its wings in The Lot—a “space for fans to gather and geek out about what they just saw and keep the adrenaline going,” Reilly explained—where local food vendors descended. “We had Holey Grail Donuts, Bling Bling Dumplings, everyone’s favorite complimentary Trolli gummy worms, and complimentary cotton candy, which could be shaped into your favorite entertainment character,” Reilly said.
The media VP concluded: “On a personal level, my favorite thing about Vulture Festival is the discovery of new entertainers. I have a new favorite each year that I can’t believe I didn’t previously know about!”
And after pulling off a successful event post-strike chaos, “I also learned that our team is amazingly resilient and sees change as an exciting opportunity to reinvent, renew, and to get even more creative!” Reilly said.