“Can you just brainstorm with me?” Jonas Heller asks. He’s trying to recall the name of one of Hollywood’s celestial producers of live events (it was Dick Clark.) “I was up late last night,” he implores, still reaching for the name of the man who has reached the epitome of Heller’s chosen field. Those long evenings are not uncommon for the 26-year-old Heller, who heads up BoxTop Live, a unit of new media agency BoxTop/iXL and producer of some of the Internet’s biggest live events.
The night before was the 25th anniversary celebration of CBS soap The Young & The Restless, and Heller was coordinating camera crews that were feeding video back to Sony, which produces the Y&R Web site. Users typed in questions to be asked of the celebrities on the spot.
More than 1,000 visitors stopped by for the event, a fair number for most Web events, but one that pales in comparison to the 45,000 or so that typically attend a live show on America Online.
“AOL really put me in business,” he says, pointing to shows for the online service’s Entertainment Asylum and Elektra areas that are produced by BoxTop Live. AOL’s ability to direct users to live events as they sign on creates an unparalleled environment, Heller says. “It’s really hard to control where people go; one thing is irrefutable: AOL users are going to see the opening screen.”
An L.A. player through and through, Heller joined BoxTop in June 1997, by way of International Creative Management, where he worked in the new media department. Now his charge is to bring celebrity and stardom onto the Net. Kevin Wall, chief executive officer of BoxTop/iXL, says producing live events, or chat, as it’s more commonly known, is part of the agency’s mandate. “We’re the connection to Hollywood,” he says. “Talent agencies are not doing it.”
The ever-expanding unit now counts CD chain Wherehouse and search engine Excite among its 12 clients.
One of its biggest shows is a Julie Brown-hosted celebrity chat on Talk City. And soon, it will launch a weekly show for Playboy.com, featuring video-supported chats with the Playmates.
Describing himself as more agent than producer, Heller regularly cashes in on his born-and-bred-in-Beverly-Hills connections to snare celebrity guests. And it’s all because online events are going to be the next big thing to hit Hollywood, Heller foretells.
“People [agents and publicists] used to roll their eyes at me,” he says of his early days in new media. “Now, they’re calling me for free email accounts.”
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