From Brangelina to Leo: Behind-the-Scenes Details of 10 Iconic Hollywood Photos

6:40 AM 1/5/2018

by Chris Gardner

Jeff Vespa spent two decades snapping Lupita, Tom and more at the Globes, the Oscars and every other big industry night, and now, as he moves from event photography to production, he shares the stories behind some of his favorite images.

Jeff Vespa/VF16/WireImage

VENICE, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 02:  Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt attend The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford premiere on the Day 5 of the 64th Annual Venice Film Festival on September 2, 2007 in Venice, Italy.  

It's easy for Hollywood photographer Jeff Vespa to calculate how many events he's shot during his 20-year career. A simple search on WireImage — the photo agency and wire service he and eight partners founded in 2001 and sold for $200 million in 2007 — yields more than 300,000 images snapped at more than 4,400 events, from the Golden Globes and Oscars to film festivals like Venice, Toronto and, his personal favorite, Sundance.

But Vespa, 47, is now shifting his focus to his Vespa Pictures, where he'll create video content for brands and media; shoot portraits and ad campaigns; and pursue his true passion, filmmaking. (He's in postproduction on his directorial debut, Paris Song, starring Abbie Cornish.) But no more event photography for him.

As he leaves a job that, at times, made him feel as if he were everyone's friend — "like Switzerland" — won't be easy. "I know studio heads, celebrities, actors, publicists, agents, managers, the boyfriends, the wives, the husbands and the children. Everyone across the board in the business. I've really had a unique vantage point," he says. "But I came to Los Angeles because I wanted to be a filmmaker. I'm an artist, and it's time for me to create more. I've been doing this so long now that I, of course, have trepidations. But for me, I need to take this step." 

Before his foot officially hits the ground, Vespa shares the stories behind some of his favorite images.

A version of this story first appeared in the Jan. 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

  • Nicolas Cage, Sofia Coppola and Francis Ford Coppola

    "My whole life as a photographer is lived in split-second moments. If you're not in the right spot at the right time, those photos do not exist. To be able to be there and capture this family in this moment, its special," he says of photographing Nicolas Cage alongside Francis Ford Coppola and Sofia Coppola after her 2004 Golden Globe win for best screenplay for Lost in Translation. "It's an amazing moment, and he's obviously so happy for his daughter." 

  • Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt

    "I had been waiting for Brad and Angelina at this little dinner the studio had before the premiere, but they never came down. So I had to run and jump in a boat and head to the red carpet. I was sweating my ass off," Vespa laughs of this moment on Sept. 2, 2007, ahead of the debut of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. "There's this giant line of fans who had been waiting for hours, and Brad and Angelina — who were at the height of being a big deal — went down the entire stretch and signed for every single fan. It was awesome." 

  • Sharon Stone, Iman, Elizabeth Taylor and Elton John

    Vespa captured this moment from the stage at amfAR's Cinema Against AIDS gala in Cannes on May 23, 2002. "This picture is kind of crazy," he laughs. "These three women are tugging at each other's necklaces. I know it's a joke, but it almost doesn't look like a joke. Elizabeth is making this face like, 'I'm taking this diamond.' I remember looking down at my camera and knowing that it was a great moment. And then there's Elton John photobombing them." Being in the presence of Taylor always felt like an honor, he continues. "She's one of the greatest movie stars who has ever lived. I became friends with her granddaughter and I've been to her house and worked with the family. Being in anyone's life like that, in any minor way even, is extraordinary." 

  • Peter Jackson

    At the 2004 Governors Ball, Vespa walked by Peter Jackson to find his table littered with gold guys thanks to the final installment of his Lord of the Rings franchise. (The film won 11; Jackson took home three for best picture, director and adapted screenplay.) "They won every award, and I walked by and saw that there was no room for anything else on the table. I had to get the picture. Peter was totally cool about it and let me take the shot. This is one of those pictures that has run all over the place and helped really capture the night. That's what I love about the Oscars — it's the only night of the year when these pictures are going to be historic. People remember these nights and these awards."  

  • Tom Cruise

    "Spontaneous" is how Vespa describes the time in 2004 at the Venice Film Festival when Tom Cruise jumped into a crowd of photographers. "It was really fun. He grabbed someone's camera and was taking pictures of us, too." 

  • Michelle Williams and Busy Philipps

    "Michelle and I have been friends for a number of years, so it was so cool to see her win — she was really happy," Vespa says of capturing the candid moment on Jan. 15, 2012, between the My Week With Marilyn star (a best actress winner) and longtime best friend Busy Philipps at The Weinstein Co.'s Golden Globes party. "I've taken hundreds of pictures of them over the years, and I happened to be just sitting there with them, and then Busy goes to take the picture. It was a cool, intimate moment." 

  • Lupita Nyong'o and Rosario Dawson

    At the 2014 Vanity Fair Oscar Party, Vespa says he got to witness freshly minted Oscar winner Lupita Nyong'o (best supporting actress winner for 12 Years a Slave) kick up her heels with pal Rosario Dawson. "Out of most people who win, some can be staid, but not her. She was really excited and having fun. It was awesome to see. They were dancing and having a great time."  

  • Leonardo DiCaprio

    "One of my favorites," Vespa says of Revenant star Leonardo DiCaprio, captured here on Feb. 28, 2016, at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party. "He walked in with his publicist and they wanted to give him a minute. He sat down and started texting with the Oscar on the floor. I leapt to it, took three frames and then the crowd of people around him got in the way and the moment was gone. The seas parted in my favor, and it was really fascinating because here's a guy who arguably should've won many times and finally he has his Oscar but he's not carrying it around, showing it off. He's still a normal guy just texting his friends." 

  • Natasha Lyonne and Clea DuVall

    "Before I was a photographer, I actually met Natasha through some friends and she used to sleep on my couch, so this was a cool experience," Vespa recalls of shooting the indie darlings at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival in Park City. "This photograph was taken on film — not on digital — during my first year at Sundance. For she and I to be in this position was amazing because you get a better photo when you have a connection to the person in front of the camera. And this was such a different time at Sundance — it felt more free and innocent and open."


  • Jeff Vespa and Jared Leto

    The photographer, Vespa, steps in front of the camera to pose with friend Jared Leto on this image shot by Kevin Mazur