Working with talent used to fill me with dread. Celebrity talent was even worse. Dealing with handlers, agents, lawyers and even personal assistants can try any producer’s patience. But it’s part of the business. If you want to make movies you have to learn to work with demanding celebrities.
But forget what you’ve heard about working with the stars. Whether you’re dealing with YouTube celebrities or bonafide A-listers, there are certain things you have to remember that will keep everyone grounded. These 9 tips will keep everyone happy and moving forward.
1. READ THE REPS
Listen to the first line of defense
How do you do it? What’s the best way to avoid the crazy demands of celebrities?
First, let me tell you it’s not as bad as you’re imagining it to be. Well, at least not most of the time. There will always be the odd demand here and there, but overall your preconceived notions are just that.
Working with celebrity talent means you’ll first be in touch with their reps. Odds are their reps will issue a rider along with any contracts and paperwork you need.
What might be on that rider? Glad you asked.
Justin Bieber likes a private jet on standby.
Jennifer Lopez famously likes a white dressing room with, gasp, white M&Ms.
Joe Jonas wants ten puppies to greet him in every city.
10 puppies is an awful lot to ask. But isn’t it worth it to see the surprised look on Joe Jonas’s face when they appear?
Yes, he knew they would be there. But somehow he’s still surprised. Adorable.
WHAT IS A CELEBRITY RIDER?
A celebrity rider is a contractual list of items or services included at the request of talent or their representatives. The list may vary according to the needs or desires of the client but usually include dietary specifics, instructions for hospitality or technical requests. It is used more as measurement of attention to detail than to adherence as the talent is rarely aware of its implementation.
Don’t panic! These request are more about reading the fine print than anything. The agents or managers want to know their clients will be heard.
So the stories you hear about J. Lo and her white M&Ms doesn’t mean she’s a diva, it means she has good reps whom you want to keep happy if you want them to perform.
Meeting the terms of the rider simply means the talent will be taken care of.
2. BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU PROMISE
Choose your words wisely
When dealing with big-name talent and their reps, be sure to be very careful what you say.
Sometimes flippant words or even the suggestion of a contract can lead to litigation.
In fact, sometimes no matter how careful you are you still may face a bit of trouble with regard to unscrupulous representatives looking to make a buck.
As a young coordinating producer at a small-ish advertising agency I saw this happen first hand.
We represented a brand of cars that was still looking to make a big splash in the American pond of auto sales.
For this, the car company enlisted our agency to find a big Hollywood star who would promote them for a fee.
I called the biggest talent agency in the world and connected our executive producer to the reps of true A-list stars.
What they discussed, I am not at liberty to say, but the outcome would prove disastrous.
VERBAL AGREEMENT DEFINITION
WHAT IS A VERBAL AGREEMENT?
A verbal agreement is an agreement made between one or more parties without a written agreement. Verbal agreements are enforceable on a case by case basis. The exceptions to this are when these agreements violate any local, state or federal laws.
The representative argued that the call constituted a verbal agreement. That the star was to be a part of the advertising campaign for several million dollars wasn no longer negotiable even if we did not move forward with the shoot.
While we at the agency knew there was no chance of a verbal agreement, the agency had enough lawyers to make it worth our while to settle.
Be sure to have either witnesses or physical evidence showing that a conversation could or could not have led to such an agreement. In other words, have a public phone conference when speaking to talent reps.
To this day, I can’t watch the actor’s films without thinking of the stress he caused our executive producer.
3. REMEMBER WE CALL IT SHOW BUSINESS
No industry like the show industry
A few years back, when I was still in the habit of marking time cards and printing call sheets, I received a call about a series of promos for shows on VH-1 and E! Entertainment Television.
I wasn’t allowed to know who we were filming or the titles of the shows until one day prior to the shoot. Needless to say, I knew it was a very big deal.
Then, we had the meeting…
The promos were for Chelsea Lately, and… drumroll please… Keeping Up With The Kardashians.
The production company and producers that I worked for did quite a lot of these promos over the years, from the NBC shows Chuck and Ed to all of the Law and Orders.Yeah, Modern Family’s Julie Bowen and I were besties for three hours, 17 minutes and 9...8… 7 seconds way back when I was a PA in New York.
So “reality stars” didn’t impress me that much. They didn’t even make the call sheet. Which means they are considered V-VIP.
I mean, I had worked on and appeared in a Bob Dylan video directed by one of my heroes, Curtis Hanson. It even featured Spider-man himself, Tobey Maguire, and Katie Holmes. Did I mention Robert Downey Jr was also there?
But these were THE reality stars of the moment.
Kim Kardashian was dating Reggie Bush.
Khloe Kardashian was dating the new crown prince of the Lakers, Lamar Odom...
The Kardashians had already overtaken The Osbournes in popularity and fame.
They had become tabloid fixtures themselves as much as the celebrities in their orbit.
Cynical and self-righteous filmmaker that I was, all I thought was that they were famous for nothing.
Furthermore, it was going to be a long day if we were going to have four divas on set and minimal time to get the promo done. Things had to flow like clockwork.
The paparazzi showed up with the production team outside the gates of Hollywood Center Studios (now Sunset Las Palmas). They were easy to spot.
When the town cars and escalades pulled through the gates and headed our way there was a buzz in the air.
That’s why there were so many extra PAs on the call sheet.
Then came the obligatory game of telephone on the production walkies.
The “stars” were on their way to the stage.
By the way, one of the sound stages had been converted to a full on green room, glam squad, wardrobe area and talent holding lounge.Yup, the budget was huge for the hit shows that made E! Entertainment TV.
Then, it happened…
They stepped out of one of the multiple Escalades that drove onto the lot like visiting royalty.
I stayed out of the way of the Agency types there to fawn. But still had a decent view.
The first thing you notice about them is that they are all exceptionally beautiful. It’s strange to think that people think otherwise, as I did once.
Even their mother, Kris Jenner, has flawless skin.
The next thing you notice is how quiet they actually are when the cameras aren’t taping .
They seemed to be rolling calls, writing in notebooks or on Blackberries (circa 2009).
Like clockwork, wranglers appeared and pull them into the beautiful holding area.
The third thing you notice… One of them is pregnant.
No one mentioned this. Apparently none of the PA’s, including me , watch the show or entertainment news.
Then, I got a call on my walkie.
I was going to be the production handler... with my own golf cart.
Even in my PA and Coordinator days, I wore collared shirts, khaki pants and loafers to keep myself in the offices. Today it meant that I would be a driver for the Kardashians.
So I went back to the glam stage and introduced myself to Kim, her sisters and their handlers.
I then slipped the surveillance out of my ear.
What is a surveillance?A surveillance kit is an earpiece attached to a walkie-talkie or two-way radio transceiver that enables discreet communication between two or more parties. Surveillances are used to relay information without disrupting the filming process. On film sets, the channels of communication are determined by department.
“Hello, everyone,” I said before telling them my name. “ I’ll be taking you to set when they call us.”
As though scripted and blocked, Kris Jenner walked by and said thank you.
All three sisters looked up from their director’s chairs, made eye contact and said thank you.
Then went immediately back to working on whatever they were very, very seriously working on.
Then, Khloe looked up again and smiled at me.
This wasn’t just a smile, this was beaming. She was beaming at me. “Hi” she purred.
Time slowed down, my knees felt a bit weaker and a single drop of sweat emerged from my underarm. A grin slowly spread across my face.
Just as I was about to open my mouth and speak, a 6’10 man walked past me. Lamar Odom leaned over, hugged Khloe and gave her a kiss.
I dropped my grin but my teeth stayed clenched.
I turned away and put in my surveillance. No one could tell that I very much was blushing.
A short while later, Reggie Bush who I didn’t see enter the stage, left. At 6 feet and 170 pounds I’m feeling scrawny and inferior.
“Let’s bring the talent in five Minutes,” came the AD’s voice through the earpiece.
I nearly sprinted inside and stopped in front of our resident talent wrangler.
“We’re ready for talent in five .”
“Thank you, five,” said Kris.
“Thank you, five,” said the most famous three sisters since the Andrews Sisters “boogie-woogied” their way into America’s hearts.
“All right, I have to focus.” Khloe said to Lamar Odom dismissively. Like a seven foot tall puppy, he walked over to the sofas, sat and picked up a foreign magazine.
An agency type reappeared and walked over to Kris Jenner.
I’m not sure what was uttered, but Kris duly turned to her daughters and started speaking. They all sat up a touch straighter and nodded (in unison, if I remember correctly).
Waiting at the entrance, I saw the four women emerge camera ready.
“Talent, walking.” The glammed-up talent took their places on the cart.
Kris went in the agency cart.
While waiting for the shoot, I sat on my cart chatting with the PA’s who had gathered at the entrance to the now closed set.
Just as we were discussing Khloe’s husband’s performance in the previous night’s Lakers’ game, Mr. 33 Million Dollars emerges, and the group goes stone silent.
Just as he’s about to get a bit weirded out, I chimed up, “Do you ever walk into a room and feel like everyone was just talking about you?”
A moment of silence.
Then, the man who would help the Lakers win a Championship three months later, laughed out loud.
He takes a step forward, shakes my hand and gives me a man-hug. Apparently, they kicked him out of the shoot too!
These ladies mean business. Respect.
Barely an hour later, the call came over the walkie.
“Talent is wrapped and walking…”
Guess we’re going to keep on schedule, I think to myself These ladies have places to be and things to do.
They all returned to their perspective phones and I drove the cart.
When we reached the stage doors, Kris Jenner helped Kourtney from the front seat of the cart.
“Alright, get changed. Beverly Hills in 45 minutes.”
“Thank you 45,” Kortney laughed playfully.
Kris gave her pat on the arm as they disappeared onto the stage and my preconceived notions were left on the cutting room floor.
These women were and are professionals. They are in showbusiness.
4. ANTICIPATE THEIR NEEDS
Know before they do
I am a very lucky person to have had so many mentors in the world of film, commercial and television production.
The producers I learned the most from were those who taught by example.
In fact, the easiest way to tell if I was going to be working with celebrities was my PA shopping list. While stopping short of a full craft services table, the shopping list was very specific and detailed.
A list I have passed on to my PA’s and later coordinators.
CELEBRITY SHOPPING LIST
- Candles (w/ and w/o fragrance)
- Magazines (From coastal cities or Europe)
- Bottle - Wine Opener
- Nuts (3 Kinds - not mixed - no peanuts)
- Cheese (3 kinds)
- Olives (3 kinds)
- Crudite - Charcuterie
- Crackers ( 3 Kinds - organic - sea salt - rosemary - cracked pepper)
- Water ( preferably European w/ and w/o gas)
- A Moleskin and Pens (nice pens)
- Chairs, Couches, Tables, Pillows… ( arranged tastefully)
Make sure you budget for the extras, as well as a better lunch than you’re going to have and any unexpected request.
Remember, their request will come from the production budget not from whatever they are being paid contractually.
Now that we’re prepared for the arrival of the celebrity talent, we should know how to work with them once they’re there.
5. PAY ATTENTION TO SCHEDULING
Make a schedule, check it thrice
Things happen on shoots. It’s inevitable. Just know that their time is more valuable than yours. They may not really care, but you should.
Make sure your production calendar and schedule are in perfect order.
On a film, your schedule should have been broken down already.
This is doubly true on a commercial or music video.
On the promos for E! Entertainment Television, we were double booking the day with The Kardashians and Chelsea Lately. We had to have a schedule and stick to it.
I have to say, everyone I worked with that day was on the ball and professional to a “T”.
One of the members of the Chelsea Lately team wanted to make sure we were on schedule and rather grumpily inquired.
I had the pleasure of happily informing him, ’er them, that because of the Kardashians promptness and no-nonsense approach to the day, we were actually ahead of schedule.
“All right,” they responded without a smile.
I grinned and left the green room. A few minutes later, I got another call over the walkie. This one was a biggie. They needed someone reliable to bring Chelsea’s Jaguar directly to her.
Nope, not any old PA would do.
I was chosen for the job.
I sat in the gold Jag and dreamt a little dream.
A moment later, as I handed her the keys, she smiled and asked if I wanted to drive her to her next meeting so she could have a cocktail. My eyes widened.
I guess we’d earned her trust.
This is what you want from talent. Trust. Respect. Maybe a smile and the keys to the Jag?
6. BE SELFLESS
Assign them your own handler
Every producer has a star coordinator or PA who dresses a little too well for picking up trash or pulling cables.
You know the one you don’t send on runs because everyone likes them on set.
Sometimes it’s looks, sometimes it’s charm and sometimes it’s just the go-getter attitude that makes them stand out.
Well, send that PA to be the right-hand man or girl-Friday to your celebrity talent.Pull out your crew list and call up your best for this one. Make sure they have an earpiece and are ready to commandeer the celebrity at a moment’s notice.
7. EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED
Surprises you know are good surprises
I’m not saying you need to be ready to make small talk with an NBA legend or the most famous Stage Mom since Mama Rose from Gypsy. But, it helps.
Courtney was pregnant, which no one was ready for. Needless to say, the mini craft services of charcuterie plates and crudites always comes in handy. Ditto for the golf carts.
But wasn’t that luck? How do you really plan for the unexpected?
Honestly, it’s more about scheduling than anything else.
Give yourself plenty of time to prepare and don’t worry about anything other than the talent after they arrive.
8. HANDLE TALENT RESPECTFULLY
Bring out the kid gloves
Even if your talent is not internationally famous, they deserve a level of respect on set.
Professionalism is something that works from the top down, whether you are a producer or production manager.
There are a few ways to ensure the talent has a good experience on your set and a memorable experience of working with you.
I call them the three C’s of talent happiness:
Whether speaking to their representatives or to the talent personally, it is important that you communicate on a daily basis.
Concerns for any aspect of the shoot should be addressed early on.
On one film I did, the director started to schedule reshoots before consulting the talent, their reps or production management.
So when it came time to schedule the talent, the director had to make other plans as the talent was already on her way to DC to shoot Scandal.
4 years later, that film is still awaiting release.
Ultimately, the buck stops with the producer in securing talent and making sure that schedules are aligned.
This is why that it is important that every producer make scheduling a priority. Using an all-in-one production manager software like StudioBinder can you make sure your dates and timing are understood. An efficient way to communicate information, at your fingertips, is essential.
With StudioBinder’s production management tools, everything from budgeting, scheduling, and call sheets are at the ready for you to consult and quickly make changes if need be. Sending out your call sheets and shot list are much more simple and your communication is much more assured.
I’m still today wondering how the paparazzi knew the Kardashians would be on set far enough in advance to be there when they arrived?
Confidentiality is an essential part of handling all talent.
The sensitive contracts or “make up free” polaroids are the property of the production and the talent. They should always be carefully disseminated to individuals on a “need to” basis.
Again, the talent rider is there to make sure you are reading the fine print and that you care about the talent’s needs.
If you are committed to making this a great experience for the talent they will notice.
In fact, I have been offered jobs on other productions based on the recommendation of talent.
Just as your crew will know when you are committed to their well-being, the talent will too.
9. PAY THEM ON TIME
Show them the money
One of the most important lessons I have learned in my career is that each of the talent you have hired is more than likely a corporation. Actors, writers, directors and even independent contractors form loan-out companies and, as such, operate as independent business entities.
They will handle all accounts receivable as companies do.Again, you can keep your accounts in order with proper project management software. Make sure your StudioBinder production calendar includes, a talent and crew list and dates for accounts payable.
LOAN OUT COMPANY DEFINITION
What is a loan out company?
A loan-out company is legal business enterprise usually formed to provide personal services of the owner to a third party. Loan-out companies are commonly used in film development and production for the services of talent. The loan-out company may take the form of an LLC, C-Corp or S-Corp with each having its own benefits. The owner of the loan-out company lends its services to a “soliciting” business entity via contract.
Benefits of a loan out company?
- Corporate tax rates
- Asset protection
- Tax Planning
- Medical Expense Reimbursement
The point to remember when working with loan-out companies is that they are allowed to make their own rules regarding contractual payment of any kind.
If they have in the contract to be paid within a certain amount of time, it is important to do so.
I once worked in a freelance capacity for a very large studio that employed a well-known personality for its services.
The studio had a system in place for payment of large sums to its talent. However the talent had a loan-out contract that stipulated the payment schedule.
When the studio was late making the payment, the talent was able to charge extra fees that could have been avoided.
When it comes down to it, working with celebrity talent is easier than you think. Follow these nine tips and, remember, celebrities are people to.
Just people with reps, riders, and loan out companies.
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Not so sure you can handle the many needs of celebrity talent? No worries, there are plenty of talented and willing actors for your next project. There are many available resources for producers who don’t want the hassle of the uber famous talent.