At some point during your filmmaking career you’ll probably end up working with a celebrity. How famous this person is will vary vastly, dependent upon your experience and the size of the productions you manage, but the amount of gravitas a celebrity adds to a video can’t be ignored.
There is a certain way of dealing with these situations, and our boys here at Studio 24-7 have a fair amount of experience when it comes to working with celebrity talent. For the purpose of this blog, and so not to breach any of our current NDAs (doesn’t that sound exciting!) we’re going to tell this story through the vessel of one of our most successful early pieces – the Visit Northwich Destination Video.
Now, we’ve written about this video before a few times. At the time it was the biggest budget we had worked with, and the largest production we had worked on. It was very exciting. It was also the first time we’d been through the process of hiring celebrity talent from start to finish.
We learned a lot. From how to source celebs, to how to direct and manage them on set, to how the payment structure and future communications works, we’re going to outline our experiences and learned lessons in this blog. Hopefully the information will help you have a smooth first experience with your chosen celebrity – in a purely production context.
In order to choose which high profile talent would be necessary for the Visit Northwich video, we tried to keep it local. Northwich is a small town, and the people are fairly loyal to it in their own special way. It made sense then to use celebrities with ties to the area. This had the added benefit of elevating the perceived value of the town to outsiders.
“Oh, look at all the celebrities that have come from Northwich – it must be a good place to visit”.
The feedback we observed in the comments for the video supported this hypothesis, as did the number of shares and comments from Facebook users outside of Cheshire. We were rather proud of ourselves.
To select the celebrities, it took a little research. A quick Google of local celebrities revealed a large number of people with vaguely tenuous ties to the area. Time to dig a little deeper. Searching for newspaper articles seemed to be a good place to start – we were really looking for people from Cheshire who might have other ties to the town, which is why our search was a little harder than expected.
Alongside our newspaper and online research, we began to ask people who’d lived in the town for a long time about who had become famous. This provided us a list of names of where to focus our research and double check how valid these stories were and, again, how tenuous the connection to the town was. After a lot of deliberation and research we selected two Olympians (Beth Tweddle and Pete Mitchell) and a BBC Radio DJ (Mark Radcliffe).
The next step was to figure out how to get in touch with them. Pete Mitchell was fairly easy, as one of our staff members had a connection through a family member who had worked with him previously – that was lucky. Beth Tweddle and Mark Radcliffe proved a little more difficult. After a fairly extensive Google search, we managed to find Beth Tweddle’s agent’s contact details. From there it was a simple case of emailing her agent and negotiating a time, date and fee. As simple as that. At the time we couldn’t believe how easy it was, having never negotiated something like that before.
Mark Radcliffe was a curious case. We were given his personal email through a local business owner, and we negotiated for his time from there. Again and again it seems that networking leads to better and better opportunities. The moral of this story seems to be – chat to people. Putting your ideas out in the world and letting people know what you need help with can only help your cause in the long run – especially if you’ve worked hard to build a reputation of helping others too.
After booking your talent, the next step is to properly brief them. We found that giving a partial brief was required to get the booking sorted. As people in the public eye, celebrities have to be very careful about who and what they put their names on. This means you have to ensure that you deliver your pitch to them well enough that they’re sold on the product and the message. No pressure.
After booking, a more comprehensive briefing is needed. Exactly where and when do the need to be? What are their lines? What’s the schedule of the day? Do they have any requests in terms of food or drinks? Do they want to be driven around if you have multiple locations? What clothes should they be wearing?
There are lots of things to consider. In preparation for booking your talent, try to think of all the possibilities that someone might need to know about when they’re coming on your shoot, write them down and answer any questions you have. This way you’ll be super prepared for whatever gets thrown at you – even if you’ve not prepared an answer the fact you’ve thought all the other things through will make you more confident about saying no, or make you more creative about coming up with a solution on the spot.
Sending over a personalised copy of the script and call sheet is expected. This way your talent has physical, tangible copies of the plan and where they’re meant to be when. There are no excuses on your part now for them being late. Still, it’s nice for them to have a reminder, so maybe resend everything the day before the shoot so they have it to hand.
Now everyone’s been briefed and turned up on set at the correct time and knowing their lines, it’s your turn to shine. Knowing what you want from the talent ahead of time in terms of delivery, performance and blocking (how they move on camera) is vital. You want to come across as confident and professional, so winging it just won’t do.
Have your movements planned out ahead of time. If inspiration strikes during production and you decided to spice things up a bit then that’s fine, but have a rudimentary plan in place in order to facilitate for any brain malfunctions that may happen on the day.
Have the talent do everything three times. You may want to be as accommodating as possible on your first shoot – they are celebrities after all – however remember you’ve paid for their time and this is your film. They are there to realize your vision. Obviously don’t be an arse about it, but make sure you get what you need on the day. This will definitely require multiple takes. Even if you think they nailed it the first time, having them re-do with different intonation or movement will help you in the edit. There will be something that pops up that you didn’t notice on set, or you’ll think of an extra creative way of cutting that might not work with the intonation you’ve got. Do everything three times.
Three times goes for checking as well. Become a triple checker. Check you have hit all your pieces (we forgot one of our VOs on our first shoot and had to work around it – don’t let that be you!). Triple check your phone is off, that all your gear is charged and that the camera is actually recording. Triple check the times, confirmations and action plan. Literally anything you can check once should be checked three times. It will make your life easier in the long run.
After you’re done and the talent has gone home, it’s time to pay them. This works differently for different companies. Some will require payment up front, some will invoice after the fact and some will operate on a 50% up front, 50% on completion model. There will be other payment structures out there too, the key is to be aware of who’s asking for what and pay on time. Celebrities have professional networks too and if you want to maintain a working relationship you should definitely be as professional as possible at all times.
So hiring your first talent doesn’t have to be difficult at all! On the contrary it’s actually a very smooth and easy process once you remove the nerves and inexperience from the equation.
We hope this blog helps you in your production, and let us know in the comments below if you have any further questions about how to act around famous people.