Restricted schedules, singular demands, and sponsorship terms bring unique challenges to a shoot with celebrity talent. When working overseas, pre-planning is as key as the choice to work with a production service company experienced at managing all the particulars locally.
A series of interviews published in LBB and summarized here offer a collection of insights from PSN Partners in several countries. Whether shooting the rich and famous in Hollywood or the stars of Bollywood on location in Turkey, there are as many common considerations as there are uniquely handy tips like never forgetting to have bountiful snacks on set in Ireland for big rugby players!
Q: When shooting with high-profile talent, what are the biggest challenges?
PSN Mexico EP, Ari Garza: The biggest challenge is aligning the talent’s schedule with the production schedule and ensuring there’s no distraction from paparazzi.
PSN Spain EP, Toni Schulz: There’s always a way to make it happen and to pull off a successful shoot. It’s all about working around their schedules to ensure that the shoot goes smoothly for them and for us. Working with high-profile talent is something we do regularly and well, so it’s second nature to us and just comes with the territory of our job. Our aim is to produce the best work we can most effectively, so we take those challenges in stride and find bespoke solutions.
PSN Turkey EP, Chad Ozturk: The prep has to be perfect as you can’t risk the chance of missing shots. Maintaining good relationships with agents is also important as they ultimately decide how long the celebrity is on set.
PSN UK EP, Pippa Bhatt: There are many agendas to manage & balance from that of their management to the client’s and the production needs. All have interlinked relationships and demands on each other.
PSN USA EP, Eric Brown: Pinning down the last-minute details, working on a tight timeframe and keeping all of the stakeholders calm. With fast paced schedules that are ever-changing, most celebrities don’t seem to commit to timings until the last minute, making it harder for production to schedule the shoot day. Most of the time, we only have four hours or so to shoot everything so cramming in the creative and figuring out where to compromise are always some of the hardest steps. Clients and their agencies are always nervous about impressing the celebrity and their team while also trying to complete the creative AND get them out on time. The divergent needs are best managed with communication.
Q: What in particular do you have to be prepared for when working with celebrity talent? For example, do you need special security, permits, secluded locations, catering?
PSN Mexico: It’s key to have a body double so you can pre-light and block out the scene. That way the talent can arrive and be ready to shoot straight away.
PSN Spain: Our objectives on any shoot – celebrity or not – is to make sure we provide an environment on set where everybody has a good time, feels comfortable, and is able to do their job. So, in this sense, working with celebrity talent is similar to any other shoot!
That said, the one most important consideration that differentiates working with celebrities is the need to be discreet. We have to ensure absolute confidentiality that everything that happens and is shared on set stay on set. That means making sure crew keep their phones in their pockets. It’s simply a level of professionalism and respect you’d expect from working anywhere.
PSN Turkey: Secluded locations are often preferred. We’re a bustling country where many Turks are fans of celebrities so it’s important they don’t get disturbed. One thing we often do is make sure there is a specially catered green room, a trailer with their own crafts and snacks table, maybe a games console, and a massage therapist.
PSN Ireland, Dara McClatchie: The bigger the star the more straightforward it usually is. They are used to the process, are clear about their requirements, and are clear about the amount of time they have available for the shoot. We just have to make it happen within those parameters. Special requests are planned for, sometimes to the delight of the local crew who benefit from on-set baristas and fresh juice vans and such like. One top tip is to remember that sports people eat a lot and at much more regular intervals than us lowly mortals. I learnt this when facing a hangry international rugby player as I asked if we could get one more setup before he finished for the day (a bag of dried fruit and nuts helped achieve a positive outcome).
PSN UK: We have security for them and their own VIP trailer with all their requirements from a pre-received ’talent rider’ already in place for their arrival. We always ask all crew and clients for any special dietary requirements whether or not they are VIP/s. The celebrity riders could also include family members/management and their wider entourage, often those can be very last-minute requests. It’s important that the talent feels in the utmost professional hands from the very outset of their dealings and arrive into a place where they have everything that they need.
Q: Naming no names, what is the most grandiose request you have had from a celebrity?
PSN UK: One particular big name was on an insanely tight schedule and asked for a haircut as soon as they arrived on set. Other times, we’ve been asked to look after children who have also come along. We had one particular personality leave their high goal scoring boots in their car, which then had to be returned in a premium car service, not just on the back of a bike. Football boots travelling first class!
PSN Mexico: We had someone ask for specific food that could only be sourced miles away from set. We’ve also had people ask for super expensive brands for the wardrobe, vintage French wine for lunch, specific glam teams to be flown over from abroad, the list goes on…...
PSN Ireland: Somewhat disappointingly we have yet to see one that is properly outrageous. The most extravagant request that comes to mind is for black Dyptique candles to be in every area that one ‘star’ and their entourage would (or even just might) be in – it required boxes of extremely expensive candles.
PSN Turkey: Most of them would like to visit the main tourist attractions, maybe go to a Turkish bath or rent a yacht for a private tour on Bosphorus, but these are ordinary requests and nothing grandiose.
PSN USA: We’ve been very lucky on our shoots not to have celebrities with requests that were too far out of the realm of normal. Without naming names, we did have to hire a member of the celebrity’s entourage to roll joints. Luckily the shoot was in Los Angeles where that is perfectly legal.
PSN Spain: There might be special requests like particular dietary or travel requirements, the need for a green room, or the talent might have a preference to work with a specific hair and makeup person.
We know what it’s like working in this industry, so we appreciate that talent have a job to perform. It’s imperative that the producer and the team can understand the reason for those requests. At the end of the day, celebrities are people just like us, and if they request things which would make them feel more comfortable or ‘at home’ during a shoot, then we see it as no problem at all– just as we’d do for any production.
Q: Which type of celebrities are hardest to pin down time-wise?
PSN Mexico: Footballers, actors, and musicians all have tight agendas and entourages to deal with. There tend to be a lot of people in the decision-making process.
PSN USA: Musicians are notoriously difficult to pin down time-wise. It’s best to prepare for them to be late and have a backup plan in place for this likely occurrence.
PSN Spain: Football players and sports stars are always the most difficult to pin down due to their very tight schedules. Talent from those fields are known for having incredibly demanding itineraries. There’s a whole host of commitments, including their coaches, sponsors, and game performances that determine what they’ll be doing and when. Our experience is that planning well beforehand is the key to success with sports talent.
PSN Turkey: Also consider that athletes are not professional actors, so it takes a lot of skill to get them to complete everything needed within the time frame, but, hey, we like challenges!
PSN Ireland: The stars who pose the biggest challenge are those who are well known in fields outside the entertainment industry. They cannot understand why it takes so long to shoot a commercial or promo. Even the seasoned performers who are used to media work find commercial filming quite a chore. They may be used to interviews and press days, but that is completely different work to commercial production, and, invariably, we find ourselves at some point in the day trying to find ‘the talent’ who have wandered off somewhere, bored. It can be worse when there are several of them together trying to alleviate the boredom by playing practical jokes on each other, and the crew. It usually makes for great fun but can be a little stressful as the hands on the clock keep ticking by!
Q: How do you deal with clients who are nervous about celebrity time constraints on set?
PSN Mexico: Sometimes the most important person on the set is not the celebrity but the entourage around the celebrity. If you keep them happy, you can negotiate more time or to get things done faster in makeup and wardrobe. If you understand their needs and time constraints, you can find ways to make the shoot flow smoothly. It also helps to restrict the number of people on set.
PSN USA: When clients are nervous about the celebrity’s time constraints, we do our best to schedule in great detail so that the client’s nerves are put at ease. By dialing in all of the details such as the rider, the catering, the dressing room, etc, clients understand that they’ve hired professionals who know exactly what they’re doing to make the day a success.
Q: What do you think are the most common mistakes/assumptions made by foreign producers on shoots with celebrities in your country?
PSN UK: If anything, it would be the unachievable scripts, often not signed off by the star’s management, including that sports players can act.
PSN USA: I’ve been in situations where the creative is scouted and set, but the celebrity doesn’t like something about the script, the wardrobe, the location, etc., and nobody had run it by them ahead of time. In that case, we have to scramble to come up with a solution in time.
PSN Mexico: The shoot time needs to be negotiated in advance with the celebrity and their management team. Sometimes you only have a few hours to get a whole bunch of scenes, and you can’t risk wasting that time re-negotiating.
PSN USA: Having unrealistic creative for the timeframe we’re given is also common. Unless the celebrity is willing to work longer than the usual four hours, it’s best to come up with ideas that can be executed within the parameters set forth. Shooting in Los Angeles, we’re sometimes confronted with geographic challenges because the city is so large and spread out. Getting from downtown to the beach for a sunset shot could mean sitting in traffic for an hour. In that case, we have to be very smart about scheduling but also realistic in our approach to the day and the creative.
PSN UK: Time allowances. Our overseas clients may have seen travel time via Google maps, but in reality when you’re on the ground, it can be a very different thing. Finally, the amount of time on set with the VIP, which may not be the reality. All of our clients coming in have been very supportive of our knowledge and experience with handling top-level VIP athletes and have leaned on our experience to feedback in regards to all of this and more. As the production service company, it’s our job to be informing our clients of the realities of shooting in our territory.
PSN Turkey: Generally, Turkey is perceived as an Arabic-Muslim country by foreign producers. In fact, it’s a secular, democratic, and fairly modern country, with a Muslim heritage and culture. Located between Europe and the Middle East, it can double for both locations. People here are very open and do not impose religious rulings on daily life, and that goes for production too.
Q: What shoot was a highlight for you when working with a celebrity talent?
PSN Spain: We’re so pleased to have worked day-to-day with such a diverse range of talent from overseas like Alicia Vikander, Daniel Brühl, and Lewis Hamilton to those amongst us like Penelope Cruz and Leo Messi, so it’s impossible to choose just one favourite experience from them all.
When the celebrity talent are real pros on-set and work well to schedule, then every shoot is really a highlight!
PSN Ireland: We’ve had the pleasure over the years of working with talent such as Bob Dylan, U2, Rihanna, Conor McGregor, Doutzen Kroes, Pearse Brosnan, many of the Irish rugby team, Katie Taylor (Olympic Gold medallist and world champion), the cast of History Channel’s 'The Vikings', the cast of Showtime’s 'Penny Dreadful', and myriad high-profile directors and DOPs. But probably the one I was personally most star struck to meet was the legendary Peter O’Toole. Lawrence of Arabia is still one of my all-time favourite films and to meet Peter himself was fantastic.
PSN Turkey: Our highlight was working on Bollywood feature film Dil Dhadakne. It was the first feature film we ever produced. It was over 100 international crew as well as 150 talent and extras combined on some shoot days. There were about 25 Bollywood celebrities in the film – so it was a big starting point to say the least!
From America and Europe we’ve worked with Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen, Rade Serbedzija and Martha Stewart. From Scandinavia we’ve worked with Jon Oigarden and Laura Christensen. We have also worked with Italian basketball players Luigi ‘Gigi’ Datome and Nicole Melli.
Locally, we have worked with actors Erdal Besikcioglu, Kenan İmirzalioglu, Demet Evgar, Emre Karayel, Cagatay Ulusoy, Hazar Erguclu, Okan Yalabik, Haluk Bilginer, Serkan Keskin, and many more.
PSN USA: Shooting in Miami with LeBron James as he prepared for his return season in Cleveland was a real highlight for me. In my opinion, he is the greatest basketball player to ever live, and we got to see up close and personal what his preparations were like. It was very motivating to see someone who is clearly the best at what they do work so hard to do more.
We’ve also worked on productions with Adam Levine (Singer from Maroon 5 and co-host of The Voice), Masahiro Tanaka (Japanese baseball player for the NY Yankees), Alex Turner (singer from Arctic Monkeys), Snoop Dogg (Hip Hop legend), and C3P0 & R2D2 (Droids from Star Wars).
PSN UK: Filming with Liverpool’s Mo Salah the day after he scored a hat-trick against Bournemouth to take LFC top of the league was pretty special! He was on cloud 9, as were his entourage, and the set was buzzing. Madam Stone had a personal highlight in shooting at West Ham - over 20 years in production, having filmed with a variety of football clubs, finally, the job came, and she got to hang out at their training ground, stadium, and watch them train. That project for Alex Bank involved a big set design. One-day shoot with multiple sets on which images were projected using devices & materials for projections including a monolith steel cube, wall of smoke, glass & lighting design. Many moving parts to this film and only a 5-day turnaround.
It’s always pretty special having returning celebrities who remember you and make an effort to say hello to you when they are on set. That’s been a bonus to our work with Mo Salah on campaigns for Vodafone and Pepsi.
Of course, nothing tops client success on set. Shoots with the entire national football squad of Nigeria, Egyptian International and Arsenal player Mohamed Elneny, and even Alexis Sánchez aged by our makeup team well beyond his years were all rewarding in their own right.
We’ve equally enjoyed work about London with members of the 2018 UK Olympic Team as well as period-inspired studio work with UK singer-songwriter James Arthur.
PSN Mexico: I’m a big football fan and shooting with top players is always fun. We’ve done a lot of football shoots with Mexican team players including Chicharito and Marquez. It’s always great to see them in a normal setting. They tend to be respectful with fans and give autographs, sign shirts and balls, etc.
Most recently we shot a marketing campaign for La casa de las flores (The House of Flowers), a Netflix original series that is very popular now in Mexico. It stars Veronica Castro, the Queen of Latin American soap operas. We also shot with Chespirito for Netflix. He is the Latin American Chaplin and was very famous in countries like Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina before he passed away. We produced a feature film starring renowned Spanish actress Carmen Maura. We have also worked with former Mexican President Vicente Fox and many, many Latin stars from actors to news anchors, bloggers, sports stars, and more.
Q: Do you or your country have any special features which make it easy to work with celebrity talent?
PSN UK: Football clubs are used to working with a variety of sponsors; however, it’s not always easy to gain access to the club grounds if the brand isn’t a club sponsor – this is where our experience on the ground is paramount in gaining such high-profile access often with very tight timelines.
PSN USA: Working with celebrities in Hollywood is very easy. We have the best motorhomes, sound stages are well equipped, vanities are top notch, and there is amazing food to keep everyone happy.
PSN Mexico: Ours is a very warm and comfortable country to work in. The crew and the people are always ready and will do anything to make you feel at home. We’re also strategically close to the US and can provide great food, restaurants, and paradise getaways where the celebrities can escape for a few days to relax.
PSN Ireland: As we have such a well-developed and busy TV and film industry in Ireland, all of the facilities required are available to us; for example, star Winnebagos, great (and discreet) limo drivers, crew who are not fazed by fame, personal security personnel who are suitably low key and unobtrusive. All of those practicalities combined with a great range and variety of locations and studios within established shooting hubs make Ireland a really easy place to work. And we have great craic while doing it!
PSN Turkey: Istanbul is a metropolis where we have every kind of facility. It’s well-catered to host celebrity shoots. Many Turkish TV series are gaining popularity around the world, and we’re currently experiencing increasing demand for shooting with local celebrities.
PSN Spain: Spain as a location itself has many of the same qualities as other popular shooting destinations – it’s well located for talent to get to, is super well equipped, has a beautiful array of shoot landscapes to choose from and, of course, the weather is very appealing.
One of our most standout features as a company is our familiarity of working with celebrities and high-profile talent so regularly. Therefore, shooting is an overall easy experience, both for the talent and us. So everyone involved can be confident that everything flows smoothly and efficiently!