In the inaugural article of LS's 'Beyond Service' Series, Executive Producer Sarah Drummond delves into the complexities and rewards of working with celebrities.
Myself and LS' CEO Marie Owen spoke at Advertising Week Europe earlier this year, on how we have made working with celebrity talent work – and work well. LS Productions has overseen the throwing of A-list stars out of planes and helicopters, over and into Welsh and Scottish waters. We have trekked with television and silver screen personalities across mountains. And, as a whole different ball game, internationally recognised footballers and managers have been holed up with us in pubs and spacious Manchester studios. Marie and I squeezed a few, of many, anecdotes into the short presentation (a challenge for anyone, not least the two of us), but, here, I will really delve into the complexities and rewards of working with this type of talent.
At LS Productions, the meeting of the minds between our production and location teams allows for finding both logistically and aesthetically awesome spots. Every job that lands in my inbox, a range between TV commercial treatments to music videos, is approached as the tackling of a series of unique challenges. Working with celebrity talent, however, does take the logistical approach up a few notches. The scope and opportunities for a shoot, as well as the no-go zones, are all part of our expertise – saving time, grief, money, as well as leaving room for the experience to be a memorable one.
"Going beyond purely service means having a production and locations team that understand the creative, and, therefore, know how to carry the job out in the most effective way possible."
SAFETY is my priority when I encounter these briefs, especially in the odd scenarios we have been tasked with to get them through in one piece – not to mention looking good! Michael B Jordan may be one of the Fantastic Four and the bad guy in Black Panther, but being flung off a helicopter into the ocean is pretty scary. It is our job to ensure all the talent we are responsible for feel safe and secure.
We will hire body and stunt doubles where need be, even though the celebrities we have worked with have done most of the stunts themselves. If having Obama’s safety team on-hand for a technically challenging shoot is necessary, we will go and get them, as we have for three of our prior technical shoots. Part of looking after them, critically, includes pushing back on the unreasonable. Anything that would not be effective, or pose too many risks to mitigate, is something to be vocal about.
LOGISTICS is a massive aspect of any shoot, as often over one-hundred people need to ferry around relatively remote locations by cars, boats, and helicopters. With celebrities, you get the odd private jet thrown into the mix, as well as decoy cars and chauffeurs (what’s a few more wheels to manage?). These locations also must meet security standards, from the remote sets lacking roads or electricity, to the sets in bustling city centres.
A comprehensive knowledge of the location is essential. Far beyond if it ‘looks good,’ you need to be able to answer hundreds of questions: how it is accessed; air space regulations for drones; the health and safety needs; find out if the beach is owned or under preservation protections – the list goes on and on.
Now add a high level of service into the mix, as this too is part of the balancing act – a critical one at that! With celebrities, in particular, the accommodation, as well as any added fluff, must be top notch. If that means finding late night champagne and oysters in a remote part of Scotland, that is, of course, what must be done (and has been done!). You need to be clever with suggestions for where to shoot, in conjunction with what I know will be a great experience.
Where feasible, shoot and stay locations are ideal. Many are large estates, with multiple properties for the expansive entourage. These types of locations are perfect for music videos. To use one example, with Florence and the Machine, we stayed on a tiny Scottish island with no roads for a week during the shoot. Her team, the director and the visiting producer all went on the recce, and they loved it so much they just stayed on the island, rather than coming back to Edinburgh.
"Shooting and staying on-location means you can maximise filming time and, in a very creative sense, allow the visiting team to get a feel for the environment and surrounding."
When bringing in major footballers to central Edinburgh bars and Manchester studios, this requires a very different type of production. These are usually in a nice warm studio or one location, with no unit moves. The challenge here is that footballers have massive time constraints on their schedules, so this means turning a motion and stills shoot around in four hours – no sweat.
Come prepared, and, simultaneously, flexible – ready to shoot the minute the talent steps onto set. I always make it my job to know how the client can get as many assets in as possible, in the short space of time, working to ensure and juggle the needs of all parties.
Overall, you need to be tough but fair, think smart, and have a plan B, C and Z up your sleeve. Common sense and initiative goes a long way on our end. We are the local experts, and our heads and reputations are on the line. Being nice goes a long way too, and fits into our unofficial LS motto: ‘Don’t be a Dick!’
We are all human and only making pretty pictures after all.