Working with celebrities on press junkets, movie posters, TV talk shows and feature layouts are as coveted and lucrative as working on fashion advertising spreads and runway shows. After a while, you begin to notice that you’re seeing the same artist’s names over and over again in the credits. It begs the question, Why?
Like some people who see a painting in a museum and say, “Oh anybody could have done that”. Artists often remark smugly that they could have chosen that outfit or done “that hair” or “makeup”.
Want some late breaking news? Other than the occasional “Well I just want the makeup to be nice” or “I like a stylist who brings a lot of clothes to the shoot” not one of the publicists we spoke with mentioned anything about makeup or hair technique when asked why and how they choose freelance artists to work with their high falutin’ celebrity clients. In the end it was less about the art than it is about the proper etiquette.
Marleah Leslie, Ron Carter and Lisa Jefferson took some time out to give you a heads up about working with celebrity clientele.
“It’s all about a comfort level,” says Marleah Leslie, who’s company Marleah Leslie & Associates in Los Angeles represents some of the biggest stars in Hollywood. Her client list includes Jim Carrey, Marie Osmond, Tim Allen, Ricky Martin and Celine Dion. “Our job is to make the client look good. If I find someone that my client likes and they understand our job then I make a Rolodex card for them and keep it on file. If they’re really good, I’ll use them for other clients.”
Ron Carter has been a publicist in the music business for 13 years. He’s worked with Michael Jackson at Motown, Tony Toni Tone at Polygram, Chaka Kahn at Warner Bros., and Tamia and Quincy Jones at Qwest where he is now the VP of Publicity. “The relationship matters” says Ron. I rely on a few agencies and the personal relationships that I’ve developed and cultivated over the years to provide me with good people
Lisa Jefferson, is Director of Artist Relations at Elektra Entertainment. Her priorities are Missy Elliott, Natalie Cole, Yolanda Adams, EnVogue and BJORK. “I usually deal with agencies. I like people who are nice and will work with me. My favorite is Artist Group Management. The people there are really great.” When I was pregnant they were so thoughtful, they sent me a baby gift, and today I got a pilates gift certificate from Bobby Heller, one of the owners. Lisa stresses the importance of finding people who can work within her budget and admits to thinking that many freelance stylists get paid entirely too much.
1stHOLD: Why is it that publicists always ask who the artist has worked with before?
Marleah: It tells you that they know how to behave around celebrities. And I don’t mean that the way it sounds. In this case behavior means knowing when to excuse yourself from the room. We had a situation with Jim Carrey during a press junket at a hotel when Danny DeVito stopped in during some down time to say hello. They’re friends. The makeup artist stayed in the room the entire time. She didn’t know to leave. You have to know when to give them their space. Celebrities talk about personal things or business that is not your business.
Ron: It’s credibility we look for. I tend to stick with the same agencies that have delivered for me over the years. Crystal, Celestine and Perroneau are three that I really like. We’re always walking a tight rope, rolling the dice if you will. I’m looking to come up a winner every time and I do that by using people that I know can deliver.
Lisa: I want to know that they have had experience in various situations. I want them to be self-contained and know how to get around on a set, be able to eat from the craft services table and not require more attention than the celebrity. That’s why it’s important that they have worked in the business for awhile.
Marleah: We ask whom the artist has worked with because the celebrity is going to ask us. It gives them (the artist) credibility with our client.
1stHOLD: Nobody gets fired for buying a Xerox, or hiring Kevyn Aucoin, right?
Marleah: Exactly. If I hire a makeup artist with no resume and he/she doesn’t do a great job, the question becomes “Why did you hire that person?” If I hire an artist with a name and they screw up, well, it’s just a top artist having a bad day. It’s not fair; it’s just the way it is.
1stHOLD: How do you find people if an artist you usually work with is booked, or you need someone out of town?
Ron: I call on my [agency] resources and then trust them. For instance, I have a relationship with a photographer. His name is Arnold Turner. Everyone in the (music) business knows him. I’ve been working with Arnold for more than 10 years. I don’t have to be there. I would like to be, but Arnold knows what I want from a publicity shoot or the shots I need from an event. When I can’t be there I can send him alone and know what I’m going to get. That’s the same reason I call on Crystal or Celestine or Perroneau. I can trust their recommendations even if it’s an artist I’ve never worked with before.
I also look at the cards I get in the mail. I’m an easy person. I return all my phone calls. If I get a postcard (promo/comp card) with a follow up phone call, I may not get to it the next day, but I’ll usually return the call within a few days. If the card is eye-catching-I may call you! If I like what I see, I’ll call in your book. Just do not send me any unsolicited portfolios. I don’t want the responsibility.
Marleah: I go to my Rolodex first, then I reach out to the agencies. I don’t call many. Too snotty. I have my favorites and my Rolodex of people who meet my criteria. They’re team players. They will listen to what the client (celebrity) and I have to say, and they practice the necessary etiquette that goes along with working with high profile people.
Lisa: Well for instance, Missy Elliott likes Billy B for makeup. If he’s unavailable I will ask for his recommendation. If those people aren’t available I turn first to The Artist Group and move on from there.
1stHOLD: That brings me to my next question. Etiquette, what kind of mistakes do artists make when working with celebrities?
Marleah: Have you got some time? I’ve got some stories. Artists need to understand that this is a job. We’re doing our work and the work has no room in it for flirting, gossip or special requests.
I have clients who are single, good looking and wealthy. None of that is a signal for the artist to start flirting and insinuating him or herself into the life of the celebrity. It will cost you your job. It’s unprofessional. I may not bring it to your attention, but I will NEVER hire you again. When I speak with agencies I make it a point to let them know not to send an artist who would ask for an autograph. That too will get you canned. The celebrity will not be rude, but they will let me know (even if I wasn’t present) the next time I need to book someone and bring up the artists name that I should simply find someone else. The dissent usually sounds something like “Nah, let’s try someone else”. It’s very innocent. And very CLEAR!
Give them their space, especially if you’re with them all day. Stay close, so nothing goes wrong, but in the background. Don’t go overboard with the chitchat.
Lisa: There is a line of separation that an artist shouldn’t cross. The celebrity won’t say that they need space they’ll just say, “We should use somebody else”. And that is that!
Ron: Don’t get chummy with the artists and start hanging out. They’re your clients. Over a period of time a personal relationship might develop but that should never be the objective. If you are invited to hang out, that is one thing but never invite yourself. And be careful not to cross that line of professionalism. The first time you are asked to do their hair, makeup or styling outside of a professional relationship and you do it; it can be the beginning of the end. Maintain a professional relationship and they’ll respect you.
1stHOLD: What about working with new people?
Ron: I have some leeway with new [recording] artists. If I see an artist’s portfolio and I like it, I’m usually in a position to give them a shot. . .if they’re good. I’m flexible.
1stHOLD: Why is it so hard to get work with celebrities and recording artists?
Marleah: They come with their own people. Pamela Anderson is one of my clients and she has a team of people she likes to use. Unless something isn’t working I don’t feel the need to mess with the chemistry.
Ron: Even new recording artists have people they want to use. Promises they’ve made to their salon stylist who helped them out when they were shopping their deal or their friend who pulled clothes for them. If I really don’t think that the person the [recording] artist wants to bring on board is right for photo shoots then I’ll suggest that they take a look at other books, but ultimately the decision is theirs. I’m open to working with new people but it isn’t always in my control.
Lisa: Everyone has relationships and people they’re comfortable with. We don’t always want to rock that boat. The client is vulnerable as it is when dealing with the press. It helps to have people around them that they are comfortable with. We like to know what we’re going to get.
1stHOLD: What are you looking for in an artist?
Marleah: For makeup and hair, I’m looking for soft and natural, not that pancake look. With stylists, I’m looking for someone who is creative and can bring lots of options. That means more than 4 looks. We rely on the photographer and the stylist to come up with ideas. I just want a stylist to bring as much wardrobe as they can carry. I want lots of choices. A lot of people hire Phillip Bloch because he always seems to know what’s going on. He keeps up with the trends and can get just about anything for your client.
Lisa: No attitude, from the artist or the agency. And I don’t want an artist I have to pay like a star. I am working on a limited budget and I want to work with people who work with me. When it comes to makeup we often find ourselves hiring men over women because they seem to know how to contour better. With fashion stylists, I appreciate it when they don’t have to ask me for my credit card to pull clothes.
Ron: I’m looking for trendsetters who are reliable and creative with good attitudes.
1stHOLD: How do you like to be approached?
Lisa: Drop off your book. Don’t assume that I’m going to have time to sit there with you. Just drop it off. Make sure there are cards in it or color copies for me to take out if I like what I see. I like to have the time to look at the book at my leisure, not while the artist is sitting there waiting for a yes or a no.
Marleah: Call and ask if you can send over your book. Call first, I may be out of town and the book would just sit there. I’m always open to look at books. Send cards first if you have one and follow up with a request to submit your book.
Ron: Send a card. Follow-up with a phone call and request to submit your book for review.
13 THINGS YOU SHOULD NEVER DO, SAY, OR ASK FOR ON THE SET
1. Forget it’s a business relationship.
2. Ask them to take pictures with you.
3. Ask for an autograph.
4. Bring your friends or relatives to a shoot.
6. Gossip about anyone.
7. Get too chummy.
8. Ask them to sign your immigration papers.
9. Ask them to be a spokesperson for your favorite charity.
10. Ask for their home phone number.
11. Try to include yourself in their personal lives or activities unless you’re invited, and then don’t wear out your welcome.
12. Hang out in the hotel room after your business is completed unless you’re asked to do so.