5 things you must know when working with talent
by Ron Greenfield
As I began to navigate through the studio system and rise through the ranks, there was a very important aspect, which up until then, I didn’t have to concern myself with – working with talent. However, it’s inevitable.
Over the course of my career in film marketing, I’ve worked with some very well-known and established directors and actors such as Martin Scorsese, Glenn Close, Burt Lancaster, Roddy McDowall, Brad Pitt, Reese Witherspoon, James Gandolfini, Andy & Larry (Lana) Wachowski, Sidney Lumet and Sidney Poitier, as well as many up and coming artists. Whether they were famous or they were soon to become famous, the successful outcome of launching their film or video had a great deal to do with our working and professional relationship.
For the most part, I’ve been very fortunate in the opportunities I’ve been afforded. That’s not to say there haven’t been some instances, that no matter what I did, I could never make it right – the manager screaming at the top of her lungs because her client’s name wasn’t first on the photo shoot call sheet, because contractually, he always got first billing. Or the actress, who kept cancelling taping sessions, costing thousands of dollars in unused studio time. Thankfully, instances like these were few since this is the normal course of doing business and I learned not to take it personally.
As my involvement with celebrity talent became an integral part of my overall responsibilities during the course of creating a film or video marketing campaign, I decided to give myself some hard and fast rules or imperatives to go by, which in the long haul served me very well.
Imperative 1: Respect Their Creativity
First and foremost I was working with an artist and in most cases, a very talented one. The reason they chose to do the film, play, album, etc. is they are invested in the project emotionally and had a connection to the material. They also saw it as furthering their career, and in many cases had a financial stake in the project.
Imperative 2: Interact As One Professional To Another
I had to meet them on common ground, as one artist to another or as one professional to another. In whatever capacity I worked with them, they had to feel comfortable being around me, knowing that whatever resources I had at my disposal, I would do the best job humanly possible to present them in the most favorable and positive light.
Imperative 3: Diplomacy Is Mandatory
Any working relationship is bound to have social aspects attached to it. It might include dinner, drinks, or in some cases traveling with them. Being sociable and diplomatic comes with the territory, but I never lost sight that my first and primary objective was to make the project as successful and creatively fulfilling for them as possible. With every step in the process, I never lost sight of that.
Imperative 4: Work and Play Well With Others
Never, ever alienate or piss off members of their entourage, especially assistants, agents, managers, and publicists. They are the gatekeepers. Treat them well and with respect and they will, more often than not, provide invaluable assistance to you, especially in difficult situations.
Imperative 5: Show Your Gratitude
One of the mandates when I worked at Spelling Entertainment was to honor the talent and show your appreciation, even if there were difficulties. I was the face of Spelling Entertainment and a reflection of how that company did business. A gift to express our appreciation was always the order of the day.
At one time, during my tenure at Spelling, I got to work with the legendary Mickey Rooney, who starred in one of our productions. I was with him when he was honored at the Palm Springs Film Festival and then in New York, as a special guest of the Hollywood for Children Film Festival.
During the Golden Age of Hollywood, he was one of the biggest stars in the world. I constantly had to have that in mind as we worked together. Mickey sometimes could do the unexpected and I had to be prepared for it. At a party held at the ice skating rink in Rockefeller Center there was Mickey walking on the ice to do a photo op. “Holy Shit, if he should fall and break something, the results could be disastrous.”
I walked out on the ice, diplomatically suggested it might be more advantageous if we did the op in front of the restaurant so more people could be in the photo. He agreed and grabbed my arm as we walked off the ice to the restaurant.
Over the years, these rules served me well. If I learned anything, whenever possible put a positive spin on something that could be potentially calamitous. It’s not about you and who you’re working with as much as achieving a successful outcome on the project.