One of the most glamorous-sounding roles in television production behind the cameras has surely got to be the Celebrity Producer. Someone who’s job it is to find, liase with, book, brief and look after the celebrity guests on a TV show. But is it really as showbizzy and exciting as it sounds?
A Celebrity Booker, or the more experienced Producer role, may sound pretty easy but with the increasing popularity of chat shows, daytime magazine shows and celebrity-driven reality shows the competition to book good celebrity guests is intense. Most TV shows will insist on getting a celebrity on their sofa first and the battle to secure them can get tough!
If you work in TV do you really appreciate what the celebrity team do to secure those guests? If you want to work in TV do you fancy the job? How hard can it be to book celebrities? Time to hear from an experienced Celebrity Producer.
Jenny Drewett has been hob-nobbing with showiz stars for some time and has booked celebrity guests for a whole range of prime time and daytime programmes. Here’s her account of the role of a Celebrity Producer:
TV Celebrity Producer – How Hard Can it Be?
Most people think my job as a celebrity or talent producer gives me carte blanche to read Heat magazine all day. Oh, if only it were so.
My role changes from each programme that I work on depending on the genre and the channel. Generally, the requirements like most jobs in television are to have an open mind, be a team player and be able to adapt and quickly. However, what is an absolute necessity for a good celebrity booker/producer apart from your wide range of contacts, is attention to detail especially correct spelling of client names (I can’t emphasise that enough – it can literally be the difference between an agent agreeing or not for someone to make an appearance), a thorough knowledge of talent and their background, an ability to handle artists without being star struck and manage their expectations, an excellent telephone manner, outstanding people skills and a tenacity to never give up.
The most common misconception regarding any position involving the celebrity world is that you make three phone calls to get three guests and then you can surf the showbiz websites all day. In fact, it is nearer thirty to three hundred calls depending on the calibre of show you are working on, the budget and the channel. Although, it is changing as the world of non terrestrial TV is now being embraced, if you are working on a non primetime, low budget, non terrestrial programme, you will have to pull out every stop you can to entice famous faces to participate, especially if it is a first series so therefore an unknown brand.
Another mistaken belief is that looking after celebrities is easy and fun, therefore anyone can do it. As I have previously mentioned, it takes a certain type of person to keep artists entertained and to do so without being too familiar, not overstepping the boundaries but still getting the best from them with support and encouragement, is an art in itself. By looking after a guest/artist well, briefing them properly and making them feel special, they will want to return and as important, their agent will give you more clients. I have had to rescue many a situation where an inexperienced researcher has rubbed an artist up the wrong way.
How do you become a Celebrity Producer?
There is no set way to become a celebrity producer. It is probably easier now in that the role is recognised with the growth of celebrity culture and as a runner/researcher you can target the shows that will have a showbiz aspect. However, as the position is more widely known, a lot of people want to do it as it appears glamorous and so there is more competition. I was actually a stage manager and floor manager before gaining a research attachment which led me to become an assistant producer, celebrity booker and then celebrity producer. My path is a long story.
There is also general misunderstanding regarding a celebrity booker and a celebrity producer. Basically, a booker is a more junior role – on some productions you will also have a celebrity researcher. A celebrity producer should be extremely experienced, be actually able to produce celebrities i.e. make sure they are thoroughly briefed and aware of everything, manage their needs and resolve any difficulties (although taking care to liaise with the show producer and not conflict with their responsibilities), be respected by agents, manage a budget, negotiate fees and sometimes contracts, think outside the box and run a team.
A celebrity producer will also be able to cast a show rather than book it. Whether it’s a reality show, a panel programme or authored documentary, there should be a reason why a contributor or guest is there. Often a celebrity can make or break a series and the relationship they have with the show’s content and the other people participating can affect its success.
The Importance of Contacts
An experienced celebrity producer will have an extensive contacts book and that is a must. On several occasions, I have had a guest pull out at short notice and had to phone bash like mad to find a worthy replacement. On one high profile, prime time entertainment, live show, I had someone leave the studio (for reasons not to do with the programme) fifteen minutes after the show had started and had thirty minutes to find an alternative guest. With budget cuts, very few shows have a standby these days unless it is a reality series. I found the studio audience guest list and fortunately there were some famous faces I knew. After negotiating with wardrobe to borrow a fabulous frock as a bribe, I persuaded a singer and actress to step forward. Phew! And there are many more stories to tell …
It’s Not Always Alright on the Night!
Of course, there are the funny situations that probably wouldn’t happen in any other job. Like the time when I was filming in Belgium with a well known comedy duo who were in character as American tourists and had the most bizarre stereotypical outfits. They decided the footwear didn’t suit the rest of the costumes so it was left to me to take them shoe shopping. In Brussels! We found an old fashioned shop, owned by an old lady who kept her supplies in the basement. She had to make several trips up and down the narrow stairs as we kept getting the sizes wrong due to our French Flemish not being the most accurate. And there were more such escapades that kept us laughing through most of the shoot.
Another time, I was working on a huge Awards show and the ultimate accolade was being presented by a high profile US star. His trademark was his hat and I had made sure to insist that he brought it with him. When I collected him and his wife at the airport, he had managed to mislay it somewhere. He was extremely apologetic and upset at losing his cherished item. I assured him I would sort everything. I had the costume designer search for a replacement and made several begging calls to the airport to look for it.
On the day of the Awards, Heathrow Lost Property called to say they had found the hat. I sent a cab driver to collect it. By this time, I was on very good terms with the actor, knew he had a sense of humour and liked to play jokes. That evening, I went to his dressing room to give him the replacement hat. I presented him with a child’s replica. He looked at it and thanked me for my trouble – he was a true gent and an ultimate professional. I then gave him the original and his eyes welled up. He thanked me again and then his wife interjected that the hat had been bought from a US supermarket chain and had cost $3. I guess the joke was on me but I am still on good terms with them today.
What Kind of TV Productions need a Celebrity Booker?
Various types of programme genre need a celebrity booker/producer and they all require different skills. They range from chat shows, panel shows, reality shows and award shows to authored documentaries, discussion programmes and format development. There are also different TV areas such as entertainment, factual and factual entertainment, sport, music, comedy, daytime and primetime to name a few. I have worked in all of these areas and each is as rewarding in a different way. The key factor to remember is that you know about the artist you are putting forward. For example, a person that may bring much hilarity and energy to a prime time, entertainment show may be completely unsuitable on a daytime, factual programme.
So what would I say to anyone wanting to be a celebrity producer? The role is becoming more demanding in that as budgets are cut, there is less preparation time for a show and little clear up time. This also means contracts are shorter. Also, most companies don’t have the revenue for a talent executive so once you are at a high expertise level, you are competing against those less experienced who will be on a lower rate and possibly more appealing to a cash starved production. This is where your reputation you have worked hard to achieve comes in.
So, don’t do it because you think it will get you access to celebrity parties, you will be able to schmooze with the famous and be the envy of your mates, do it because you have a passion for all art forms, you for some reason know random facts about well known personalities and admire but are not in awe of the showbiz world.
Remember, correct spelling, people skills and never give up. When you are asked to book three celebrities who don’t mind talking about sex by tomorrow, a history expert to go on location in two hours or an 80’s star to perform the following evening, you give it your best. And yes, I have been asked and managed to successfully do all of those requests. I am fortunate enough to say that I love my job and still find it fun, and that goes a long way after several years in the business of show.
Thank you, Jenny. As a producer and editor of shows that have frequently booked a whole range of celebrity guests I can vouch for the fact that it is not an easy job! But then again what job in TV is…..
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