Working with sporting stars such as Mo Salah is second nature to PSN UK: Pippa Bhatt shares what it’s like to work with the greats
Any person working in production knows that working with celebrity talent can bring a host of challenges to a shoot. More often than not you’re dealing with restricted schedules, unique demands and sponsorship deals that need to be considered incredibly carefully. It takes a heck of a lot of pre-planning to make sure shoots run smoothly.
PSN tap into their worldwide network to explore what you need to be prepared for and what skills and tips are unique to shoot locations around the world. This week they speak to Pippa Bhatt, PSN UK partner, who shares her wisdom on working with high-profile talent and why some football boots simply have to travel first class...
Q> When shooting with high profile talent, in general, what are the biggest challenges?
Pippa Bhatt> A few factors come into play, namely their time on set, which can be as little as a couple of hours to split timings across the day to accommodate, particularly the footballers, their training schedules. There are also those less experienced clients who may be nervous about working with a high-profile personality. There are many agendas to manage and balance from that of their management, to the client’s and the production needs, it’s important to keep a calm set. All have interlinked relationships and demands on each other, including of course, in the case of footballers, their club. Finally, having a big name with you can catch the eye of the public and this needs to be handled right from the outset.
Q> What in particular do you have to be prepared for when working with celebrity talent?
Pippa> Our standard is to have security for the celebrity talent 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 VIPs. 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> What do you think are the most common mistakes or assumptions made by foreign producers on shoots with celebrities in the UK?
Pippa> If anything, it would be the unachieveable scripts, often not signed off by the star’s management, including the assumption that sports players can act. This, and the travel time allowance – 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.
Q> Naming no names, what’s the most grandiose request you’ve had from a celebrity?
Pippa> We haven’t really experienced grandiose but random requests out of sync with the reason for being there. For example, one particularly 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!
Q> What shoot was a highlight for you when working with a celebrity talent?
Pippa> There have been many highlights but 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. Aside from that, 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.
Q> When working with football players, who typically aren’t trained actors and have a tight schedule, how do you ensure they feel comfortable enough to deliver a natural performance?
We make sure their management are at ease and trust that we have everything in hand, having thought of every tiny detail even ones they may not have thought of. Keeping a really calm, relaxed set with humour and charm thrown in helps. Also, always making sure they know they don’t have to do anything they don’t want to do. Shooting with such a diverse mix of international directors, we rely and work closely with our trusted first AD’s as, quite often, they will lead the action and are very aware of the variables including the time that we have.
Q> Does the UK have any special features that make it easier to work with celebrity talent?
Pippa> The UK is known to have some of the highest level football talent in the world living here, so it’s a key place to shoot these talent. That might be at their training grounds, on set and at locations that are a short distance from their clubs or at the clubs themselves. Their 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 the experience of the production company on the ground is paramount in gaining such high profile access often with very tight timelines.