As actor salaries have skyrocketed like shooting stars, an expensive new trend is emerging: Pic-pact perks are popping.
Suddenly, mega-stars are making mega-demands — whether it’s a Gulfstream jet, a disco-style trailer or an entourage of staffers that would give the Queen of England pause.
The studios, hogtied by the requests, have taken to complying. But not without quietly moaning about the excesses that can run as high as an extra $3 million per pic.
John Travolta is a prime example. When the thesp agreed to lend his prodigious star quality to Mandalay Entertainment for Roman Polanski’s “The Double” last year, he had a few requests.
The former Sweathog not only asked for his now-minimum salary of $17 million plus, but he demanded what has become the new standard in star contracts — an array of perks so outlandish that Mandalay executives could only roll their eyes. And agree.
On Mandalay’s dime, Travolta enlisted and housed more than a dozen assistants, trainers, makeup artists, stand-ins, security guards, massage therapists, stunt doubles and drivers. He wanted his personal cook — even though the shoot was in Paris — as well as approval over the catering staff for the rest of the cast and crew.
He told the studio it had to rent his private plane from him for his travel to the Paris-based set. And then he wanted it kept in Europe on 24-hour-a-day call.
Travolta, as also has become his norm, required that he work a maximum of 12 hours a day with only one or two “heavy dialogue” days per week.
And in a final stroke of hubris, he demanded that his trailer — a fully furnished RV that normally resides in Los Angeles — be shipped to Paris.
The joke, of course, was that by the time the trailer made it across the Atlantic, Travolta had abandoned the project, so it had to be shipped right back.
Such demands, once considered monstrously excessive in Hollywood, have become almost expected from major stars.
“Travolta’s no exception,” said one business affairs executive, who grimaces every time he has to knuckle under to the orders. “He gets just about everything that people customarily ask for.”
For luminaries like Bruce Willis, Demi Moore, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Robin Williams, Jim Carrey, Julia Roberts, Jack Nicholson, Melanie Griffith, Sharon Stone, Eddie Murphy, Michelle Pfeiffer, Harrison Ford, Denzel Washington, Tom Cruise, Mel Gibson, Barbra Streisand and others, there are certain niceties that the studios will automatically provide.
On the set, stars routinely get a fairly large trailer (sometimes two or even three), a bevy of personal assistants, drivers for both cars and motor homes, trainers, physical therapists, hair and makeup artists, wardrobe aides, nannies, bodyguards, cooks, acting coaches and stand-ins.
More outrageous star contractual desires have included psychotherapists, nutritionists, astrologers and various types of masseurs.
As salaries have risen into the high millions, the cost of these perks can tack on an additional $1 million or $2 million — all in the name of keeping the talent happy. One source placed Travolta’s perks on the current production of “A Civil Action” as high as $3 million.
According to one slightly dated list of perk costs floating around the studios, Demi Moore racked up more than $877,000 in entourage costs on “The Scarlet Letter.” Julia Roberts on “I Love Trouble” amassed $841,000. Melanie Griffith on “Born Yesterday” charged up $589,000.
“In the early part of this decade, this was all unheard of,” said one studio executive. “Now it’s the cost of doing business.”
The subject, while somewhat amusing, is quite serious for studios looking to curb spending. But for fear of alienating top talent, the studios keep mum. Toppers at nearly all the majors respectfully declined to be involved in this article. Agents, too, avoided discussing the things they so avidly argue for.
But comical horror stories still abound.
Moore needed not one, but two jets and helicopters to guarantee her publicity appearance on the “Late Show With David Letterman” recently. The star will only wash her hair in Evian water on the set. And she’s become notorious for her list of assistants, trainers, nannies, trailers, drivers, cooks and other staff.
Carrey on “Ace Ventura 2” demanded that Morgan Creek not only hire his personal chef, but an additional cook for his pet iguana, though he split the cost with the producer. He also split the price of a $1 million Greyhound bus that had been turned into a dressing room that looked more like a disco, complete with marble floors and chrome plating.
One source remembers Geena Davis’ need for a female “body makeup artist” on “Cutthroat Island.” Davis already had four makeup and hair people tending to her in Malta, but she didn’t want any of them touching her throat and upper chest. So a woman was flown in from L.A. to spend a few minutes each day brushing powder on those areas.
Sharon Stone once made the studio build her a gym on the set so she could work out every day. Her more basic instinct has been to consistently keep her wardrobe from her films.
For rookie thesp Michael Jordan’s “Space Jam” bow, Warner Bros. built a full-court gym and weight-training center for the basketballer to fool around on during the shoot.
Sylvester Stallone often orders a special tee-off cage to practice golf shots while on the set. Like Stone, he also likes to keep his own costumes, either to have around the house or to give to Planet Hollywood (in which he’s an investor) for display.
“You’d be shocked at how many $5 million-plus players will fight to keep that business suit,” said another biz affairs type. “That’s been an age-old problem.”
One actress required that her dog be flown overseas to her, first class, and the studio guarantee the dog’s safety with an insurance policy.
The jets are another issue. In the past, stars would settle for first class on the airlines and hope that they weren’t too besieged by fans. Then in the 1970s, Warner Bros. came up with the bright idea of using its corporate jets to ferry the talent from place to place. Now, if a studio doesn’t have one, it will lease a Gulfstream for the stars who have grown accustomed to the luxury.
Avjet Corp., a private jet-leasing firm, says that studios account for hundreds of flights per year. At costs that can run as high as $4,500 per flight hour, it can add up every time a star wants to race home from the set for a quiet weekend.
During ShoWest, when the studios all corral their luminaries in Las Vegas to impress star-gazing theater owners, the jets are out in huge numbers. Warners’ three corporate planes were working around the clock that first week in March.
Additionally, many stars and directors own planes that, like Travolta, they simply lease back to the studio to use. Schwarzenegger, Moore and Willis are a few of the jetsetters. Robin Williams, by contract, gets a specially chartered jet and the equivalent of a BMW at his beck and call.
Williams also has an interesting contractual demand as to the types of commercial tie-ins connected to any of his films: no alcohol, tobacco, firearms, weapons, toys of violence, condoms, birth control devices, hygienic and sexually oriented products, soft drinks or junk food.
Odd contract demands are not without precedent, however.
Yul Brynner was famous for insisting on several bottles of expensive fine wine on the set at all times — and on the road when he toured with a show. Peter Sellers would never sleep in a hotel bed unless it was positioned north to south. And Joan Crawford refused to work unless the temperature on the set was kept at 68 degrees.
Shooting schedules are another major contract concern for stars. In the studio system of the 1940s, stars would often labor long hours. Claudette Colbert bucked the trend in “State of the Union,” refusing to work beyond 5 p.m.
In more modern film times, stars have put in long hours, especially when on location. But Jack Nicholson, who was seen in the ’70s donning his white suit from “Chinatown,” contracted last year to work only four days a week on TriStar Pictures’ “Old Friends.”
For the studios, the demands are a depressing and often inconvenient reality, says an insider, “but if it gives the star a better state of mind, then it’s worth it.” And it’s likely that the studios will continue to heed the wishes — no matter what the cost — of their stars.
An actor like Jack Lemmon has simple needs — two copies of the New York Times and brand-new bedsheets in his hotel room when on location.
“As silly as this sometimes sounds, this is the thing they get the most heated call from the client about,” said one executive about agents who fight to the finish for such perks for their stars.
“When all is said and done, they could have left that extra $100,000 on the table and the client would not have blinked. But let that Stairmaster not be in the room and they’ve got a huge problem.”