Stars pull an about-face

As thesps restrict image use, marketing headaches ensue

It’s not every day that a film studio takes out an ad in a major newspaper apologizing for bungling an ad in a major newspaper.

But Universal Pictures’ public mea culpa to Sean Penn last week over a bungled T-Mobile print ad tied to “The Interpreter” raised eyebrows in marketing circles all over town.

The control Penn wielded over the use of his likeness is increasingly something that’s on the bargaining table for top thesps — especially as international markets become more critical.

Sure, it’s amusing to note that Jennifer Lopez‘s rider stipulates a 45-foot triple-wide trailer — all in white, thank you — stocked with Nantucket Nectars Fruit Punch. Or that one Robin Williams rider insists upon “1 fresh homemade soup (no SYSCO) with crackers” to be available when he performed live. But real power comes in a thesp’s ability to affect marketing campaigns, and several top stars have negotiated for exactly that.

Joaquin Phoenix, for example, a passionate vegan, insists his likeness never be used in any Burger King promo deals that may be struck to hype one of his films.

Sometimes, though, a star’s thinking is less about healthy eating and more about healthy profits. Says one marketing chief, “Stars figure, ‘I can make a lot of money endorsing a product — why should I do it for free?”

Studios, ever-conscious of the clout a star can bring to — or withhold from — an overseas marking campaign, often acquiesce to such riders.

Top-tier performers can even hold out for the right to “kill” as many as two-thirds of all publicity stills associated with a given film, should they disapprove of how their visage is captured.

With even two big stars on a pic, the headaches for a marketing department could be dramatic.

Explains the attorney for one top actor, “At the end of the day, what can happen is that the studio takes a couple hundred shots of the two stars together, and they still wind up with no useable pictures.”

“This is why I stopped representing actors,” the attorney adds. “Writers and directors really are megalomaniacs in their own right, but this kind of shit — positively no green M&M’s in my trailer! — they just don’t care about.”

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