Everybody knows that stars are paid Humvee-loads of money when they make a film. What isn’t generally known is that while getting top dollar is important, what really matters are the extras — those sundry luxuries, like Nautilus equipment, cellular phones, macrobiotic chefs, and six-bedroom homes with heated pools that just seem to make life during a shoot a little easier to take.
The perks, says producer Rob Cohen (Bird on a Wire), are ”more real to the stars than their fees. They never see their fees. Their agents, managers, and lawyers all take a cut; then it’s invested. The stars get a monthly printout, telling them where the money is, what it’s earning. But it’s abstract.” By contrast, the goodies are oh-so tangible. ”I call these the Bill of Rights,” Cohen says. ”They’re fought over more heatedly than salary.”
Footing the bill for these rights is not cheap. These days, Emilio Estevez’s insistence on having a personal trainer (while filming the upcoming Freejack) or even director Garry Marshall’s demand for a private basketball court (while making Frankie & Johnny) is considered a relatively modest request, costing a paltry $10,000 to $20,000 each. At the higher end of the scale is Jack Nicholson, whose creature comforts on Ironweed, a movie about alcoholism and poverty, reportedly cost about $800,000.
And those are just the lifestyle costs. Producers often must pay the salaries of a star’s personal staff. Like hairdressers. A good one can cost a film between $1,500 and $2,000 a week, although a star’s specially chosen hairdresser usually runs around $4,000 a week. At the top of the haircutter spectrum is James Woods, whose hairdresser on The Hard Way, because of overtime, wound up making some $6,000 a week. Considering the sparsity of Woods’ thatch, that works out to about $1 a follicle.
Personal drivers are a tad cheaper, going for roughly $1,000 a week. Tom Cruise is using two full-time drivers on his current film, A Few Good Men. One drives the limo, the other follows with the actor’s personal car; that way, if Cruise decides he wants to drive rather than be driven, they can all pull over to the side of the road and swap vehicles.
Transportation of any sort is always considered an important perk, especially when it involves first-class air travel. Most stars get producers to pay at least a few round-trip fares between home and the film’s location for their spouses. Whenever a producer hires Mel Gibson for a film, it’s understood that his whole clan — wife, six kids, nanny, housekeeper — flies from Australia first-class on Qantas. And the Gibson family usually takes up the whole first — class section-no strangers, please — for itself. Depending on the plane, this sets a film company back $113,520 to $212,850 round-trip.
Perhaps you’ve wondered why it is that some stars show up in perfectly dreadful movies. More often than not, perks are the key. When the star is given a choice between making a good script for a modest fee, or a bad script for somewhat better money plus a maid, cook, driver, personal trainer, and private spiritual adviser, the bad script starts to take on a certain appeal. Now, if there were only some way the audience could share in the perks…