Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Surviving a Fitness Infomercial (As the Talent!)

Congratulations!  You’ve booked an infomercial…one of the most publicized and well-paying fitness modeling jobs you can land to include national TV exposure and possibly your gateway to hosting and other promotional gigs!  While a national magazine cover is about the best you can hope for in print media for prestige and exposure, it is still can’t touch the exposure or showcase your physique like film or TV can, and the pay doesn’t even come close to that of an infomercial.  In fact as many of you may have encountered by now a magazine cover may only pay $300!  You’ve worked hard for this moment: training, dieting, networking, auditioning against colleagues at the top of their game, and now finally you’ve booked it!  It is time to enjoy the reward for all your efforts!
                So what then do I mean when I say “SURVIVE” a fitness-infomercial??  I just want to give you a heads-up on what booking an infomercial can encompass: Basically you need to have the entire day blocked out and be prepared for anything and everything the producers want, ESPECIALLY, if you did not book the job through an agency who will negotiate for your rate and limitations, for a fee of 20% of course.  So good on you if you were able to get booked without an agency, but now you’re on your own – you need to know what to expect!
On set with Hoist Fitness Systems where I shot video of about 200 exercises this day with actual weight

                ‘Day-rate’ does mean (all) DAY long – officially for a non-union infomercial ‘day-rate’ means you are booked for TEN HOURS.  If you go longer than 10 hours, you are entitled to ask for pro-rated overtime.  This is where an agency can really come to bat for you, because as you smile while cordially saying your goodbyes on set (exhausted at midnight), without having to address money issues, your agent is handling your invoice on your behalf.  However, in the fitness industry many production companies prefer booking the model directly and blatantly dislike working thru agencies.  This is something to consider: An agency will always professionally negotiate the highest rate possible for you and they are well informed of the industry standards, however, many casting directors avoid agencies altogether.  It can be really uncomfortable trying to negotiate your own rate especially if you don’t know what the other models are quoting.  Also, depending on whether you are booked as an exercise model, lifestyle model, have a speaking role, or are a host, these rates can vary significantly.  Do you know what ‘buy-out’ means?  How about ‘residuals’ or other media use?  Do you understand the ‘talent-release’ you will be required to sign?  A licensed agency takes care of all these details and it can be nice knowing you have a trusted expert looking out for your best interest, (for their fee of 15 to 25%).

On set the Photographer is KING, or on a bigger production, the DIRECTOR is GOD. YOU, the Talent, are just a pion!
     Like many other colleagues of mine I use all the tools at my disposal, in a professional and ethical manner: I have agencies and an assistant who look out for me in different states in counties, and also rely on my own networking to book jobs.  Ethics are important: Whoever submits you for a job first is the one who should get credit for it and get their percentage.  And legally, you can only have one entity representing you within each county.  It is ultimately your reputation that is on the line so be honest and fair, and if somebody refers you, thank them!  If you’re greedy or arrogant you’ll negotiate yourself right out of a booking.  Research standard day rates and stay within the ball-park ($600-$1200 is the average range for ‘day-rate’ for non-union, non-speaking fitness models for infomercials.)  Keep in mind that you getting national TV exposure for a reputable exercise product can be ‘priceless’.  (This same philosophy applies with a magazine cover appearance.)
Sometimes the snacks provided by CRAFT services aren't exactly healthy, but sometimes on a grueling production you just need ENERGY & carbs! Lunch is typically catered & gourmet! On set with Lacie Weddle taking a snack break!
        So you have your rate negotiated and you are all set for your 10 hour day on location or in the studio in Los Angeles.  There is a entire checklist you need to consider the day prior and I won’t go thru them all, but here are a few important considerations:  It all starts with the ‘Call Sheet’.  This has all of the critical information to include: location, directions, call-time, wardrobe, and contact info of all the major players for the shoot.  Get your directions printed to back up your GPS and plan for rush-hour traffic delays commuting to Los Angeles.  More considerations:  Are you tan and shaved?  If your tan is airbrushed is it going to come off when you sweat?  Do you need to carbo-load, or sodium-deplete?  Do you need to ‘dry-out’?  What wardrobe have you been asked to bring?  No matter what the stylist provides ALWAYS bring swimsuits and fitness clothing that fit your body best as a back up – especially you girls.  On that note, occasionally some low-budget productions provide NO make-up or stylist, so bring your own skin and hair products too.  What kind of work-out should you do the day prior?  This is a huge decision actually: Do NOT show up sore, depleted, and fatigued to ANY fitness shoot, especially an infomercial!  Most likely you will be doing some form of exercising throughout the day.  Just flexing and posing alone over a 10 hour period can be very demanding.  As a guy we are fortunate to be able to carbo-load prior to our shoots to fill out our glycogen stores causing our muscles to volumize nicely and provide us good energy at the same time!  Some girls are able to do this while other female models I know are so concerned with bloating that they do not eat the night before or the morning of and they end up struggling on set and trying to get thru the day with energy drinks and caffeine which can lead to cramping, spasms, bonking and mood-swings.  Personally, I just recommend cardio the day prior for a good sweat and some practice posing to tone the muscles and really assess my conditioning.  Pack a cooler of your specialty, must-have foods and supplements.  Trust me: You never know what CRAFT services will provide on set, but usually it is junk food or laden with sodium.  Remember, you don’t want to eat anything strange on shoot-day, so bring foods you know work well for you and do not cause bloating.

When the catered lunch rolls in, everybody on set breaks and eats.  Are you going to eat the 4-course meal being served or remain disciplined?  Seriously consider if it will have a negative impact on your physique or energy levels.  Bloating and food-induced coma can be bad.  Personally I like cinnamon rice cakes with all-natural peanut butter and honey and dark chocolate on fitness shoots, especially if there is a lot of exercise required.  Careful if you have been using any diuretics or drinking a lot of coffee, because you can set yourself up for cramping or spasms on set – I have seen this happen to others and this is not professional!  Nobody likes a whiny model who is supposed to be FIT, and NEVER be the one to make the camera stop rolling.  Potassium is a good electrolyte to replace your depleted sodium levels via banana, prunes, or supplement form.
Multiple takes should be expected. A dozen PAs will be staring at your every move on set, eager to point out any mistake. They have nothing better to do except fetch coffee & bagels.
So you now you’ve made it to the set location on time and are fully prepared for a long, but fun day.  You’re excited and you walk into a huge, fancy set in an amazing studio with cameras and lights and Grips and Macs everywhere – and nobody seems to notice you.  You’ve just made your grand entrance and everybody is so busy that they barely even say good morning to you…don’t they know who you are?!  This is normal and do not take it personally.  Not only is everybody very busy, but chances are they are already behind schedule and the stress levels are rising fast!  Setting up the lighting alone is a major under taking.  Just find the make-up artist and wardrobe first, as they will dial you in and point you in the right direction.  There are so many people involved on a major infomercial production including the producers, directors, cameras, editors, lighting, sound, set design, stylists, wardrobe, product-client, talent, craft services, studio-owners, etc.  Such extravagant productions are great opportunities to meet interesting industry people and network, so bring plenty of comp cards to hand out.  In fact you may show up on time, (which is definitely being noticed by somebody), and then end up waiting around for hours before you even get seen by make-up.  During this time you can politely explore the set and slowly get to meet everybody.  But just in case, have something to do – most studios have wireless broad band now and it is totally okay to bring your own laptop.  I even bring my own camera along to snap some fun behind the scenes shots.  Just ask first and you may need to disable your flash so you don’t trigger any lighting devices.
                So back to the concept behind a ‘DAY’ booking:  Remember once your there the clock starts on your ten hour day, but, you are now their hired talent.  You are their employee and be prepared and happy to do whatever they ask of you, whether you are sitting around feeling forgotten about, or standing in for lighting set up, or doing your 20th set of push-ups while smiling.  This is no time to be a ‘prima Donna’ or have ego issues, or ask for a Starbucks run.  Again, nobody likes a whiner…ever.  Always smile and offer to help and before you know it, you will become one of the client’s go-to, trusted models.  It is nice to have a heads-up about when and what you will be shooting, and a good point of contact is the stylist and wardrobe folks – make friends with them early.  They probably already have a shot-list you can peek at.  You can also find a PA to give you key insight.  You’re better off just taking off your watch and stop looking at the clock.  Forget about time for the day and just enjoy yourself – you are a star!
                Finally it is your time to shine in front of the camera, center stage on set.  Whatever it is they have you doing, the important thing is to realize that this is your moment – your chance – in the spot light, literally.  This will be on national TV: Time to do what you do best!  ALWAYS smile and project good energy.  You can never have too much energy…ever.  And if you do get a little hyper they’d rather rein you in a bit than keep asking you to step it up.  If the director asks you to adlib or get creative, you’d better have some poses ready to go that work best for your physique and have a solid knowledge exercises and muscle-anatomy.  If a director ever needs to talk you thru poses or expressions, than you need more practice at home in front of the mirror.  Don’t just stand there like a robot.  When he says “action”, perform non-stop until your hear “cut”.  Never stop until you hear cut, ever.  Sometimes the stress levels build when it gets late and time is crunched.  The crew can get grumpy and of course don’t mean anything personal with off the cuff remarks.  The director, whether he is behind the monitor or behind the camera, is the boss.  I almost dare say the director is God-like while on set.  Just do what he asks and don’t take anything personally.  He has to be direct in his communication after all!  Which means you should also know your place as the talent, and not attempt to direct the shot.  If the director wants any input from you he will ask you for it.  Seriously, not to sound militant, but really while in front of the camera you should be completely silent and simply follow directions with great attention to detail, unless spoken too.  You will know when it is okay to be more proactive and helpful with suggestions but you need to build up a certain level of trust first.  Even the product client goes thru the director on set.  It should be your goal to connect with the director and make him love you, especially if you want to be booked again and again – it is small world in fitness.  Put aside any aches, fatigue or personal issues and overwhelm the entire set with positive energy and a spectacular performance.  If you’re just there for a paycheck, you are not really an artist displaying your talent and should find another line of work.
Even more co-directors, co-producers & grips will be checking you out on the monitors. Everybody is watching your every move AND noticing your attitude & energy level. Never stop sucking in your gut!
     That is what your release says and what your title is on set: ‘Talent’.  Fitness and your physique is your artistic craft and in front of the camera is where you unveil your hard work.  Take pride in yourself and maintain the highest level of professionalism all day long - except nothing less from yourself.  You are being paid to not only look good, but also to perform well too.  What is your level of physical conditioning?  Be FIT: Be prepared to shoot a 10 hour day, get 4 hours of sleep, and come back and do it again with another 7 AM call-time.  In my mind I’m not just a fitness-talent, I’m a well-conditioned athlete and nobody is going to outlast me on set, or we’ll at least have fun trying!  If you do not love fitness and exercising, perhaps you should reconsider your chosen area of talent.  Soap Operas might be a better place for youJ
                Lastly, when the production is done, say your “thank-yous” and goodbyes, pass out your comp cards, collect their business cards, and then when you get home, send another ‘thank-you’ note via email.  Also, if you booked the job directly, you will need to officially invoice the production company based on the agreed rate.  You will also need to fill out a W-9 for tax purposes.  They will have 30 days to pay upon receipt of your invoice.  If they don’t pay, without an agency you are on your own!  (My agency once went to small-claims court on my behalf to get us paid!)  This should go without saying, but if it is your agency that is not paying you, (within 60 days), fire them!  Network with the other talent as they can be a great referral source – again the fitness industry is not that big.  If you bumping egos with the other talent on set, something is wrong…is it you??  The production company is in no way obligated to supply you with tear-sheets or any other media with your image, or even tell you when or where the infomercial will air.  However if you were professional and likeable and you politely keep in touch, then they will be more likely to share this information with you or send you any images, candid or commercial, not to mention book you again or even refer you!
But ENJOY your moment in the spotlight! If you show up prepared, remain professional & do the job you were booked to do, by the end of the 12 hour day you will be a true STAR and might get direct-booked next time!

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