By FRANK SWERTLOW
Movies are too expensive to make.
Costs have got to come down.
It's the constant refrain in Hollywood these days, as studios and production companies say they're desperately looking for ways to save a buck or two including taking their business overseas.
Yet when Arnold Schwarzenegger, still one of Hollywood's highest-paid actors, shot "End of Days" for Universal Pictures earlier this year, his personal hairdresser got $52,000 and his makeup artist got $50,000.
Ah-nold didn't have to pay a dime of it.
And he's not alone.
When it comes to the eye-popping salaries paid to "above-the-line" talent and the lavish perks that usually go with them the sky remains the limit.
In fact, the so-called "perk package" an odd assortment of goodies that includes private jets, personal trainers, makeup artists, hairstylists, publicists, secretaries, chefs, drivers and even the custom-made clothes a star wears during filming is often a key part of contract negotiations by agents and managers. It can often add up to millions of dollars in additional production expenses.
"People love getting things for free," said one talent agent. "It's the fun part of the business."
Even as studios cut back on production costs, no one is touching the perk packages. No one dares. Too many deals hinge on them, now and in the future.
"If you are in the entertainment business, you have to attract talent, and there is a short supply of highly talented stars and directors," said Frank Price, the former chairman of Columbia Pictures. "In order to be in business, you have to have hits. These are the people who generate the hits on a regular basis. If you are the one who doesn't give gifts, you become known as Scrooge. You can be penny-wise and pound-foolish."
Producers privately acknowledge that paying for perks may seem inconsistent with the current cost-cutting in Hollywood, but it's the price of doing business. (No studio executive wanted to comment on the record for this story.)
"You are dealing with people, stars, who are very insecure, and it is important for their egos and an affirmation of their star status to give these perks," said an agent and former studio executive. "Fame, fortune and success are fleeting. These perks are reminders about how important a movie star is. So you give them a private jet or a bigger trailer than anyone else has."
Thus, to keep stars happy and more important, to keep them working at a specific studio or network instead of bolting to a rival perks are willingly paid.
When John Travolta makes a movie, for example, he gets to hang out in a custom-outfitted trailer stocked with whatever comforts and nourishment he wants. The studio or production company making his film picks up the tab.
After completing "The Firm," Tom Cruise was given not only a multimillion-dollar salary, but a Mercedes convertible. Warner Bros. gave another bankable star, Mel Gibson, the keys to his own Ranger Rover after he completed "Lethal Weapon IV." Among actresses, Julia Roberts is routinely showered with gifts.
"In the overall scheme of things, this is petty cash," Price said.
But in the pecking order of Hollywood, it's generally limited to the most bankable stars some of them making upwards of $20 million per picture.
"We've become such a star-driven business that this small group can get whatever they want," said another movie producer and former studio head. "What's sad is that 10 years ago, if a star was receiving a few million dollars and asked for something else, there would be a big battle. A business affairs executive called me up, and this should be the toughest negotiator, and he said, 'The good news is that the perk package is only $1.2 million.' Only $1.2 million!"
How high can perks go? The question is like drawing a line in the sand it constantly moves, but usually north rather than south. One of the biggest perks is the use of a corporate jet or leasing a private jet, which could cost as much as $25,000 for a cross-country flight.
Today, private trainers are common, as are hairstylists, makeup artists and secretaries. Housing has become important on location. Apartments and private homes are leased during a long shoot to make a star comfortable and in a good mood.
Chefs are a new addition. Some stars have enough clout to get a studio to put their entire staff on salaries.
Wooing top stars has become so institutionalized that studios, networks and production companies hire firms like Star Treatment Gifts Inc. to buy gifts for actors, directors and producers.
"We are the perk company," said Diane Lerner, a co-owner of the three-year-old business. "The studios don't have time to shop and wrap."
The gift-giving usually begins at the start of principal photography. But it extends to birthdays, births, anniversaries, holidays and even to house-warming presents.
Jack Nicholson got a Lalique ashtray for his cigars when he was nominated for best actor in "As Good As It Gets." Albert Brooks, who was making "The Muse" for USA Films, received a leather CD case with a selection of piano CDs for his birthday.
While Lerner would not reveal revenues, she said the business has increased every year since the company opened. There are times when she has seen studios and production companies slow down their buying, but it usually picks up after the dry spell.
"Talent is the reason why people go to the movies," she said. "The studios have to cater to the stars."
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