I grew up watching Star Trek: The Next Generation. Some of my fondest childhood memories involve being sat cross-legged before a cathode ray tube, where I’d watch Picard and the crew save the galaxy from Borg and Romulan hordes. It was—and remains—my favorite TV show. Two decades later, I met my wife.
You share a lot in marriage, and one thing I passed on was my love of all things Roddenberry. As a clinical social worker, my wife developed something of an affinity for the character of Counsellor Troi, who is portrayed by the British actress Marina Sirtis. And so, when her birthday came up, I didn’t hesitate to spend nearly $100 on a personalized video greeting from Sirtis, using the website Cameo.
Celebrity on Tap
The Internet has made celebrity (and celebrities) more accessible than ever, thanks to sites like Facebook and Twitter. Cameo feels like the logical conclusion to that trend, allowing anyone to commission a short message from those celebrities and athletes they most admire.
This opens a window to a world that was previously closed off to those working beyond the limits of showbiz. And Cameo feels particularly relevant within the context of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. With theatrical and TV releases on hold, and musicians facing canceled tours, these videos have become yet another part of the entertainment business model.
Since it launched in 2017, the site has amassed a veritable army of actors, musicians, athletes, and online celebrities. The lineup includes NBA icon Dennis Rodman, Shark Tank panelist Kevin O’Leary, and even the Insane Clown Posse, who need no introduction.
For performers and entertainers, the site offers yet another way to monetize their fame. This is particularly helpful for those whose star may have waned some time ago, or are otherwise working in sectors of the entertainment industry that have struggled to adapt to the 21st century. With CD sales at an all-time rock bottom, and streaming royalties failing to fill the gap, these short personalized messages can help keep artists remain financially afloat.
And some are doing better than just “afloat.” In an interview with NPR’s The Indicator podcast, comedian Gilbert Gottfried claims he can easily make $1,000 in a single day, for what amounts to less than an hour’s worth of work. And that’s taking into account Cameo’s 25 percent cut.
Perhaps surprisingly, Cameo also boasts a stable of political figures, including former Trump Administration advisor Sebastian Gorka, one-time White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, and a smattering of Trump and Obama impersonators.
To be listed on Cameo, individuals must have a measure of notability. They can set their own prices, with some videos costing just $1, with others measuring in thousands. A video from Caitlyn Jenner, for example, costs $2,500.
Creating Your Own Cameos
It’s extremely straightforward to commission your own custom celebrity shoutout. The platform works much like any e-commerce site. You select the performer from a catalog and pay your fee.
The only real “curveball” is you’ve got to tell the performer what you want from your video. Here, it helps to be specific—particularly given you’ve only got a limited number of characters to make your request. 250, to be precise. Of course, given your video will last be less than a minute, you don’t really need to write an opus.
Your request then gets sent to the performer. Performers have the right to refuse a request, upon which your money gets refunded. If you’ve paid with credits, you can re-use them to make another video.
It might take several days for a performer to create your video. Once they’ve uploaded it, you’ll get an email notification. You can also download it to share elsewhere, like Facebook or Twitter.
New: Zoom Calls With Celebrities
Starting June 15, 2020, Cameo is for more than just video messages. You can now book 10-minute Zoom calls with celebrities.
These calls can cost up to $15,000—the celebrities set the rates. At launch, actor Jeremy Piven charged $15,000 for 10 minutes. Not everyone charges so much, though—comedian Gilbert Gottfried charges just $150.
Interestingly, you can also use Cameo to commission celebrities to endorse your product. For obvious reasons, not all personalities are willing to do this. That said, many are. The list includes Jordan “Wolf of Wall Street” Belfort, Motley Crue’s Tommy Lee, and Gary Busey.
Promotional videos come with their own rules. You can’t edit them. You can’t remove the watermark. And you can only use them for three months after their creation. After that point, you need to negotiate with Cameo to extend your rights to the footage.
Cameo also limits where you can use them: namely, for social media and company websites. You can’t, for example, commission a promotional Cameo and then use it as a TV advert.
More Than Just a Shoutout
Cameo has allowed personalities to continue making money during a seriously challenging period when most in-person performances are canceled and TV and film productions are on hold. And, for the general public, it’s created a new category of gift that’s fundamentally unique and personalized.
Some, like Gilbert Gottfried, admit they worry about the concept of celebrity being devalued by the site.
“Like, years ago, people couldn’t get in touch with Humphrey Bogart and say, hey, we thought Casablanca sucked,” said Gilbert in his Planet Money interview.
However, while the entertainment industry remains in a state of turmoil, services like Cameo will remain vitally important.