If you want to be famous, you can spend your life striving for success and acclaim.
Or you can hire a few actors.
Scott Cramton is the founder of Famous for a Day, which lets you rent any number of paparazzi and even bodyguards to make you feel special. The company, which he started in 2006, now operates in 25 cities across the U.S. While they don’t get many gigs in LA (“I think they’re kind of over it there,” Cramton says), in places like Kansas City, cars stop on the street to ogle the photographers just as much as the “star.”
“The paparazzi legitimately hounds you like you’re Kanye or a Kardashian, and you get that amazing feeling,” Cramton coos. By “paparazzi,” of course, he’s referring to four or five trained actors who show up with corded mics leading nowhere and cameras with enormous flashbulbs. They’re screaming your name, but only because you — or maybe your best friend or bridesmaid — filled out a form ahead of time, telling them where to meet you and what to shout.
Based in: Grand Rapids, Michigan
Graduated from: Grand Valley State University in Michigan, where I studied theater.
Years in the business: 10
Previous jobs: My first major job was being a mascot for in-store events at grocery stores and shopping centers for grand openings, like Cat in the Hat. Then I became a haunted house designer, which I did for seven or eight years — I had a huge passion for horror movies, and just sank my teeth into that. Now, I run several other companies along with Famous for a Day that focus on character entertainment at parties and murder mystery dinners.
What’s your typical clientele? The first group we get are bachelorette party events or birthday parties — events that tend to be geared toward females. Those are usually 30-minute or hour blocks of time done as a surprise. The other group we get are businesses that hire us to make employees feel truly special, such as making a company holiday party feel like a red carpet movie premiere. We’ve even be hired for first dates — it’s certainly memorable!
What are some of your tactics for making it seem like the real deal? Paparazzi arrive with microphones and cameras around their necks. We snap cameras with big flashbulbs — the least discreet things ever — and scream their names, which come to us via a questionnaire submitted ahead of time. Some people like the TMZ effect, so we bring out a studio camera and videotape the whole experience.
A company party is very easy, but for the club-hopping experience with a bachelorette party, we also sketch out a timeline and map a route for the limos. In smaller towns, like here in Grand Rapids, the city just buzzes, and people in the club are talking to you.
No truly famous person travels without a bodyguard, though. The most popular add-on is a bodyguard, which people will hire so they can get into clubs in New York City — and then us, the paparazzi, will get banned from the club. You can also add a publicist, who follows with a pen and tells you what to say. There’s usually someone wearing a corded mic, though it’s not necessarily clear what it’s corded into. [Laughs.] Sometimes, fake fans are even hired to rush out.
What else is asked in that questionnaire? The bridesmaid or friend answers a list of 30 to 40 different things going on in the girl’s life. We ask what they want shouted at that person — so we know to ask things like “Hey, can we see the ring?” or “When’s the big day?” but to stay away from “Is this your first marriage?” When companies hire us for an Employee of the Month, we’ll shout something like, “So, what’s next on the agenda?”
There’s a certain amount of ego involved here. Do people purchase paparazzi packages for themselves? We don’t get too many vanity requests. A lot of times, people do this as a stunt — usually, they are overwhelmed by it and can’t stop laughing. Whenever we have a few paparazzi following a person, he or she gets stopped by others on the street who are unrelated to Famous for a Day. They’ll want pictures with you and autographs, even if you’re not glammed up.
So what do the fake paparazzi say when onlookers ask “who’s that?” They always say, “Oh, you don’t know? That’s Ariana.” They’ll only use their (real) first name, since we don’t want people Googling them.
Total number of “paparazzi” you employ: Loosely, more than 1,000 trained actors, but they wear three or four different hats in jobs in some of our other companies, too.
Best part of your job: Making people feel special. I wanted to create something that you could tell people about, rather than just watch on a screen. I always wanted to be part of the theater crowd — I was born with a cleft palette, so people never thought I’d even be able to even talk on the phone — and when I started acting in plays, I realized live theater gives you the ability to interact, which movies can’t do. I thought: If I could just make people the actors. [Famous for a Day] is as close to functional magic as I’ve ever seen.
Most challenging part of your job: Explaining what Famous for a Day is.
What would people be surprised to learn about your job? The reaction of people on the street who aren’t even involved. Cars stop on busy roads, especially somewhere like Kansas City. We don’t do a lot of business in LA — I think they’re kind of over it there — but we do a ton in New York. And it’s more fun than you might imagine.
Has that led to any weird stalkers? Not really. We have had people from the street legitimately rush these people. We’ve definitely needed the bodyguards, who aren’t really bodyguards, to actually stop these people. I needed to have a hard conversation with my insurance provider that I’m selling fake bodyguards.
What it’ll set you back: The prices for our packages are typically based on the city, but in general, the A-List Package (four paparazzi, up to 30 minutes, digital photo delivery) is $500 to $600. The Superstar Package (four paparazzi, up to 60 minutes, digital photo delivery, one bodyguard) is $900 to $1,000. The Megastar Package (six paparazzi, up to 2 hours, digital photo delivery, one bodyguard, one publicist, limousine) is $3,000 to $3,200.
Has this job made you respect the paparazzi more or less? Probably a little less. It’s a hard job, but it’s made me respect celebs more. This is a wonderful experience for two or three hours, but it’s not fun when you’re at home taking out your trash. I find that repulsive and ghoulish.
Social media makes everyone think they’re a star. Do you think that has added to your company’s success? Not as much as you might think. The idea has been more popularized by Keeping Up With the Kardashians.
Have you ever hired the paparazzi for yourself? No.
When you were little, you wanted to be… A toy inventor. As I got older, I wanted to be an actor, like a Whose Line Is It Anyway? type of actor.
What else drives you? I think theater is very much a dying art. Right now, Broadway is all movies being turned into musicals, or shows starring celebrities from movies. I think that’s out of touch. We live in an era where people watch television 24/7, but it leaves them feeling hollow, so I want to immerse those people. You deserve the ability to have all the experiences of life, not just watch them on TV.
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All photos courtesy of famousforaday.co unless noted otherwise.