My latest round of video interviews brought some questions from folks on the message boards about how the video interview process works. I thought that this makes for a great time to pull back the curtain a little bit and explain how all of these celebrity interactions and interviews happen. I want to take you behind the scenes of the Junket Circuit.
Some background: junkets are almost always held in hotels. There are a few places where they tend to be; for instance, during my time in LA I’ve spent more time inside the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills than I have in any other structure except for my home. The studio/publicity agency will book entire floors of the hotel. One suite will serve as hospitality for the press, and that’s where you check in, get parking validated, eat food (the spreads vary from hotel to hotel. After a while you go to these places enough that you get to know the food. I could pick out a Four Seasons breakfast in my sleep. The Regency in New York has amazing chocolate chip cookies) and wait around. Depending on the budget the food spread can be cheap – make your own sandwiches – or fancy – I’ve been served omelets made by an omelet chef. Sometimes you’ll get movie appropriate food. Fish and chips for an English film, burgers for an Apatow film.
The hospitality suite is filled with publicists talking on walkie talkies. The majority of them are attractive women or gay men (there are some notable exceptions, many of whom will email me after this, but it seems that the vast majority of men doing movie publicity in New York and LA are quite gay. I don’t know why that is). Some of the publicists are great fun to hang out with and some can barely conceal their disgust with the onliners. Many of the publicists seem to think that this job is just a stepping stone. There can be high turnover in this world.
The hospitality suite will have a TV or two playing the EPK, the electronic press kit. If you have to wait around in the suite for a while, these will surely drive you mad. You get trailers, commercials, clips and then talking head interviews done on set. Indie movies probably won’t have this, and you’ll get a TV tuned to CNN or something in those cases.
This suite is the journalist’s jumping off point for a number of different kinds of interviews.
Press conferences are the lowest form of interview, in my opinion. They work just like you see them in movies – talent up front in a large room, rows of chairs in front of them filled with hard working stiffs like yours truly. Some press conferences are well ordered and there’s a mic that gets passed around, while some are just people shouting at the talent. I’ve been seeing less and less of these in recent years.
Press conferences are awful for a number of reasons. You’re getting the least unique content, first of all. If there are 50 people in the room, all 50 are getting the same quotes I’m getting. Press conferences are the home turf of the celeb bullshit outlet; at the Australia junket I was boned out of getting a question in by a woman who drilled Hugh Jackman on his workout routine. As that anecdote illustrates, getting a question in during a press conference can be tough as well. Here in LA there’s a group of mic-hogging lowlifes who tend to muscle their way into everything. And forget about asking a follow-up question.
At the end of the press conference everybody swarms the talent for quick last second questions and, in the case of the unprofessional, autographs. Press conferences are horrible, and they’re becoming more and more prevalent (some studios ONLY do press conferences, eschewing roundtables altogether) and although they’re also doing smaller press conferences, the problem remains the same – everybody gets the same shit and there’s zero depth to anything.
One of the greatest dangers of a press conference is that they may be only good in the room. Most of the people at press conferences are actors, and they’re natural performers, so they’ll try to perform for the room. A joke that works in the room may be flat in print, and worse than that can be a case where a multiple person press conference turns into a riff fest. That’s fun to sit through, but has no value outside of the room.
Press conferences are usually only one part of a junket. After the press conference the talent will go off to their own areas to conduct one on ones.
Roundtables are pretty bad too. In fact, I’ve mostly quit them. A roundtable is what it sounds like – a round table with usually around 8 but sometimes many, many more (or less, depending on how famous the interviewee is and how big the movie is) journalists. This table is set up in a hotel room; the bed will have been removed but the headboard is still attached to the wall. Roundtables go from 15 to 30 minutes, although I’ve been in some as short as 8 minutes (really famous people tend to blow through, and as the day goes long and everybody gets late they also truncate tables) and some as long as 45 minutes. That one was with a very nice actor who was very not famous and we ran out of stuff to ask him 20 minutes in. We spent almost a half hour bullshitting about the news and sports.
Roundtables offer their own annoyances to a person like me. There are three kinds of roundtable journalists: the good, the bad and the silent. The good are usually my friends (hey, I gravitate to the best), and they tend to be intelligent, have good questions and may even have done some research. The bad are the jerks who hog the table, not letting anyone get a question in edgewise (you just ask your questions at a table. There’s no hand raising or mic passing. You have to be a little aggressive, but being too aggressive is bad). They also ask dumb questions. Dumb questions are embarrassing but they can also poison a table. I’ve seen many actors turn off when they sit down and have a stupid, overly personal question lobbed at them first thing.
The silent may be the worst, though. They sit there quietly, letting everybody else do all the question asking. Then they go home and post the interview before those who asked the questions can. I don’t give a shit when the silent types are college journalists or foreign nationals, but there are many internet journalists who sit quietly, stealing my work. Why they don’t stay home and just copy and paste my interview I’ll never know. Probably because they wanted to meet the talent.
You go to a roundtable room and stay there, and the talent cycles in and out to talk to you. Roundtables are very social for me – there’s often lots of waiting (none of these things ever starts on time) and sometimes we have down tables – a 15-30 spot where no one comes to talk to us. You make friends doing this.
For whatever reason the best roundtables I’ve ever had were in New York City. I started doing this stuff a long time ago, and I remember when online was put in a ghetto with college papers so that we wouldn’t bother the interns from Entertainment Weekly and People (they send these people just to get quick pull quotes that they can sprinkle around a story). Roundtables are a team sport – you set up a question and I nail the follow-up – and in New York we had that down pat. I’ve found less of that in LA, and I’ve found the average IQ of the round tabler to be lower. There are some proper retards doing this job.
One on ones are the holy print grail (at junkets. If you’re doing a feature or are a bigger outlet, you’ll get to go to a meal with the talent. This kind of a long conversation is wonderful because it really lets you get into it with someone. They’re rare for CHUD, though). You get 10 to 15 minutes with the talent alone in a hotel room. This is what I prefer, and these days if I can’t get one on ones (1:1s) I may skip a junket. You can have a conversation in a 1:1, getting to know the person a little and not having to just blurt a series of questions. 1:1s are not great for soundbites, but are good for features or longform Q&As.
1:1s usually happen after the roundtables, and you’ll go wait in the hospitality suite between your interviews. Sometimes if you’re trying to make the rest of the journalists think you’re cool you’ll tell the talent at the roundtable ‘I’ll be talking to you some more later!’ I do that once in a while. It makes me kind of a douche.
Phoners are 1:1s done on the phone.
TV spots are the new holy grail for online. The TV interviews usually happen on a different day than print. On print days the male celebs show up dressed down while the female show up only mildly done up. On TV days everybody looks their best and has stylists and make-up artists with them.
Each interviewee has their own hotel room which has been turned into a mini-studio. There are big, hot lights and black curtains. There will be something in the background – a poster or a display or something with the name of the movie. You’ve seen that enough. There are two cameras set up – one on the interviewer, one on the talent. The one on the talent is usually fairly tight, not going much below the chest. The one on the interviewer shows what a fat schlub he is from head to toe.
The TV room will have cameramen, recording on Beta tapes, a studio publicist whose job is to tell you when you have two minutes left, one minute left and ‘wrap it the fuck up’. They do that with finger signals. And then there’s usually a personal publicist for the talent, and maybe a mysterious extra person.
These rooms are tight and airless. I pity the talent that sits in them all day, answering inane questions. At least they get to stretch their legs walking from roundtable to roundtable. In TV the journalists come to the talent, and they are just imprisoned there.
The journalists travel in what I swear to god are called pods. Two or three of us will be lined up to go into a room at any time. We’re ‘on deck.’ The idea is that if there are three people to interview the pod will have three journalists, and as I come out of one room, the guy behind me goes in. Everything runs late, though, and sometimes the pod structure breaks down altogether.
Sometimes you’ll also get to do stand-ups, which where you stand in front of some bullshit and introduce your interviews. At the junket for The Dark Knight TV press did stand-ups in front of the Batmobile, which was parked behind the hotel. I often volunteer to do stand-ups and then so thoroughly humiliate myself on camera that I just throw the tape away.
I hate TV interviews. I mean, you get face time with the talent, but just three to four minutes. There’s someone always reminding you how little time you have, and there’s no way to get anything of substance discussed in that short a period of time. I’m still not sold on how great they are, but they are easier for me – I don’t have to transcribe anything! And some publicists are cool and will give me a TV spot and a print 1:1 for some folks (I usually like to do that with directors). I’m actually OK doing TV with actors – they rarely have anything interesting to say anyway (one big exception: I did TV with Jaime King today. She’s a pretty smart woman and an honest to God nerd, so I wouldn’t have minded getting more time with her).
There’s a central room where all of your tapes are checked, and then they’re given to you at the end of the day. I ship them out to Jeremy Butler in Tyler, Texas. I wonder if it’s cheaper to get them turned electronic locally and then send the files to Jeremy for editing – remind me to look into that. Jeremy does a great job turning them into flash files and editing them into something watchable.
Red carpets are the interviews I have done the least. You stand behind a rope on a red carpet and celebrities walk past you; if you’re lucky/well known/have a friendship with the publicist they stop and talk to you. They’re on their way to an event – an awards show, screening, something like that – so it’s a brief conversation. It’s very similar to a TV spot in that you can’t go in-depth and just get soundbites. Many of my colleagues like red carpets as ways of getting talent who are not promoting things right now but have a project coming up. I know guys who will do a whole night of nonsense red carpet just to ask an actor about an upcoming comic book movie.
Red carpets aren’t really junkets, but they’re similar. You never see a red carpet at junket, only at events.
Finally, some junkets have swag. Big movies may have big swag – I got toys, books and other junk at the Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers junket that I estimated to be worth over 200 bucks. Today I got a pick-axe shaped keychain bottle opener from My Bloody Valentine 3D. You get a lot of hats and shirts and tie in books and soundtracks. A whole bunch of junk, in other words. Back in the day they gave serious shit away at junkets: watches and fancy attire. Probably the most legendary junket swag in my lifetime (and I didn’t do this junket) was a free roundtrip ticket on Ted Airlines. I think that was for Beyond the Sea.
There are some ethical considerations about swag, but I tend to think that if my opinion on a movie can be swayed by a t-shirt I’m a shitty critic in the first place. Now, my opinion on a movie may be swayed by a very good food spread…