9 Things to Expect at Press Junkets
The Press Junket is sometimes a surreal experience, mostly boring, but it is a necessary evil that keeps the ginormous bullet train that is Hollywood chugging along. Actors talk, and journalists nod and report. You see, writers who are members of the press (online, print and TV) like to think they hold most of the power when it comes to determining the success of a movie or a television show. And for the most part, they’re right. The written word is a weapon they use that either makes or breaks a project. especially those involved in it. These writers are an alert bunch; mention something in passing, and they will publish it for all to see and read — usually in an entirely different context.
Over a year ago I wrote a blog about my first experiences at a press junket. Now, having made my rounds in the circuit for various websites and magazines throughout the past two years, I feel as if I’ve been exposed to a fair amount of the shenanigans and politics that exist during roundtable interviews and press conferences. A seasoned pro I am not, but I do find myself becoming well acquainted with the privilege of sitting across tables from various actors, writers, and directors while they try to sell me their big-budgeted product.
Therefore, I present to you nine things I’ve picked up on while navigating the celeb-filled waters of these promotional gatherings. Here’s a glimpse at what goes on…
1. The Criticism – Journalists and bloggers love sharing with each other their opinions on the movies they’ve privately screened for free. Happy Feet Two? Contrived and silly. Arthur Christmas, surprisingly touching and fun. Before any actor or publicist walks into a room, writers will discreetly exchange critiques on the movie at hand. Reviews will range from the glowing “I loved it” to the middle-of-the-road “I thought it was okay” to the downright “God, what a mess.” Occasionally you’ll get a writer who will go on and on about a film when no one’s really asked for it (another thing about writers and critics: they think what they say is the word of God). I’ve had the pleasure of befriending a local writer who is the hardest-to-please filmgoer I have ever met. Rarely entertained, she has a penchant for hating 99% of the films in theaters. Part of her condescending and bitter attitude may be rooted in her frustrated attempts to get her own script produced, but I think she is fabulous nonetheless.
2. The Off-Limits Question – Before interviews begin, a publicist will sometimes pop into a room and request that we strictly stick to questions pertaining to the film. No personal questions, especially when costars have been rumored to be dating off screen — ahem, Rachel McAdams and Michael Sheen from Midnight in Paris. During the junket for last year’s Immortals, we were told not to ask Mickey Rourke about his experience working with a green screen on set (I’m guessing they didn’t get along very well). Perhaps it would’ve triggered the actor to go off on some disdainful diatribe about the discomforts of special effects.
3. The Manic Publicist – Publicists are an interesting species of the Hollywood player. If they’re not complaining about the “fucked-up” restrictions on the hotel’s parking validations, they’re declaring their love for someone else’s client…or letting it be known that they can’t try the chocolate cheesecake because “Cabo’s in one week”…or telling a story about their night at Katsuya with the cast of Dexter…or raving about Ryan Gosling’s newest indie…or constantly (and bitterly) texting other members of their “team” who are working the Toronto Film Festival…or Cannes…or Sundance.
4. The Repeated Question – This usually happens when a reporter is so self-involved, he or she fails to remain tuned in with the rest of the group and ends up asking a question that has already been answered. If an actor or director is gracious enough, he or she will repeat their answer without comment. Meanwhile, watch for an eye roll from the person who had asked the original question.
5. The Foreign Journalist – Usually there will be a writer from an international media outlet whose accent is so thick, it’s hard to understand his/her question. Kudos to the experienced actors who are well-traveled enough to decipher the question and answer it. The Foreign Journalist also tends to lack any tact when inquiring about an actor’s love life. He or she also doesn’t know the definition of “spoiler alert”; during the press conference for Scream 4, an Italian reporter asked (SPOILER ALERT) Emma Roberts how she felt when she read the script and learned that she was the killer. Had I been one of the writers who had yet to screen the movie, I would have been piiiiiiissed.
6. The Indifferent Celebrity – He is the actor who could care less about sitting in a room with a bunch of reporters to promote his work (case in point: Alex Pettyfer in the horrid Beastly). He doesn’t want to be there. To him, acting is all about the craft, not about the bullshit attempts to shove a movie down the throats of people who probably don’t care about it to begin with. And if a junket is for print and online media only (i.e. no TV cameras), said actor will see it as a chance to come dressed in his disheveled best (wrinkled tee and ripped jeans, topped off with a case of bed head). In other words, not all celebs show up well-coiffed and well-groomed, especially if it’s just them and room full of tape recorders. Can’t say I blame them. However, I still subscribe to the saying: Good clothes open all doors.
7. The Catered Meals – They don’t suck. If you’re looking for an awesome cup of coffee and some tasty beef sliders, get yourself assigned to a junket at The Four Seasons in Beverly Hills.
8. The Self-Congratulatory Sentiments – When you get two actors paired together at a roundtable, the compliments they pay one another are inevitable. Each does their best to be humble when the other proclaims what a joy it was to work together on such a “special” (i.e. pretentious and self-important), “fun” (i.e. did it for the paycheck), or “exciting” (i.e. got a free trip to Europe) project.
9. The Dumb Question/The Time Filler – I admit I’ve been guilty of asking these. These are usually asked whenever a lesser-known actor (usually with a small role in the film) is left in a room with journalists and the publicist is nowhere to be seen. Before any awkward silence settles in, the most skilled reporter will jump in with a lame question to keep things moving along. It’s even more uncomfortable when you can tell the actor realizes time is being filled while everyone waits for the more exciting star to show up. “So, where did you grow up?” “Did you catch last night’s Honey Boo Boo?” “How do you do to get in the head space of your character, who’s only on screen for three scenes?”
All of this begs the question: Why hasn’t a reporter written a juicy expose on what goes on behind closed doors at these press events? If someone has, please direct me to the proper articles or books I may have missed. I know the Julia Roberts-John Cusack film, America’s Sweethearts, attempted to poke fun at press junkets back in 2001, but I’m waiting for the day someone spins a satire on the concept. What about a one-act play centered on seven opinionated journalists trapped in a hotel suite together, clashing over critiques and who gets the last bottle of Voss water? (I think I just pitched myself a movie). Perhaps I’ll call it Waiting for DeNiro…
– Hiko Mitsuzuka (@TheFirstEcho)
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