On a recent podcast, Craig and I discussed press junkets from the screenwriter’s perspective.
Tim from London wrote in to offer the view from the other side of the roundtable.
I’ve been working as a producer in the UK for the past 15 years, the last nine of which have been spent making various film-themed shows for a major TV broadcaster. A lot of these shows (be they weekly review-based programmes, or promotional specials focused on individual films or documentaries) are based around on and off-screen talent discussing their films, and so the majority of original material is gleaned from junkets.
Apologies to both John and Craig but unfortunately our paths have never crossed in the junket room — although Big Fish was one of my first junket experiences, followed a couple of years later by Scary Movie 4.
Junkets are an incredibly strange phenomenon, and the horror stories from the corridors of The Dorchester, The Four Seasons and The Hotel Du Cap are legendary. There’s definitely a movie to be made there somewhere — although both America’s Sweethearts and Notting Hill absolutely nail aspects of the experience.
The thing that has struck me more than anything is how few screenwriters seem to be invited to participate. I would estimate that less than 1 in 10, maybe even 1 in 20 junkets that I’ve attended has included the writer.
From my experience, I get the impression that writers tend to be involved in junkets when they themselves offer some kind of unique story the studio knows they can use to sell the movie. Examples include films like Juno or The Social Network where, at least in publicity terms, the writers could be seen as “the star” or “the story” in some circles.
Other than these two examples, I’m struggling to think of too many other occasions when the writer has played a significant role in a junket that I’ve attended. There are plenty of times when writers are made available for interview, but really only when it’s either a very big or very small film.
The behind-the-scenes folk tend to get forgotten — quite literally in some cases. I’ve seen interviewers not even bother taking interview tapes from directors, producers and writers from a junket. (I’ve always found this to be pretty reprehensible behaviour). I honestly think the reason for this is that very few of the outlets are specifically aiming at a film enthusiast audience or readership. They want the stars.
The upcoming James Bond movie, Skyfall, will be a great example of this. I can pretty much guarantee that the attending press will consist of no more than five percent representing movie-orientated publications or shows. The vast majority will come from news, lifestyle, gossip and celebrity type outlets whose main purpose will be to get their host seen on screen with Daniel Craig. Whether anything of interest is actually discussed is pretty much secondary to their show/newspaper/magazine featuring a big movie star.
I have no real problem with this, as it’s clearly the way the film companies are choosing to sell their product.
The more specialised nature of internet coverage is changing things, but it seems to be a very slow process. I don’t think the studios have been as proactive as they could be in embracing the opportunities that online provides for publicising a movie, as opposed to simply marketing it. To my mind it makes much more sense to utilise a writer or director’s publicity schedule by placing them with more filmmaker-friendly outlets.
For all the great work writers do to make a movie happen, let’s face it, they’re not getting a lot of airtime on E!, so why not use that junket day for something more direct and something more effective?
Personally, I always find it fun to interview writers, because they rarely seem to be caught up in the crazy hoopla of either making or selling the movie. It’s an opportunity to talk about the plot and the characters of a film without the conversation feeling like a sales pitch or a soapbox. More often than not, it feels like they’re just enjoying the culmination of the work that they were responsible for starting and are genuinely looking forward to seeing what the audience will make of the finished film.
Either that, or they’re just very good at faking it.