Those “Awkward” Celebrity Interviews, and Why Movie Junkets Are The Worst

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I have to tell you, it’s been a rough few days to be a film writer with this name. Here’s why: last Thursday, disc jockeys Steven J. “Southside Steve” Rickman and Jason Bailey (and I can’t stress this enough: no relation!) of Atlanta’s “Rock 100.5 Morning Show” conducted an interview with Fantastic Four cast members Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, and Jamie Bell. Afterwards, their show account tweeted, “it got a little awkward.” The video of that interview went viral, and their snickering “awkward” has since been widely replaced by “sexist,” “racist,” and “generally gross.” However, that video had to fight for bandwidth and attention with another train-wreck movie junket interview that went viral a couple of days earlier, in which Paper Towns actress Cara Delevigne couldn’t quite hide her contempt for a gaggle of moron morning show hosts in Sacramento. It’s a trend! And it’s a trend that comes as a direct result of the genuinely stupid way big movies are promoted.

Here’s how these interviews work, for those of you who haven’t seen Notting Hill: a studio (or PR agency) with a movie to promote takes over a suite of hotel rooms, or a television studio, or some such home base for a day or period of days. They plant their star, director, or whomever in a chair, and then, for hours or days, they conduct a series of tightly scheduled interviews, one right after the other, in person or via satellite. The duration of the interview varies, based on the demand of the interviewee and the importance of the interviewer; sometimes, the slot lasts as long as 20 minutes, but it’s often 15, ten, or even just five (and, as we see here, even less if it goes badly).

To be crystal clear on this point (which I’ve made before), these interviews are worthless. The unspoken but understood expectation is that you’ll discuss the movie they’re all there to promote, and with so little time to talk about it, all the interviewers end up asking the same stupid questions, and the interview subjects end up reciting the same stupid answers. (A couple of years back, Mila Kunis memorably clarified this point by rattling them off rapidly, just to get that part out of the way, in a goofily awkward interview that also went viral.) Every film journalist would like to be Terry Gross or Charlie Rose, allowed to spend an hour or two exploring a career and delving deep in to the challenges of the new work; instead, we all end up being Gene Shalit.

No one — save for the occasional starfucker junketeer who enjoys being in the same room as a famous person (and trust me, they’re out there) — enjoys any of this, or benefits from it. The interviewer just gets the same sound bites every one else is getting, often word for word; the star is bored out of their skull (“I can hardly keep my mind on this interview,” groused Bruce Willis, in yet another widely disseminated junket gone awry), so you can hardly blame Cara Delevigne (or “Carla,” as the Good Day Sacramento hosts dubbed her) for engaging in a bit of dry sarcasm to entertain herself. The only winners in these things are the studios, who get free publicity, and the PR agency/departments, who get hired to put together more of this garbage.

And here’s the worst part: when interviews like these go off the rails, the studio still wins. The initial benefit of such micro-interviews is negligible; even if it’d gone well, was Delevigne’s appearance on television at 8:50 in Sacramento actually going to bolster the local box office? Yet as ugly as these stories are, every blog and news outlet that reports on that repulsive Atlanta interview is still mentioning Fantastic Four (a movie that can apparently use every bit of sympathetic publicity it can get), and the same goes for Paper Towns (and whether you’re on the “bad interviewers” or “bad interviewee” side on that clip, I think we can all agree it’s more entertaining than Paper Towns).

Even worse, they’re all mentioning the Rock 100.5 Morning Show and Good Day Sacramento as well. The third-rate Howard Sterns from Atlanta with the unfortunate name and the ponytail aren’t in any kind of trouble from their station for their racial dimness or sexual harassment (the latter reinforced by Bailey’s subsequent statement, which includes the catcalling construction worker-worthy comment, “People should be appreciative when they get complimented”); CBS in Sacramento likewise appears to be totally cool with its anchors’ condescending questions and snide after-interview insults.

The junket machine is broken. But as long as the only ones in a position to fix it are the PR people and the studios — by being more selective (seriously, did anyone screen those Atlanta guys?) and granting more time to the outlets they do select — then it’s not gonna get fixed. And that could end up biting them in the ass, because the lesson we’ve learned from these examples is that the only way to make your float in the endless, bloated movie promotion parade stand out is to be hideously terrible at your job. And once that notion takes hold, God knows how many more foot fetishists and snitty assholes will show up.