What does a movie publicist do?
"A lot of things", says publicist LEONARD MORPURGO. "Basically, I blow the film's horn. As a Unit Publicist, I bring television and print media to the set. I get photos of the movie's stars in magazines and newspapers, get stories about them on television, blogs, Facebook, and Twitter. As the print world disappears, these outlets become increasingly important. I soothe nervous actors, calm bristly egos, buffer the often competing interests and suspicions of stars, directors, producers, and studios. And I write."
What do you write?
"I do press releases, biographies of the stars, the director, the producer, for the press-kit - and a synopsis of the movie's plot, all so that journalists and critics have a background for their articles. And I record for the ages those gossipy bits that everyone loves - those that are publishable!" The work is intense, exhausting, and very frequently a great deal of fun. "The publicist has a ringside seat at most of the aspects of movie-making and promoting, as well as an upfront look at all the personalities and dramas involved." Travel to far-off locations is often part of the job "and there, you really see the stars up close!"
What qualifies the publicist?
"A degree and/or experience in journalism, communications, or marketing helps. But the publicist may be simply a literate human being with imagination, drive, and a significant degree of organization and diplomatic skills."
The Studio Publicist, Morpurgo explains, "unlike the free-lance Unit Publicist who works film to film, is a full-time studio employee." Among other duties, the Studio Publicist sets up film-screenings for press and television reporters, creates web-sites for films, and corrals those all-important celebrities to appear at premieres. "Which of course further publicizes both the movie and the celebrity."
Who are some of these publicists, how did they start, and what stories do they tell?
Leonard Morpurgo began his career as a journalist in England, and soon landed a job as a press release writer for a British film distribution company. "I was promoted to 'press officer' (publicity director) after my boss was found lying in a drunken stupor on his living room floor. Since then, I've had a close-up seat at all kinds of small dramas and comedies.
Once I was working as a Unit Publicist on a movie starring Gene Hackman and another well-known actor - Target. The two stars didn't get on too well. After four months shooting in Paris, Hamburg, and Corpus Christi, Texas, I'd still failed to get the two men grinning chummily together for the obligatory 'best buddies' photo. It was near wrap. I had only two days left. I was desperate.
'How can I do it?'" Hackman demanded. "'I don't like him!'
'Gene, you're an actor. A great actor. Act.'"
They got the shot.
Then there was the movie Leaving Las Vegas with Nicholas Cage. "Cage portrayed an alcoholic - he actually had a 'drinking coach' to teach him how! Nicholas was doing magnificently until, for a climactic scene, his coach insisted he hang one on for real. Cage agreed. From the moment he got out of bed the next morning until the start of shooting that afternoon, he drank. On the first scene, a dash through a Casino, he knocked over a waitress. He was supposed to do that. In the second scene, he knocked over a blackjack table, broke it, and cut his hand. He was not supposed to do that! But it hadn't been a total loss. That was the movie he got an Oscar for!"
CAROL GREEN has a ream of stories.
"In my twenty-plus years on set", Carol laughs, "I've dealt with some not so 'press worthy' situations where quick thinking was necessary to avoid embarrassment and minimize damage. These are often hilarious - but only in the aftermath of sheer panic!"
"Well - one time, while waltzing an important journalist through the set of a major television production, I spotted our seriously agitated lead actor smash his fist into a wall with such power that he actually broke his hand! While the paramedics rushed in behind us, I managed to pull our guest into an adjacent rose garden, praising the talent of our Greens Department so loudly that the reporter missed all the off-screen-on-set drama, - which would have made a great cover story for her - but definitely not for us."
Then, Carol laughs, "there was the time shooting in Miami Beach when two actors lost it. They just lost it. Hate had been brewing since day one. By the time Access Hollywood arrived on set, the two were at full throttle, mano a mano, in a fistfight. The crew's drivers jumped in to break it up - while I quickly herded the Access group to a down-the-street espresso bar where I vigorously extolled the delights of late afternoon iced latte.
Meanwhile, back on the set, as one of the actors climbed into the van headed to the hospital for post-altercation repair, he managed to add injury to injury by clipping himself on the forehead as he whipped open the van door. Another couple of stitches! Not good. But Access missed it all. And the lattes", she laughs, "were great. My treat."
These are war stories!
"Here's another", Carol says, "a personal favorite. It involves Jack Nicholson. We were shooting Blood and Wine at a private home in Miami Beach where the expensive mansion was just perfect for our needs - including a well-appointed yacht docked out back. On the first day of production, about forty-five minutes before we were to get our first shot, I got a 911 from a very nervous executive producer.
Seems that although the set was plastered with warning signs to respect the residents' privacy and not leave the clearly demarked set area, some unknown person had violated this strict policy. The owners were up in arms, threatening to shut down production. I was recruited to save the day - placate the residents and convince them not to kick us out. Because if we lost this location, a new location would have been far too costly for our budget. The whole film would have gone down in flames.
After conferring with the producer to get the full skinny on things, I was ushered into the den where the distraught homeowner and his decidedly younger Puerto Rican trophy wife were just this side of hysterical. Nevertheless he managed to offer me a seven a.m. scotch - while his wife collapsed across the couch sobbing quietly - intermittently mopping her tears on the fur of a miniscule Chihuahua draped around her neck.
'Oh dear. What's the matter?
'Ralph Lauren is dead.'
'Ralph Lauren is dead?'
'Si. Dio mio', she sobbed.
I was shocked. What a talented man, I thought, and so young!
"In actuality", Carol explains, "the tragedy had nothing to do with the famous fashion designer at all. Turns out, the lady of the house owned five Chihuahuas - all named after iconic designers: Valentino, Coco Chanel, Armani, Versace, and the just dearly-departed Ralph Lauren. Topping that, however, was the unfortunate little incident I'd been called in to handle. It seems the mourning wife was resting in the nude when someone from our production blundered into her boudoir unannounced. She was mortified; her husband was enraged."
Carol began her investigation. As luck would have it, the intruder was none other than Jack Nicholson himself.
"Oh, happy day! Offering the company's condolences for the loss of Ralph and our apologies for the lady's embarrassment in her bedroom, we pointed out our star's reputation as a world famous connoisseur of beautiful women. After all, who better than Jack to appreciate a body so gorgeous it needed no clothes? Her husband was indeed a very lucky man!"
Make note, Carol directs. "Flattery is a great tool in a circumstance like this. Over the next week, we bundled that line together with a hand-in-hand awed tour of the glitzy house by Jack and the lady in question, a reverent visit to Ralph's final resting place, and a glamorous role for Madame as an extra in the yacht scene - all interwoven with the reminder that the couple could dine out on the story for the rest of their lives." As a result, the production was finally given permission to remain. "It's one of those odd little behind-the-scenes events you never hear about", Carol reminds, but "don't you wish you did?
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