TALES FROM TINSELTOWN: Film production problems force unitpublicists to put on best act

Unit publicists have the enviable task of being able to pitch not a movie, but the promise and potential of a movie. Unlike studio publicists, who have to sell the steak and not the sizzle, unit publicists get to imagine the film's potential and sell it to hungry press like it was freshly baked homemade bread. But sometimes the bread fails to rise during production (you can tell when a movie's gone bad by the fourth week), and suddenly none of the bakers want to speak to the press. Or the publicist. They whisper to their assistants, "Warn me if the publicist comes this way.

Unit publicists have the enviable task of being able to pitch not a movie, but the promise and potential of a movie. Unlike studio publicists, who have to sell the steak and not the sizzle, unit publicists get to imagine the film's potential and sell it to hungry press like it was freshly baked homemade bread. But sometimes the bread fails to rise during production (you can tell when a movie's gone bad by the fourth week), and suddenly none of the bakers want to speak to the press. Or the publicist. They whisper to their assistants, "Warn me if the publicist comes this way.

I don't want to talk to him."

A publicist friend of mine, Tricia Deering, is working on the sequel to a hit sci-fi miniseries that aired on cable a few years ago. It's being shot in a new high-definition format that's supposed to revolutionize filmmaking.

The remarkable clarity and brilliance will "blow you away, its proponents trumpet.

Cool, thought Deering, who garnered interest from trade, technical, and home-entertainment media in the filmmaking use of this new format. But then, trouble in the kitchen. Someone on the production grew disenchanted with the "revolutionary technology, and decided to bag all interviews.

That's manageable if it was, say, one of the supporting cast, an associate producer, or even the art director. Alas, it was the director of photography.

When the photography director thinks the look of his project stinks, there's not much wiggle room left to maneuver with the press. It's difficult to escape the fact that nobody is better qualified to speak about the photography than, well, the photographer.

"What do I do? Deering asked me. "Cancel the interviews? Make an excuse? I have four days to figure it out."

This was a situation that called for some crafty PR wizardry to fool the press and keep the cat in the proverbial bag. This quandary, clearly, called for what we professionals in the "industry refer to as a Big Fat Lie.

"Tell them he's mute and only speaks through his psychic, Madame Mariana.

Then excuse yourself, dress up like a gypsy and return as Mariana herself.

Proceed to tell the press whatever you please. Brilliant, eh? That's why they call me first."

Great minds do not, apparently, think alike. She hung up. Some people just don't think outside the box. Or the crystal ball.

Fortunately, Deering came up with a solution that worked, although without the same panache as mine. She had the chief digital technician do the interviews. His knowledge of this cutting edge technology is so advanced, she told them, he's the only one truly qualified to speak intelligently about it. Nice deflection. They bought it.

She later admitted to me, however, that she had packed a bandanna and dark glasses in her bag, just in case Mariana was needed.

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