THE PUBLICIST: When working on a movie set, the truth may not set you free

Film sets are charmed work environments, filled with shiny happy people working together to create movie magic for millions to enjoy. "Please" and "thank you" prevail, and the occasional frown is quickly turned upside down by the sheer joy of the endeavor. "They pay us for this," the crew marvels. "Please, give the money to charity. Our work is its own reward."

Film sets are charmed work environments, filled with shiny happy people working together to create movie magic for millions to enjoy. "Please" and "thank you" prevail, and the occasional frown is quickly turned upside down by the sheer joy of the endeavor. "They pay us for this," the crew marvels. "Please, give the money to charity. Our work is its own reward."

Stop laughing. Or try not to, anyway, when that's the line that you, the publicist, are to walk for the media. Pretending all's well when a veteran writer arrives with an agenda and suspicions gleaned from abundant online gossip requires a poker face and a stockpile of disarming, well-rehearsed responses, such as: "A fight between director and star? Nonsense. They had dinner together last night." "Who says the male lead is arguing with the ingenue? Just look at them together and you'll see that isn't so." "Over budget? Whose budget? The studio believes in the film, and it's their money. Why should anyone else care?" I've used those lines many times over the years to deflect numerous inquisitions, and they always worked. Until last week. This particular scribe would have none of it. Been around the block too many times. Had a nose for the malodorous scent of discontent. Tasted it the minute he arrived. Which is why I didn't want him there in the first place. But when a studio lays out big bucks to make a movie, they expect people to know about it. And, boy, did they find out. The decidedly unfriendly story appeared recently in a major weekly, and raised eyebrows from the set to the studio commissary. Its frankness caught us a little off guard, but it wasn't a shocker. Except to the studio. "What?" they demanded. "How could this happen?" Well, it happened because a journalist with sharp eyes, ears, and a friendly smile came to a set full of people tired and apathetic enough to speak candidly. No matter how closely one monitors a writer, things are still overheard in the lunch tent, at the base camp, in the coziness of an actors' trailer. Alas, as a publicist, the last thing you want is the truth. It causes problems. But after the furor died down, the realization dawned that thousands of readers will probably want to see the movie just because of the article. Controversy is our friend - albeit, the kind of friend your parents don't want you hanging out with. But in publicity, as with friends, bad can actually be good.
  • Lawrence Mitchell Garrison is an LA-based freelance publicist and writer

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