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July 4, 2010 11:54 AM   Subscribe

What is the process like for top-tier celebrity interviews?

I am curious about the procedure for what goes into a major (say, NY Times or Esquire or even People magazine) interview.

For example, let's say Jennifer Aniston is working on a new movie. Do her agents contact various publications and say "hey, we want to promote this?". Do they contact her agent first? Does the agent often set ground rules (no talking about X, at least four questions about her new movie, etc)?

And in the interview itself, does the celebrity know the questions in advance? Is he or she prepped? What if the journalist threw in a couple more that they weren't sure how to answer? Is someone sitting with the celebrity as he or she is answering to make sure that everything stays on track?

This is regarding high-level celebrities rather than regular news interviews. Thanks!
posted by amicamentis to Media & Arts (7 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
It depends on the venue. For example, if Jennifer Aniston went on Letterman, it would be a little different than if she went on the Today show. On Letterman, she'd be asked a series of questions from a producer during a pre-interview. The purpose of this is to give Dave an idea of what areas to get into during the Aniston segment and help him set up any funny anecdotes that she may have about her project or life in an attempt to make the segment more interesting.

If she goes on the Today show, it's treated more like a news interview. While there may be some negotiating as to when and where the interview will take place, usually someone like Matt Lauer won't do the interview if areas are off limits. They usually feel that they can ask anything and the subject has the right not to talk about it. Here, Aniston won't really know the questions that will be asked.

Then there's the junket. It's usually held in a hotel suite and you see them all the time on TV. The interviewer and the star are usually in front of a black drape and there's a copy of the movie's poster prominently lit behind them. Here, there interviewer is dependent on the good-will of the studio, so he or she will make sure not to ask any embarrassing questions so A) they'll be invited to future junkets to interview other A-list celebs and B) to provide them with the tape of the interview (the studios are the ones actually filming the junket). Byron Allen has made a mint doing just this.

With print, there's usually the idea that if Aniston says something is off the record, it is, but if she doesn't it's fair game to be printed. However, this would be something to be expected more of the NY Times and Esquire rather than People. People will usually bow to the needs of the celebrity if they're getting something worthwhile from them. OK! and Life and Style are others that will do the same thing, and those two can actually sometimes sound more like a press release when they do have cooperating celebs.
posted by inturnaround at 1:11 PM on July 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

OK, let's use the Aniston has a new movie example.

Typically, someone like her will have a stake in the film's success, so there's a vested interest for her to promote it, which can include a strategy of getting cover stories in big magazines.

The film distributor will work with her own manager-publicist-agent team to source those cover opportunities. They will make offers of mutual exclusivity to key media outlets -- "Want to interview her? We want to be on your cover, and you will be the only one that gets this access."

This will then trigger a round of contractual negotiations, to ensure that both sides get what they want. The magazine wants full access. Jennifer's team wants certain assurances -- proper timing, a specific writer, photographer and topics being covered.

So, when the writer finally sits down with Aniston, she doesn't know exactly what questions she'll get, but all of the ground rules will have been established ahead of time, so there really won't be any "gotcha" surprises. Moreover, the interview will be monitored and shepherded by staff at every step of the way.

Either side can try to screw the other, too. But keep in mind that both sides have vested interests in keeping each other happy over the long term -- the magazine will need other subjects to cover, and the film distributor will have other movies to promote.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:15 PM on July 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Some magazine interviews are covered by copy approval as condition of access. I.e. the star/agent will vet the final draft and make changes.

Perhaps its my imagination, but whenever I read articles that start by describing the star as wearing a crisp white shirt, casual slacks and looking fresh faced and younger than their years despite a lack of make up it screams "copy approval" to me.

I would also highly recommend the article "I was Russell Crowe's stooge" as an informative backgrounder to some of the shit big stars can pull.
posted by MuffinMan at 1:42 PM on July 4, 2010 [10 favorites]

I once factchecked an interview with Minnie Driver for some Condé Mast magazine or other (I forget which; possibly Mademoiselle). Or at least officially I did, but it was ridiculous. I wasn't allowed to contact Ms. Driver or anyone who worked for her, and was told to take the writer's word for it -- which is exactly what factcheckers are not supposed to do. Nobody seemed to think this was odd except for me.

So at least as far as the editorial process goes, I can tell you that fluffy interviews with movie stars are not always held to the same standards as those with less-famous people.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:54 PM on July 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

My understanding is that it's a little different with top-tier musicians.

Their record label makes all of the press appearances happen and while agents, managers, etc. are involved in the process, it all really comes down to how much of a push the label wants to give the artist.
posted by dzaz at 2:02 PM on July 4, 2010

To add to the above: Aniston's PR team will be involved, but the studio's publicity department will be in the driver's seat. They may clash with Team Aniston because they have different objectives (publicizing Romantic Comedy vs publicizing Jennifer Aniston).

Jennifer Aniston herself will be contractually obligated to do publicity for the film, but the wording of the contract is written to give her plenty of wiggle room, so everyone will bend over backwards to make sure she's happy and on board with making her various appearances.

I used to work in entertainment advertising and when you hear someone complain about shitty photoshopping jobs on one-sheets, that's often because the stars couldn't be fucking bothered to show up at the same time and place to get their pictures taken together.
posted by roger ackroyd at 11:03 PM on July 4, 2010

Note also that in these junkets the interviewer will not have his/her own camera and sound crew. It's a quick turnover affair so the hotel suite is already lit, rigged and crewed by PR. Since it is all filmed by the movie's PR team and the tape turned over at the end of the interview, if anything untoward was said or occurred the footage would be with the PR team, not in the interviewers.

In my limited experience there are several suites--one per star--and the interviewer gets 10-15 minutes (strictly enforced) per star.
posted by NailsTheCat at 12:44 PM on July 5, 2010

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