Friday, October 06, 2006

Nabbing a Star

Could you explain how you go about interviewing a celebrity? What's the process?

Ah, the seemingly glamorous part of a freelancer's job: landing that interview with an A-lister, then becoming BFFs with said A-lister and eventually being named said A-lister's child's godparent. Ha! Right.

Celebrity interviews are tricky for several reasons.

A) Publicists. Publicists are the gateway to the stars, but often times, they keep those gates firmly shut. If the celeb doesn't have something to promote - a movie, a show, a product, you're likely to get shot down. If the publicist doesn't like the media outlet or deems it too small-time, you're likely to get shot down. If the publicist doesn't recognize your name or think that you can deliver a cushy interview, you might get shot down too (though not always). The point is that publicists, bless their hearts, are hired solely to protect and finesse a celebrity's image, and if your potential interview doesn't fit into their overall game plan for the star, you're likely to be turned away before you can even turn on your digital recorder.

B) The Chicken or the Egg Syndrome. Which should you do first? Nab the celeb or nab the assignment? This conundrum further entangles the situation. Most publicists aren't interested in speaking with you unless you have an assignment, and most editors don't want you to make promises that you can't keep (i.e, "oh, I'm sure that I can get Patrick Dempsey.). So...as I said, conundrum.

C) Logistics. Despite the bountiful pictures on People.com of celebs dining at the Ivy and shopping at Kitson, celebs are busy people. Nailing them down for a phone interview can be tough; getting them in person can be even harder.

So, despite these obstacles, how do you nab a celeb interview? Well, I'll preface this with the statement that there are certainly other writers out there who are far more experienced in this arena than I am, but I'll offer what I know...which is at least a decent amount.

1) Try to get your editor to set up the assignment. If you already have a good relationship with your editor or the magazine, it can't hurt to lob in a celeb idea - "hey, how about a Q/A with Patrick Dempsey on race car driving for the 'hobbies' column" - and have them contact the publicist. This is the route most likely to ensure success, though it isn't a slam-dunk. I was supposed to interview a several-time Oscar nominee, per my editor's suggestion, yet after he'd gone about setting everything up, she still had to pull out at the last minute.

2) Run the idea by your editor, and if she gives you the green light, go after the interview with all that you have. This might mean repeated follow-ups with the publicist or finding a different route to the celeb (through a charity he's involved with or through his network's publicist, etc). It also means not being intimidated by fancy, powerful H-wood publicists who have definitely been known to intimidate. (See: Kingsley, Pat.) The truth of the matter is that editors know that these things fall through, often by no fault of your own, so she probably won't hold it against you if you can't land that big fish.

3) Get creative. See above for other ways/routes to the celeb. While their personal publicist is usually the first stop, it doesn't have to be the only stop. Is the celeb a friend of a friend? Did you go to the same high school? Does he have a book out and thus a book publicist? Etc. If you really, really want to interview him, then you might be able to take a back route into doing it.

Anyone out there a celeb interview expert and want to suggest his or her own tips?

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

A--which famous people have you interviewed?

Allison Winn Scotch said...

Among others (this is a really random list): Andy Roddick, Magic Johnson (most impressive celeb I've ever met/spoken to), Teri Hatcher, Leah Remini, Elizabeth Banks (we actually went to college together), Sarah Ferguson (the Duchess, no the Pea), Ari Fleischer (back when he was White House Press sec - I spent the day at the Oval Office - super-duper cool, regardless of whatever political side you're on), cast members of Without a Trace, Lost, the host of Amazing Race (go Phil!), etc. And a bunch of other B-listers for shorter articles for InStyle, entertainment outlets, etc. Not all are on my website for various reasons - some never ran (due to reasons outside of my control), some weren't bylined, etc.

Allison Winn Scotch said...

Whoops, also meant to say that I'm working on a few right now too. We'll see what happens with them all...

larramie said...

We can only hope that PD and his race car driving is a future interview you're working on right now. *G*

Now, about the date for this post: Tuesday, October 10, 2006? Um, what happened to today -- Friday? ;o)

Allison Winn Scotch said...

Oh crap, Larr! Thanks for pointing that out...my mistake!

larramie said...

You're very welcome. It's the curse/blessing of being a Virgo -- i.e. noticing little things that simply don't fit. (rolling my eyes)

kerry dexter said...

patience is a tip I'd add, and perhaps having a backup story market or two in mind if the original iv falls through but they come back to you later and say oh, mr x is available now.

if celeb interviewing is something you want to pursue a lot of, building relationships is vital: with publicists, in my case record co people as I write about music/musicians, promoters, venue operators, artists themselves. this helps with the back door stuff, of course, but it can also be quite straightforward at times.

a website with good clips which show what you do in this area, so publicists and celebs see what sort of work you do, is a good idea. they're busy, yes, but if they see something distinctive, a style, an approach, an understanding of the field, that works for them in your work, they'll make time to talk with you.

Allison Winn Scotch said...

Kerry-
GREAT points. Definitely work on those relationships. I have a few publicists who will now call me or email me if they want to generate press for one of their clients - and that makes things 100x easier.
Allison

Kelly L. Watson said...

I write a monthly entertainment column, so when I approach publicists for those stories, they're usually very accomodating. But when I started to freelance similar stories with no guaranteed market, those same publicists won't return my calls or e-mails. Frustrating.

Patience is a good suggestion. I waited around all day for one celeb to get off his plane. Finally his publicist called me, saying he guessed the interview wouldn't happen. Wouldn't you know it, the celeb called me from his hotel room that evening because he wanted to make sure I got the interview before my deadline. Neither his publicist or I was expecting to hear from him. It took a little bit of scrambling to get all my materials together, but it turned out to be a great story.

Allison Winn Scotch said...

Thanks, Kelly! Always great to hear from someone who is in the trenches.

Olga said...

I've interviewed lots of foreign celebs for Russian markets. That's my niche here in Russia.

From my experience:

Almost always when you approach a publicist you should have an assignment. You should be able to explain what the angle of your story is.

You should also provide some positive information about the magazine (I often even get asked to send a few copies).

When forming an interview request try to explain why doing this interview would be beneficial for the celebrity.

Be patient, but follow up with your request if you get no answer. Publicists get a lot of fan mail, your message could get lost.

This is just random advice. I'll try to think of more.