Monday, May 04, 2009

Which Comes First: The Celebrity or the Interview?

One of the most frequent questions I'm asked, in terms of celebrity profiles, is about the logistics: someone writes me and says, "I have this great idea for a celebrity interview, but don't know if I can get him to talk to me...and if I do, how do I know if the magazine will be interested?" And therein lies the first challenge of the celeb interview: landing either the celeb in question or the assignment without commitment from the other party. (There are many other hurdles which we'll discuss too.)

Here is the problem: a celeb, especially the real high wattage stars, won't agree to an interview that hasn't already been confirmed (and likely won't also agree to something if they don't have a project to promote, so forget about approaching Brad Pitt simply because you want to interview him), but writers often feel risky (with good reason) pitching an editor, knowing that it's not a sure thing.

So here are some solutions: 1) if you have an ongoing, friendly relationship with a publicist (we'll talk more about publicists this week too) or a celebrity (yes, some of them do happen to be friends or friendly with us regular folk), then, by all means, you might want to put some feelers up. I've definitely done this. "Hey, would you be open to me pitching XYZ, as I know the editor there." Once you receive the go-ahead, then you can inform the editor that you're certain you can pull the trigger.

Given that this isn't too frequent of a situation, your best bet, in my opinion, is going with scenario 2), which is pitch the story idea without locking in the celebrity. This, however, only works in a few specific cases, which is partially why this type of writing can be so difficult. I would only do this with editor with whom I have a very, very good relationship and also only with editors who understand the snafus that occur all too often with celeb writing. These editors know that a pitch isn't always a sure-thing, and they also know that while you will try your very, very best to ensure 100% smooth sailing, it isn't always smooth sailing: actors sometimes flake, they sometimes get stuck on set, they sometimes don't want to answer questions that you'd really liked answered. A good reporter will find a way to deal with all of these things but even the very best reporter can't anticipate the craziest of scenarios, which, yes, sometimes flare up.

When I pitch and write my celebrity stories, I do so only to and only for editor who know that I work my tail off for them, but sometimes, a publicist will turn me down or sometimes, a subject will be tougher to crack than I'd like...and that is the nature of the beast. What I WOULDN'T do, if I were new to this realm, is toss of celebrity pitches with no contacts, no real way of getting it done. Don't, say, see a trailer for a movie starring an actor you'd always wanted to meet and fire off a note to your editor saying why he'd be perfect for XYZ profile. Luring celebs often requires the trust of their publicist, and if you don't have that, you're a lot less likely to get a "yes." (Again, more on publicists later in the week.) And it's also a pretty quick way to prove to your editor that you don't really know the ropes of this tricky dance.

I'll talk more about this in my upcoming posts. I'll end with this: I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE that I get to do this for a living. I love the actors I interview, I love hearing things about their lives, I love sometimes making a connection that continues long after we've hung up or had coffee. BUT. Celeb writing is not for the faint of heart. The logistics are tricky, sometimes the details and the back and forth can be a bit nightmarish, and if you think that you'll totally lose your crap when you're on the phone or in front of your all-time favorite actor ever, this is not for you. :)


Kristina said...

In other words, baby steps. First one has to work her ass off on less glamorous pieces and break into magazines which run such articles in the first place! Very savvy advice, thanks. I like to hear how these things come together.

chow and chatter said...

great advice thanks for sharing

bookbabie said...

Sounds like fun, how about listing the celebs you've interviewed Allison! I don't suppose my boyfriend, George T. Clooney, is on that list?

Anonymous said...

Do you do your celeb interviews in-person or on the phone or through email, or does it vary? If you do them in person or on the phone, do you tape record the whole conversation or just take really good notes?

Jaime Lee said...

How nice are you? Answer: extremely! Thanks for sharing tricks. You rock.