"What's Jack Nicholson like?" "How was L.A.?" "Is the film any good?"
The people who asked me those questions probably recognize their own words. But they are just some of the many questions I've heard after returning from a movie junket, the movie screening/interview event studios use to help promote upcoming films.How do junkets work? The studios arrange for critics and reporters to fly to either Los Angeles or New York. Once there, the "junketeers" get to see the movie and participate in either roundtable or one-on-one interviews with actors and filmmakers.
For the most part, it's a lot of fun to rub elbows with the stars and stay in fancy hotels. Among my favorite highlights to date:
- Getting kissed on the cheek by "Tomorrow Never Dies" star Michelle Yeoh (for telling her she practically stole "Supercop" out from under her co-star, Jackie Chan).
- Accidentally putting actress Mimi Rogers on the spot about the awful made-in-Salt Lake City TV-movie "Virtual Obsession" (which she took in good stride, surprisingly).
- Enjoying the irony of interviewing oddball actor Jeff Goldblum on the Universal Studios lot with the infamous "Psycho" house just a few feet away.
There are times when junkets can be grueling, though, such as when the movie is bad, or when the interviews seem to go on for hours. (Sessions with temperamental stars Gary Oldman and Helen Hunt were painfully long.)
Even worse, if that's possible, was the press conference with Kevin Costner for "The Postman," during which the actor said he liked "good, old-fashioned movies" - only to admit later on that he enjoyed "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery." (Believe me, it's not easy or comfortable to stifle a laugh under such circumstances.)
And by the way, Nicholson was incredibly charming (at least when I met him), the weather has been awful every time I've been to Los Angeles and a couple of the movies I've seen down there have been pretty good (particularly "As Good As It Gets").
- FROM THE AND-YOU-THOUGHT-THE-STARS-WERE-OBNOXIOUS DEPARTMENT: Anyone who's been on at least one of these staged press events already knows enough to avoid the so-called "junket junkies" like the plague.
These supposedly professional critics, some of whom work for agencies that bear their own last names, spend weeks on the junket circuit, going from one hotel room to the next - and all at the studios' expense.
And it's not a rare occurrence for these critics-for-hire to either skip out on screenings or fall asleep during them.
What do the studios get out of this shady arrangement, you may ask? In many instances, studio publicity people actually "feed"favorable quotes to these critics, which are then used as part of the subsequent advertising campaign.
It's enough to make a legitimate reviewer scream.
- YOU'RE ONLY AS GOOD AS YOUR SOURCES: Last week I recommended that movie fanatics check out the Internet Movie Database, a Web site that's chock-full of interesting tidbits, including complete cast and crew lists for thousands of theatrical and made-for-television movies.
But I should have added one important caveat: Much of the information contained in the data-base and other similar sites is gleaned from fans and online "gremlins," not the actual studios or movie production companies.
Case in point, the upcoming movie "Superman Lives," which is still evidently in pre-production - despite the fact that director Tim Burton and star Nicolas Cage have opted out of it.
According to the "Superman Lives" listing, the film is being written by Akiva Goldsman ("Batman & Robin"). However, when Goldsman was interviewed by critics during the "Lost in Space" junket, Goldsman said he hasn't even been approached about the movie. In fact, he says the script currently being worked on was written by Dan Gilroy, husband of actress Rene Russo.
Several other errors in movie listings on the Web site also emerged at the same junket, and I know of at least a couple of people who are maliciously spreading misinformation about the new "Star Wars" trilogy on the Net.
Suffice it to say you, can't trust everything you read - as if you needed to be reminded.
- WISHFUL THINKING QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "We're going to be the iceberg! Yay!" - Actress Mimi Rogers, when asked whether she thought her movie, "Lost in Space," would be able to dethrone current box-office champ "Titanic."
- THE MONEY-MEANS-NOTHING QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "I was raised never to talk about money. I don't care what Jim Carrey makes. I don't particularly like people knowing what I make, and besides, all the reports are usually wrong. In truth, I never had money before this - and I didn't feel much differently." - Actress Julianna Margulies, currently appearing in the film "The Newton Boys," as well as the hit television series "E.R."