Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Junketeering: Part 1

In our on-going mission to further educate our loyal and disloyal readers (we don't take sides), we've decided to throw you a little knowledge about Press Junkets. How did we come by this knowledge? Because I, your faithful author and webmaster, Matt, am a film critic ("Boo!", "Hiss!", "Boo-urns!") and have attended press junkets over the past year.

So before we go any further, what is a junket? I don't ask to condescend but rather because a lot of folks I've encountered and told about my work aren't familiar with the term. So here, according to Merriam-Webster, is a junket:

Main Entry: 1jun·ket
Pronunciation: 'j&[ng]-k&t
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English ioncate, ultimately from Vulgar Latin *juncata, from Latin juncus rush
1 : a dessert of sweetened flavored milk set with rennet
2 a : a festive social affair b : TRIP, JOURNEY: as (1) : a trip made by an official at public expense (2) : a promotional trip made at another's expense

So as you can see, as a film critic, I will attend a dessert of sweetened flavored milk set with rennet.

If only. But a boy can dream.

The most accurate definition is the last one: "A promotional trip made at another's expense," which is really the best kind of trip, depending on the locale. In my line of work, the locale is usually either New York City, or most often, Los Angeles. But why would anyone pay for such a thing? Why would studios pay perfectly good money to fly out a nobody like myself (you're too kind), put me up in a swank hotel like The Four Seasons, and let me throw questions at movie stars, writers, directors, and even producers! [Note to studios: you know that we know that you know that we hate interviewing producers unless they're prolific or charismatic]. While there's no real way to get inside the minds of studios, there is a business rationale and that rationale is, in a word, publicity. While our reviews may be negative and hurt your movie, interviewing movie stars is neutral and that's good enough. Your star sells the movie, sells their next project (which is hopefully at the same studio), sells a bit of their personal life, and the paper or website or TV show the writer works for gets to sell advertising. Everyone wins. But especially me, and here's why:

Junkets are a great gig. Simply put, if you can get paid for this kind of job, you've got it made in the shade. As ticket prices rise, there's simply no better way to see movies. Of course, it helps if you really love movies (if you're reading this website, I assume you do, so good for you!). But before you can interview the people behind the movie, you have to see the movie and you get to do it not at your own expense, but at screenings.

There are two types of screenings:

1) Press-only screenings: These are usually held in the morning or early afternoon. It's only you and the other critics from your area and it's my preferred way to see a film because there's a mutual respect and no one's going to be obnoxious. We all understand that this is a fun job but it's still a job.

2) General Audience screening: I used to attend these as a member of the general public before I became a critic and got sweet, sweet access. Now this kind of screening is free. It's before the film opens for general release (although this window can be as long as a month before the film opens or as short as the night before). It's admittance by screening pass only. You get these passes usually from magazines like mine (INsite Atlanta, first plug!) or Creative Loafing or the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (I have no passes, but would you care for a hug instead? [note: hugs not valid for admittance to free movie screenings]) by either showing up at a certain place at a certain time (usually a restaurant or other reputable business; if it's a back alley or abandoned warehouse, you're probably not getting a pass but are in for a good ol' fashioned mugging) or by just shooting off an e-mail.

But once you got your pass, you're still not in. The pass is not a ticket. Studios and by proxy the various screening-sponsors give out way more passes than available seats so it's first come, first serve. If you want to get a good seat, you have to show up at least an hour before (the more excited you are for the film, the earlier you should show up). Now as a member of the press, my seat is reserved so I get to bypass the entire line and have you hate me. I can feel your hate and it feels delicious.

So far, this sounds like a raw deal for you and a great deal for me. But now we get to why I don't prefer these screenings: the sponsors. You see, if and when you finally get in the theatre (oh, by the way, did I mention how you'll be molested by security to make sure you have no recording devices? Leave your cell phone in your car and thank me later), you won't be treated to painful advertisements but rather, to free movie swag. People go nuts for swag. I'm as guilty of this as anybody but I try to maintain some dignity about it. Others decided they lost all their dignity and self-respect a long time ago and will go from seemingly-normal person to frightening mental patient at the words "Free T-Shirt". Yes, the sponsors have promotional goodies for you but you must answer their question about the radio station or TV station or publication or maybe, just maybe, a question pertaining to the stars of the movie you're about to see, and if you answer correctly, that precious t-shirt is yours. Enjoy. As for the sponsors, well, while I understand that they have a job to do and since they're sponsoring the screening, they should be allowed to do it, let's just say that if this were a final exam in How Not To Annoy The Ever-loving Hell Out Of Me, they would be expelled for gross failure (it's like regular failure, but worse!).

Finally, the movie is screened, I take some time to form an opinion (I usually bring a friend with me so I have a sounding board), write my review, and if there is no press junket, that's where our story ends. But since this series is called "Junketeering" and this is only part 1, I think we both know that there's a sequel in the works...