How do press junkets work? And how do I get access?

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How do movie press junkets actually work? Here’s a guide to the ins and outs.

One of the great mysteries of the film world – at least from the outside looking in – is the press junket. Those promotional days where people are brought together generally in some posh hotel, whilst those involved in a film tend to answer similar questions time after time, from interviewers keen to get some quality material for the outlet they represent.

One of the things I’m very keen to use Film Stories for is to make things reachable. To pull back the curtain a little on the film world, and demonstrate that, just with everything, it’s a bunch of human beings behind it all. And last week, a couple of people got in touch with questions about junkets. I thought, and let me know if you want more pieces like this, that this may thus be useful.

Note that this isn’t an exhaustive guide, and different people have different perspectives. I am not the authority on press junkets. But for those on the outside trying to break in, I did think this might be useful.

What is a press junket?

May as well start with the basics. A junket is part of a film’s promotion. It’s designed at heart to get as many interviews done with those involved with the film in as short a space of time as possible. The thinking is that, rather than taking Tom Hanks round to everybody’s house, that everybody goes to Tom Hanks as he sits in a nice hotel room. Likewise, Tom Hanks’ co-stars and the creative team behind Tom Hanks’ latest movie are also at said hotel in different rooms. Rather than lots of different interviews with lots of different people in lots of different places, everything is done over a day – or a few days – at one location. Before the team behind the film head off to another city in another country to do it all again.

Where do press junkets take place?

In the UK, it’s primarily London. And it’s primarily posh hotels in London. Occasionally, if there’s a tie-in to something particular, the junket may move to somewhere that ties in. A LEGO film junket at the UK’s LEGO Land, for instance. But the vast majority of the time, it’s a London hotel, where a bunch of rooms are booked out. This allows for filmmakers to do as many interviews as possible, with as many people, in a day or two.

Does every outlet have to attend the junket?

No. Star talent in particular may be whisked up to Salford to visit the BBC at Media City. Likewise, for high profile outlets – such as the Kermode & Mayo Film Review programme on Radio Five Alive – a studio visit may be organised. Likewise, if you want to get on Graham Norton’s sofa – probably the very top of the UK junket tree – then you have to go to his show to do that.

What outlets tend to soak up though are television, radio, print and online interviews, and podcast interviews too.

Does every film get a junket?

No. Far from it. Not every big blockbuster release has a press day in every country, and the expense of a junket for lower budget productions oftentimes means individual interviews are the affordable way forward. Sometimes, too, a film – even a big film – may rely on a series of phone interviews, for either logistical or expense reasons.

Do I get to see the film early if I attend a press junket?

More often than not, yes. There are instances where the junket takes place and the film hasn’t been completed at that point, but it may be the only time that all the talent involved in the picture can get together. Those are rare instances, though. And studios are pretty much in line on the policy that if you want to do a junket interview, you have to watch the film in question first.

Mostly, extra screenings are arranged, and often, these are in advance of the official UK press shows. If you’ve ever wondered why some outlets can get their reviews out earlier than others, this is one of the reasons. It’s not uncommon for the main UK press shows of a new film to take place after the official embargo on reviews has lifted, which means only outlets who get into junket screenings can release their reviews when said embargo is up.

How do I get access to a press junket if I’m a blogger/website/media outlet?

The gatekeepers to junkets are generally PR companies, who handle the initial requests for interviews (although some studios deal with this in-house). If you have a blog/podcast/website/outlet that’s attracting decent traffic, then it’s crucial to start building a relationship with said companies if you want junket access. That, or write for an outlet with existing relationships who can help get you through the metaphorical door. Don’t be afraid to search around and ask questions, to try and find out which companies are representing which films. The information is generally less tricky to find than you may think.

PR reps then submit nominations to the studio, who filter them again and submit nominations to up the chain.

What happens when I request an interview?

Generally, when a junket notification is released, there’s a list of people representing the film who are attending the junket. This tends to include the lead cast, the director, and sometimes the producers/writers.

Top tip from me: directors, producers and writers tend to make excellent interviewees. That’s not saying the cast won’t, of course, but most people gravitate to the star names on the list. Sure, that’s where the short-term traffic is, but if you’re looking for a longer interview slot and a different story to everyone else, behind the camera creatives are great.

You thus request who you want, and it’s best to explain what you want them for. Is it a podcast interview, a brief video, a print piece? How long will you need?

Why do the same outlets get interview slots and I don’t?

A variety of reasons. Firstly, as much as you may get frustrated by outlets always getting access as you get turned down, ask yourself why.

Are they reliable? Do they deliver coverage? Do they turn up? If they request a 15 minute slot, do they come with enough material to cover 15 minutes of interview (as opposed to coming up short, and taking time away from another outlet could have had)? Do they have more profile/traffic? Are they easy to work with?

These are all variables. A PR company may be told they have three hours apiece with key talent, and put forward a proposed schedule. They have to whittle down often hundreds of requests to some kind of schedule, and if you go in with Jo’s Movie Blog and ask for an hour with Tom Hanks, you ain’t going to get it.

If the PR company puts forward a schedule, and people don’t turn up/ask inappropriate questions/finish early/arrive late, who do you think gets the blame? Likewise, if they put forward a schedule, and LA publicists/the studio/the interviewees themselves turn down their suggested nominations, the PR reps then get an earache off journalists. Bottom line: if you want to work in PR, get a suit of armour, as pretty much everyone takes it out on you.

But back on topic: if you’re looking to break in, cover the basics well. If you get a ten-minute slot with a director, turn up on time. Deliver coverage when you say you will. Be easy to work with. Communicate any problems. You’d be surprised how many people don’t cover these basics. The more you do this, the more you’ll appear on people’s radars. You may even find the opportunities coming to you, rather than you having to chase them.

One more thing: as well as being a bad look to go on social media and moan about not getting access/criticise the people and companies who turned you down, this will not improve your situation. Your messages will likely be read, and if the last junket slot comes down to a dead heat between the person who’s been unpleasant on Twitter and someone else, ask yourself who you’d pick.

I’ve got a junket slot! But how does the junket itself work?

The easy answer to this question is to go and watch Notting Hill. In that film, you get to see both a press conference and a film junket at work, and both are pretty close to the truth, save for the romantic subplots.

Let’s say you’ve got a ten minute interview with the director of Die Hard 9. You’ll be told the location, sometimes sent some press notes, and given an arrival time. The arrival time is not the interview time of course. But still: if you’re running late, get a message to the team working the junket. It’s not only basic manners, it also helps them keep the schedule moving.

When you arrive, you go to Posh London Hotel, and head to a check-in room. Your name ticked off the list, you then wait, make use of the free wi-fi, occasionally get a few nibbles, and practice social awkwardness by struggling to talk to anyone (yep, personal experience. I’m good at social awkwardness).

This is the bit where you check your questions, check your recording device and such like. If it’s a filmed interview you’re doing, the junket will have a team in place, and at the end of your interview you collect a flash card with the video file on it. If it’s a podcast and you need to set up, you may be seen to a room early to do so. The staff working the junket need to keep it moving. Times have to be hit. Often, a junket is the day of a premiere, and the star talent needs to be away by a given time to prepare.

Let’s assume we’re just recording an interview on a voice recorder for now. You get the call that it’s your turn, just as the person before you has gone in. You sit outside the room, occasionally being able to hear the person before asking questions that sound much better than yours. And then you get the nod.

A few tips here. Say hello, introduce yourself. The person you are talking to may be very famous/very talented/very famous and talented, but they are human too. Manners cost nothing. Also, this is the bit where nerves tend to kick in, so just remember this: there’s two people at least involved here. It’s your job to get an interesting interview for your outlet, it’s their job to promote the film. Neither of you are in the room to make long-lasting friendships – and heck, don’t ask for an autograph – but that doesn’t mean you won’t get on.

There is a finite amount of control you have over an interview, just as there’s a finite amount of control you have over any conversation. I tend to prepare one question per minute of an interview, and hope I don’t need half of them. But I know that if I choke – and I do – that I have them written down. Over time, I built confidence to abandon my questions and go where the conversation goes, but that took a long time.

As you get to the end of your time, a representation will give you a (polite) signal. If you’ve got time for one more question, don’t ask four. There’s someone outside the door waiting to come in. I like how Simon Mayo does his interviews, leaving a more open-ended question for last. That’s when it’s up to the talent concerned how much they want to talk. The representatives in the room can suddenly curtail your time, but they’re not going to shut the talent down.

And then you’re done. Head back to the press room, check your recording, wait for your next interview, or go home.

Are all interviews one on one?

No, and if you’re looking to get early interview and junket experience, ask about a round table interview. These are easier to get access to, and whilst the tables aren’t always round, it involves a number of journalists getting a slightly longer time slot, but having to share the talent involved. Top tip: do not be the person trying to take a photo of said talent on the quiet. It’s rude. Don’t do it. You will not be invited back.

The downside to the round table interview is your questions and answers are shared. Likewise, it’s hard sometimes to go in with a follow-up if there’s an interesting thread. But on the flipside, the onus isn’t on you to keep the questions going. And when you’re breaking in, round table interviews can be hugely useful.

Press conferences also form part of junkets. It’s rare to get anything you can use that won’t be plastered everywhere else, but again, for experience building, they’re worth attending. Top tip: don’t be the person who asks the dickish question. Second top tip: ask a question, don’t just offer a stream of thoughts on the film.

Final thoughts

There’s no great alchemy to the press junket. It does ultimately boil down to people talking in a room, and little more than that. It’s just the person you’re sat opposite may have been on the telly.

Your final job, and the way to build your own reputation both with outlets and PR reps, is to deliver your coverage, and deliver it on time. It’s a nice touch to send the PR team a copy of your work too. Again, be easy to work with. Treat human beings with respect. And don’t be afraid to ask about further opportunities.

Hopefully this piece has been helpful. Feel free to add any further questions in the comments…

Images: BigStock

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