Let me take you back to a moment that happened this time last year at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills. The elevator doors in the foyer – as shiny and golden as a polished Oscar in February – abruptly splay open to reveal a towering Presidential figure in a lilac collar. Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Freeman, one the most recognisable figures in American cinema, raises his head, looks down his freckled nose and clocks every journalist as he exits the lift, each patiently awaiting their ride to suite 1202 to interview him.
The door to that suite was a physical door. And I say that now – while sitting at home on the other side of the world 11 months later – because everything has completely changed in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. No more aeroplanes to Los Angeles. No more Morgan Freemans in person. No more shaking hands. No more doorways to movie stars.
“The film junket experience really was the last glamorous part left in the publishing industry.”
With huge budgets allocated to the promotion of blockbusters, film houses would generously fly journalists to capital cities, have a car waiting at the airport, put them up in a beautiful five-star hotel, give them a bar and restaurant tab and treat them every bit as important as the stars themselves.
Before an interview, you would check in to a green room of sorts known as the hospitality room, a holding bay for journalists while they wait to be told which hotel room to go to for their interview with talent. There is a lot of waiting around and to pass the time – on big movies, anyway – there was always one helluva good buffet. The scene below is from the hospitality room for Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx’s film Just Mercy held inside a Manhattan hotel in December. Croissants, roast vegetables, salmon, beef, desserts.
Each green room would also have a little bay with a makeup artist who would ensure your wing and lashes defined your eyes enough for a camera lens.
One of the tricks of my trade has always been to wear something to a celebrity interview that will engage a little bit of banter between the reporter and an actor – and some pleasantries that don’t involve referencing the weather. Within the five allocated minutes, I will likely have 10 seconds to say hello to the talent. There’s no room for getting-to-know-you questions and so, I’ve always opted to wear a designer in a cut or silhouette that I know the actor has an affinity toward. In interviews, both parties are always giving a little in a bid to get a lot and as fashion speaks its own universal language, this little trick gives off the “we have something in common” first impression.
But everything has now changed.
I did a junket last week and this was the “door” to the green room/hospitality room.
As I entered the Zoom call, the publicist welcomed me to the room and explained how things worked. Instead of showing me to the buffet, she checked my WiFi connection. Instead of showing me to the makeup stand, she directed me on how to hide non-video Zoom call participants. She then gave me another Zoom link. “It’s time for your interview. Please head to Room 2,” she said. “And please come back to the hospitality room should you need anything.”
“Head to Room 2.” Righto. With one click, I was now viewing the talent’s living room through the portal that I see the entire world through these days: my laptop. I was dressed from my waist up. I was nervous about the strength of my WiFi connection and not about the job at hand. The film crew – including the little man that always gave me the “wind it up” sign – was replaced with the “record button”.
“There I was sitting in my dining room with a lamp on my face as per the instructions the publicist had given me in the ‘hospitality room'”.
It was just so sad and strange.
I miss the premieres, the red carpets, the cinemas, the elevator rides. I miss the competition in the hotel hallways and eyeing off rival publications in a bid to get a heads up on the talent’s energy. I miss the hustle and the hassle. I miss the nervous energy. I even miss waiting around at La Guardia airport.
Yes, I know. Doors don’t usually open to Morgan Freeman. And when they do, let me tell you it is intimidating as hell. But I miss the chance that they might.
And I’d give back every croissant at the buffet just for it all to return again.