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I Walk the Line


There’s possibly no worse job on a film or television set than that of a publicist. It’s not the job per se that makes the position so difficult but a number of other factors.For starters he/she is a unit of one. Although in some instances the number doubles when the job of the publicist is to hire a still photographer, and it goes up in increments if additional special photography is required. But even though publicists head this tiny unit, they are in a much more awkward position than their underlings.While the still photographer has a task to perform on set or on location that is readily identifiable, his boss doesn’t appear to be doing anything that can be demonstrably perceived by the naked eye. Anywhere they stand on the set is arbitrary and often in the path of someone with a more obvious task. And to make matters just a tad more uncomfortable there’s usually no place for them to repair. If a publicist needs a place to work, to write or to interview, space has to be found in someone else’s domain: a wardrobe trailer or accountant’s office more often than not, and almost always to the chagrin of that person’s sense of territorial rights.Unlike a screenwriter—another job that doesn’t have a natural fit on a film set—publicists are hired to be around during production. They don’t generally contribute to anything that ultimately appears on screen; rather their task is to make sense of those projected images. In the process of production they don’t function as part of the crew but neither are they part of the creative or executive ranks. They get a bad rap and are often viewed with suspicion as if they were spies employed by the suits to rat on tardy individuals or record conduct misdemeanors.Real publicists don’t eat quiche or hold the hands of anxious talent. The most talented in the field have a firm grasp of the film being made, what its most salient and saleable elements are and how to use those assets to intrigue and motivate audiences to see it when it arrives on movie screens.Unfortunately, the image of the publicist is less lofty. There was a classic New Yorker cartoon of three glasses filled to 50-percent capacity. Above each of the glasses were the respective designations: the optimist, the pessimist, the publicist. Below the first it read, “the glass is half full” while the second read, “the glass is half empty.” And under the third: “Oh my god it’s going to overflow, get a mop, we’re going to have a flood…” Amusing but nonetheless a very cheap shot and an arch stereotype.The publicist is the Rodney Dangerfield of the movie business. If the film on which they toiled diligently is a success, the film sold itself. If it fails, it was the result of bad publicity.

Written by Len Klady

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