Posts Tagged ‘hollywood’

How to manage a celebrity’s reputation

I have known Keith Schilling for many years; he’s a highly able human being. On many occasions I’ve worked alongside some brilliant folk in his firm and have regularly taken part in their brilliant, thought-provoking, well attended seminars.

In the last few days, Keith has been pictured in many broadsheet newspapers as journalists debate and chew over Schilling’s tactics and, of course, fees. It’s in their nature to feed on these events, but make no mistake, he’s a formidable operator. Read the rest of this entry »

Twitter: mightier than the sword?

A wry smile crossed my lips when I heard the news that lawyers have applied for a court order to force Twitter to hand over the person behind the whistleblower account. It’s taken one anonymous tweeter to spectacularly out the famous footballer hiding behind his privacy injunction and, in a heartbeat, neuter the legal profession. Now blood lusting lawyers crave a sacrifice: a public crucifixion to warn others not to engage in mass collaboration with total strangers on the web.

I have always believed there has been a calculus of public vs. private interest, but this week has proved that the law is broken. The wider world is not interested in the deliberations of a dusty-wigged UK high court judge. The legal framework must try and understand the new age of free, libertarian speech especially when they are considering a celebrity’s position on his or her commercial value. There appears to be a very obvious point: the law is useless! It’s broken and unenforceable. Read the rest of this entry »

Changing Narratives and the Death of Osama Bin Laden

The ever-changing narratives surrounding the ritualistic slaying of Osama Bin Laden has spewed up a slew of conundrums. It should also teach publicists valuable lessons about the pitfalls of a contemporary story engine, brand messaging turned cariacature and the conditions of the modern news mill.

Instinctively, a good publicist understands how to engineer a simple brand story. This propels both new and traditional media forward, generating the power of positive word of mouth. If the elevator pitch is too complex, return to the drawing board.

These past principles have been reframed by the lustful media’s desire to break a story. This, allied with a compelling need to be ‘the’ authority’s voice coerces the media to be less concerned about accuracy and truth. Why kill a news thread if the desire is apparent? “Truth? Well OK, but the story is just too good to ignore!”

The Mission to destroy Bin Laden was infused with the spirit of The Searchers and thickly layered with the best bits from Call of Duty, Black Ops and 24. I swear Jack Bauer lead the mission. Read the rest of this entry »

Elizabeth Taylor: A Star Blinks Out

One of the last goddesses from the pantheon of great Hollywood stars has died. Let’s give thanks for the life of true movie icon Elizabeth Taylor.

As a fledgling publicist I met her retinue at a film shoot at a long forgotten theatre, axed by funding cuts in another age. The encounter left an indelible mark on my psyche. Not then versed in the ways of celebrity, and unable to comprehend its hierarchy and protocol, I was transfixed by the legend that was Elizabeth Taylor, and the encounter with this uber-sleb ignited an innate curiosity in the ways of Hollywood

That day, Taylor arrived to shoot the movie she was filming in a yellow Rolls Royce. I’m fairly convinced it was the car from the movie of the same name. The stage had been set. Various members of the papparazzi had been tipped off, a curious crowd gathered, waiting for her entrance – delayed, naturally, as Taylor’s make up was touched up in the car by two handmaidens.

She exited the car regally, looking more beautiful than any other mortal. She had journeyed from Olympus and her radiance lit the drab Autumnal gloom of London’s grimy East End.

The moment she stepped into the real world, a flurry of court helpers surrounded her in a circle. The symmetry was perfect, the aura hypnotic. Any questions thrown her way were fielded and analyzed by a series of filters, before the closest aide whispered a definition in her perfect ear. They moved in strange, bureaucratic ballet, a protective guard shielding Taylor from the sins of the world. Read the rest of this entry »

Remembering Jane Russell and the Man Behind Her Fame

The sad news that Jane Russell died lat night is perhaps an opportune time to remember the amazing publicist who moulded her erotic brand, the man who coined the politically incorrect moniker: bombshell.

I hope many of Russell’s obituaries credit the strategic mind of another Russell, the Texan Russell Birdwell, for shaping Jane Russell’s narrative. Let’s not forget that behind every Hollywood icon there was an incredibly clever publicist.

Birdwell was a poacher turned gamekeeper, lured away from the Hollywood Reporter to become publicity director for David O. Selznick. Birdwell created some of the most iconic publicity campaigns of the studio era, including the Gone with the Wind campaign that lasted years.

His efforts to explode Russell in the public consciousness are worth remembering. It is quite possible that without Birdwell we would not be celebrating the life of Jane Russell. Given the difficulties surrounding her debut feature, she could easily have been a mere footnote – just another beautiful wannabe who never made a true mark.
Read the rest of this entry »

Looking to the Future of PR

The recent story in the papers about Geoff Baker, the former gatekeeper for Sir Paul McCartney who now dresses as a dustman to give tours of his home-town, should act as a salutary lesson for all entertainment publicists.

I first met Geoff at the height of his journalistic powers, as a showbiz reporter for the Star. This was well before the modern British publicity industry started to emulate Hollywood in the late 20th century, taking control of every aspect of their client and shutting out the media if they wouldn’t play ball; before the idea that stars were brands really set in.

Geoff’s big legacy as a journalist is the Princess Margaret awards, now called the Shaftas (shame the title is so crude). In the days when the geriatric Royal PR spin machine shut up shop at 5pm and the old duffers wouldn’t dignify anything with an answer out of working hours, Geoff announced – at five past five – that Princess Margaret was to make a guest appearance on Crossroads. The story was beautifully absurd. Absurd enough to have everyone gleefully report it long before the Palace could step in and correct the story, allowing it to become one of those ‘true at the time’ stories. Out of this came the Princess Margaret awards, celebrating the liberties taken by showbiz journalists. Read the rest of this entry »

Dishing the Dirt at Peachy Coochie

Anyone wanting to know a little more about the dark practices of Hollywood in the early days of the 20th century should come along to Peachy Coochie at the Toynbee Hall at 7.30 p.m. this Thursday, October 28th, where I will be revealing more about Maynard Nottage, one of the publicists featured in The Fame Formula.

I will be outing some of Nottage’s darker and more dubious practices, some of which didn’t appear in the book, and illustrating who it affected and how. It will take in ambitious actresses, pornography from the Roaring 20′s, carnival freaks, forgotten Hollywood B listers and even a water-skiing lion.

For anyone who doesn’t know what Peachy Coochie is, it’s a night of lectures, each of which take just over six minutes. Each lecture comes with 20 slides and the speaker discusses each slide for 20 seconds. A Peachy Coochie night will inject information right into your brain so painlessly that you don’t even realise you’ve learned something. Read the rest of this entry »

How to Save Public Figures from Sex Scandals and Themselves

The collapse of Lord Triesman – and potentially the British 2018 World Cup bid he was in charge of – after a fit of sexual hubris and some seriously careless talk about bribery, brought on by the less-than-sincere attentions of a younger woman, is a sorry story, but a familiar one.

This is a story that highlights the lack of investment in PR at the highest level. There’s an awful lot of bollocks talked about stories that are ‘so important’ that you can do trades with the papers on them, with shadowy publicists portrayed as Fagin types hand-rubbing and smirking in the background. This is mostly absurd – an exercise in scapegoat making.

A good publicist is counsellor and conscience – a Hollywood hybrid of shrink and media hound – and should protect their client. They have always been looking to the long game rather than the easy buck; the reinvention of the client to keep them in the limelight for years rather than to just take a cut from one hefty payment and then move on. Read the rest of this entry »

Nothing Sacred: from Carole Lombard to Jade Goody

I enjoyed the launch of the Fame Formula paperback at the Riverside Studios at Hammersmith on Wednesday night for many reasons: it’s a great venue, the people who came were interested and interesting, it was good to expound on the brilliance of publicist extraordinaire Russell Birdwell to an audience and it was marvellous to see one of the films he promoted, Nothing Sacred, on a big screen for the first time. And what a film it is!

It may have been made in 1937, but Nothing Sacred still resonates today, thanks to Ben Hecht’s razor sharp script and William Wellman’s ironic, deadpan direction. The film features a disgraced reporter who, desperate to make good with his editor after a series of exposed scams and fake news stories, discovers a girl who is dying of radium poisoning and decides to bring her to New York to be feted by the world.

It’s extraordinary how like the Jade Goody story the film is, but for the fact that Hazel Flagg, played by the luminous Carol Lombard, is not actually dying of cancer. From the ecstatic headlines reporting Hazel’s every move and utterance to the grand plans for a funeral to see her off in style – something she deserves because she is so “brave and vulnerable” – it skewers modern celebrity reporting perfectly.

Nothing Sacred turns the screw on the nature of celebrity ever tighter, right up until the end, despite being made 72 years ago. If you haven’t seen it, you really should. I’d even suggest it should be remade, but it would have to be done by someone with a sharp, satirical eye like Jason Reitman – this is not a film that deserves softening by Hollywood.

Next up on the promotional trail is my head-to-head debate with Max Clifford at the London College of Communication on Tuesday, May 5th at 6 p.m. discussing the toxic nature of modern celebrity. I’m not sure if there are any tickets left, but if you can’t make it, rest assured that the volatile results will be filmed for webcast and recorded for podcast.

Finding Fame in Hollywood

I was intrigued to read in yesterday’s Independent about the splash Paul Duddridge is making in Hollywood. He’s moved from being an agent for comedians based in Soho to becoming a fame guru in Los Angeles in two years and seems to be making a good fist of getting numbers of the countless acting hopefuls who litter the staff rosters of LA bars and restaurants to come to his seminars in the hope that they, too, will be able to make Hollywood work for them.

The promise he offers is to make them famous in 40 days, if they follow the instructions in his two-day seminar to the letter.

“’I started out giving tips to people, and straight away, it just seemed to work,’” Duddridge told the Independent. “’What’s more, it turned out I was giving the same tips, over and over again. Now think I’ve boiled down my theory of fame into forty instructions, forty specific rules that will get you noticed.”

“He is, if you like, the sergeant major of a show-business boot camp,” says the Independent.

It seems to me, however, to be another Hollywood trawler net, powered by publicity, that might capture a star but is more likely to drag up shoals of fodder for Jade Goody-land, the sort of reality TV/brief tabloid stardom culture that is dependent on a constant turnover of faces.

Longevity is about talent, about originality. Yes, people can become famous very quickly, but their ability to stay famous is dependent on what new versions of themselves and their talent they can offer over years. As I have discussed in The Fame Formula, even the most talented need to refresh their fame every fifteen months if they want to stay in the limelight.

Duddridge’s theory of fame is based around Keanu Reeves. “’He’s a major, major movie star, yet no-one thinks he’s a great actor,’” says Duddridge. “’Even he may not think he’s a great actor. But I’m guessing people would give right arm to be as successful as him. My system that is more geared towards getting you to where he’s at.’”

Which is fine, but it should be remembered that Keanu Reeves started out as a child actor, has worked in movies continually, is rather handsome and has a screen presence, far beyond his ability to act, that any amount of training will not replicate.

I wish Duddridge luck with the venture, as well as the hopefuls he is teaching to become starrier in their outlook (to the point that one of the first things he instructs them to do is turn down auditions to test whether the people holding the audition really want to see them). But I believe that the global psyche has moved on from the bling bling nature of fame and fortune that has seen us through the last 20 years and that he won’t be able to utilize the old PR mechanisms to make this work in the way he might have been able to five years ago.