Shooting a red carpet event can be very exciting, however it can also be one of the more stressful shooting situations there is.
The first question to ask yourself when as you determine your approach and the questions you will prepare is “What outlet are you there for?” Knowing who you are shooting for and where it will end up is key. Yes, there are people that have gotten access to a red carpet event only to get something they can use for their reel or a fan/hobby website they’ve created, but that is not the typical participant. More often than not, you are there for a specific outlet with a specific purpose. This is where your first concern should always be. Different outlets want different things.
You can have 4 people in a row ask George Clooney before the premier of his movie the following: “What was it like to direct as well as star in the movie?” “What are you wearing?,” “Is it true you’re up for a role in the new Star Wars movie?” “What do you think of the current Presidential scandal currently going on?” All are appropriate if that’s what you were sent there to do. All of the above could be applicable as well. You could be representing an entertainment site that is most interested in the actual movie premier, you could be working for some geek type fanboy site, you could be there as a fashion person, or you could be there for news site that actually wanted the dust up with some provocative questions. All have happened to me, and I’ll admit, when it was the ones going for just a provocative response I’ve cringed and even turned down the volume on my headphones while filming so I didn’t have to listen.
So know what your producer wants, and start with that. If you have complete freedom, sometimes the obvious is a good place to start. There is a risk to the obvious though, and that is the canned answer. You can actually see and hear them recite the same exact words they said to the correspondent right before you, the correspondent right before them, and now you. Doing your research can help you sometimes elicit a more personal, and interesting response. For example, instead of “Tell me about your character in this movie” you might ask “Your character in this movie is such a departure from what you’ve done in the past. What was it about this character that attracted you to it?” It’s basically the exact same question, but it does a couple of things. One, it strokes the ego a little bit because it’s a little more about their “art” and second, the rephrasing makes them think about it a little more. Now keep in mind that your outlet may be fined with just a canned sound bite, and you may also be talking to Sylvester Stallone about Rocky 10, in which case it wouldn’t really apply. The point is, think about not only the question, but how to get the type of response that you really want.
Continuing with the list of questions your outlet wants, and start with the most important question and work your way down from there. You almost always have a limited amount of time with any one person. In mathematical terms;
your amount of time with an individual is inversely related to the popularity of the star. The bigger the star, the less time you get.
It will usually go down one of two ways. The star seems so “down to earth” and he/she just seems to love talking to you, but that menacing publicist just dragged them away before you could finish all your questions! Or, they said their answers while looking down the carpet analyzing just how far they have yet to go. Those are actually the BEST scenarios. The worst is a night full of D list stars and the main one you were sent there to get posed for some pictures and then they hauled ass down the red carpet skipping the q and a. This can almost always be anticipated though. Depending on the time the premiere starts and when the person actually arrives. Most of the time they didn’t get a flat tire on the way there, and believe or not they planned on being late just to avoid talking to you. If this seems to be the case it’s time to rally your new friends next to you. Often you can get the publicist to do a group question. This means you and 8 of your peers are going to sandwich together to get a group question. This means your going to need to get your mic in there and make sure your camera guy has a shot. Hopefully you’ll get your question in there, but if not maybe somebody else asks something that you can use. One more note about group questions. If you can anticipate that you’re all going to get the shaft, be aggressive and ask for the group question. Don’t wait for it to be the publicist’s idea, or for another correspondent to ask for it. I learned this from shooting countless red carpets with Diem Brown. She was great a realizing it was coming and would shout it out and ask for it. Most times she got, and because she asked she was right in the middle position. She was also great about making sure other people got their mics in there.
As a side note of courtesy, if your in there pretty good and someone you noticed next to you is screwed, help them out and hold their mic/recorder for them so they get the sound bite too. It’s good red carpet karma.
When should you arrive and check in? Let say the event starts at 8, then a check in time may be 6:30. If this is your first red carpet, get there at 6:30. If it’s not your first one, you’ll notice you start checking much later than that after a while. The reason being that people probably won’t start arriving until 7:15, and it will be people like Corey Feldman who isn’t even in the movie, or some guy from a random Superbowl commercial. If you’re new to red carpets, get warmed up and ask them some questions, it’s good practice. If you’ve been doing it for a while you will probably already know that you’re never ever going to use it and all you’re doing is creating more footage for you or your editor to go through. This is not the end of the world if it’s due that week, but a bit more of a pain if you have to get it out that night. Something important to know is that you’re not hurting anyone’s feeling by saying no. If you don’t like saying no, then I highly advise avoiding eye contact until they’ve passed. This is sometimes a little more difficult when they’re just lingering and kind of waiting to be asked something. If you like the feeling you get when you feed a pigeon and they all fly in and wait for more bread, go for it. If not, just pretend to be reading something on your phone and it will all pass.
Finding your place… Your spot should be marked with a white piece of paper with black writing on it on the ground by the velvet rope. Alternatively it could be a 3×5 card attached to the rope, etc. More often than not the words are facing away from you in a manner so that the publicist or star can identify if you’re someone they are interested in. The “A” outlets will have the best spots. E!, Ent. Tonight, Access H, Networks, all the way down until you get to some outlet that from an Internet site from a small village in North Korea. The bigger the event, the smaller your space will be. If you’re lucky, it’s just enough room for you to stand comfortably and have your camera guy right there to do his thing. If you’re at the Oscar’s, MTV Awards, then chances are it’s barely enough room to be standing with your side facing the carpet while your squished and ending up over the North Korean guy’s place marker. Another note of courtesy, when space is limited like this, it is not the time to set up a huge tripod and stake out a 5×5 area of comfort. You need to share space, and when your done with a person consider moving out of the way for someone else if you’re not immediately doing another interview.
The publicists are your ally, try not to piss them off.
If they are there for 8lb head kid from Jerry Maguire and he hasn’t been in anything since then, they know it. They will not be offended if you take a pass. Just remember, chances are that they do represent other people typically, or they could move up the ladder someday, OR Jerry Maguire 2 all of a sudden comes out and that kid is rockin it again. So always be nice to them.
If you ever want to piss off a publicist for an A lister for some reason, the best way to go about this would be to ask a second question of their star who needs to get going, after they gave you the “One More Question Look” two questions ago.
Something tricky to consider is the graceful exit. If you’re conducting an interview of someone and then all of a sudden somebody you absolutely need is about to pass by, PLEASE be courteous when you have to make the switch. Yes, your outlet absolutely what you to get that particular person and your doing your job, but how you treat that other person can come back to haunt you. I know a host who currently a bad ass on E!, and it happened to him. Not only did the guest that got tossed aside remember it in the future, it bothered this host so much that he offers it as regular advice because it still weighs on his conscious.
Line protocol, getting to know your neighbors. You are in this thing together, the talent, the camera people, the random producer. Even the Mom of the kid that has a 9 year old daughter who’s an internet sensation that somehow always gets access to ask questions in her now trademarked adorable little kid voice, is in it with you. These are people you may work with in the future. They may have work for you in the future. You may need to meet another camera guy as a back up. Most often though, you just need to be friendly for sharing space when needed, those group questions I mentioned earlier, or simply asking them who someone is that everyone seems to be interested in.
If you hate the people next to you and want them to talk sh!t about you, I have the perfect thing for you to do! If a celeb that everyone wants is hurrying down the carpet and is nice enough to try and get everyone in before being whisked away permanently by their publicist, take up all their time by asking question after question and take advantage of them not wanting to be rude. This is a great way for the next person to get completely screwed and get either only 1 question or no questions at all. If you can’t tell, I’m saying DON’T do this! More red carpet bad karma if you do.
Framing. If you’re there for any normal outlet, then get out of the way. That means your mic with the cube logo facing the camera is in view, but you and the makeup and hair you had done that night, is nowhere to be seen. If you need something for your reel, fear not. This is when you can get some of those B or C listers that aren’t so crucial to your segment. OR, choice number two, after you get the question(s) you came for from a particular celeb then do whatever you can to get away with some footage for yourself. Just make sure you communicate this to your cameraman beforehand, and if possible, a signal when it’s time for him to pull out the shot and try and get you in there. Let me just add that once again it’s about your outlet. Who knows, maybe they want you in there. Either way, give them what THEY need.
Are you a huge fan?!?! Then keep it to yourself.
If you want to be a pro on the red carpet, then don’t gush. You don’t want to be star struck when you start the interview. You don’t want to go on about how big a fan you are for the first 20 seconds of the time you’ve been allotted. Be genuinely interested in them, but that’s enough. I also highly advise against telling them how you go to the same podiatrist and try to form some bond with them that makes you feel like you’re going to stand out, thinking maybe they’ll want to get mojitos with you sometime. I’ve actually seen it work a couple times because the people actually did mix in the same circles, and I’ve seen a hundred more times where it made you feel awkward watching it go down.
ALWAYS keep an eye out. Obviously you’ll do this when you standing around just waiting. You need to continue doing it when the rush starts to happen. No, that doesn’t mean you should be constantly breaking eye contact with the person you’re currently talking to. As my Dad used to constantly say to me as a kid “be aware of what’s around you.” Keep that peripheral eye sight going, and know what you have coming up. The last thing you want is for a good interview to wrap right next to you and the skip you. Sometimes they’ll come back sometimes they won’t. Don’t freak out either. A lot of times they’ll give you a minute before they do skip you, but not too long and not every time. So you need to make a judgment, but that’s far better than realizing what happened after the fact.
Stand ups… you can do this either before, or after. That’s a great use of time when you’re there early. Before people start arriving they will generally let you roam around on the carpet to get a stand up. Get more than one, and even mix it up if you have the time. If your outlet doesn’t need the stand up, still get one for yourself if you want it for your reel. If you finish in time, I recommend getting your close too. Sometimes you may want to wait until after so you can make a quip or two about the responses, but better safe than sorry. They start breaking everything down RIGHT after, and if you didn’t get your close yet, your background might not be as good as it could have been.
Make sure your camera guy has an on camera light handy. Almost always there will be plenty of light there, but not every time. Sometimes your spot is right in the middle of two lights that are set up which means it’s not as strong, or you’re getting shadows. If this happens you’ll want that on camera light, it will make a big difference. If you do get a chance to get something for your reel, OR your outlet DOES want you in the shot, remember to cheat to the light so you not some dark silhouette in the frame.
If you’re a beginner don’t forget to move the mic!
Once again, some outlets will only want some sound bites from the starts and even your questions won’t matter. If that’s not the case, then don’t forget to move the mic back and forth! I know that might seem obvious, but whether its red carpets or MOS new people, and sometimes even seasoned people forget to move the mic. It doesn’t count if you remember half way through the question or answer, because only half of either sucks. A good trick when available is to use two mics. I do this with new people and it works pretty well as a safety. One channel is for the handheld microphone, and one channel is for a wireless lav. This way if it’s a problem I know I’ll still have good sound, and if they get confused with the back and forth they can just forget all together and use the handheld only for the subject.
When you first arrive you’ll approach a table that usually has 4 or 5 girls aged 22 to 26. I know that’s not always the case, sometimes it varies. However, I dare you to count how many times that is the case and you’ll see it’s at least 80 percent of the time! When you get to the table you’ll tell them your name and outlet. Usually they’ll give you your badge AND your cameraman’s badge. Sometimes they need to be there, sometimes not. I swear, as a camera guy, I was often handed it by the host who was already on the carpet, and often didn’t bother with one altogether. I guess they just don’t get a lot of rogue camera guys… After they check you off they should give you a tip sheet. If they don’t, then ask for one. Sometimes there will be somebody roaming the carpet asking if you need one, but not all the time. Another alternative is to borrow a neighbor’s, just make sure you give it back. The tip sheet will tell you who they are expecting to walk the red carpet. Don’t get too excited though, most of the time not everyone one it will show up. OR, some bigger celeb will be on it, but they have no intention of walking the red carpet or doing questions. Tip sheets have other purposes than just letting you know who’s going to be there. It should tell you not only who, but who they are as it relates to the event. This is extremely helpful for the people your not as familiar with, or people like the writers or directors that you wouldn’t recognize if they were in line next to you at Whole Foods. Besides being a good heads up, they can also help in post. Various outlets will want the tip sheet turned in with the footage. This will help the editor know the people as well, especially if you’re not going to produce it with them in the edit bay. So mark off who you got, and turn it in. If someone isn’t on the tip sheet there is another way to help the editor, or even yourself out, when it’s someone a little more abstract. Once you identify who someone is, say it to camera either before, or right after the interview. This can save you some time making that lower third and keep you from wasting 20 minutes on google trying to figure it out again. Sometime the publicist will hold up a sign with their name, which you should get as well. Obviously it’s for the lesser know people, and you only need it if it’s someone you intend to use in your segment.
The best companion is your smartphone, not counting the cameraman of course.
If you don’t know some people and you have time, look them up on your phone. You can always ask the person next to you, another reason why you need to make friends, but they may not know either. Your smartphone can help you do some last minute research. You can find out what part they play in the event you’re at, what they’ve done in the past, or what they may be working on in the future. They may not be a main character you want, but what if you discover that they just got cast for the next Star Wars movie, or a Twilight reboot. That might be something worth getting them for. For a lo-tech solution, just pay attention to what they say if someone interviews them ahead of you… If you figure who someone is first, whisper it to anyone there that didn’t know the answer as well as a courtesy. Just because you don’t know who they are doesn’t mean they’re nobody. Sometimes you don’t know every show or movie out there, or they are a biggest celeb ever when you were 4 years old. Or they could be the organizer, director, on the person a fundraiser is for, if that’s what the event is. So just don’t out right dismiss people if you don’t know them, use your phone and look it up. Lastly, you can usually ask the publicist for a heads up, and they’ll fill you in. Unless it is some awesome movie star, chances are they won’t be offended if you don’t know them. IF NONE OF THAT WORKS, and If you need to by time to figure out who they are during your time with them, create safety questions!! You should always have a few of these in your arsenal. They will almost always be able to tell you have no idea, but it’s better than nothing, and most times they’ll bail you out. Like if you say “So what projects are you working on now?” Sometimes they say what it is, but then subvert fill you in that there in the movie you’re currently covering. In which case you can just say “I know! That was going to be my next question!”
Wired Mics and Wireles Mics
If you are using wireless mics on your red carpet shoots you should always make sure your camera operator has an XLR cable handy. The reason being is that there will be occasions, usually at bigger events, that you are not allowed to be wireless. This is because the in-house crew will have a lot of frequencies going on. From their own wireless mics, to the IFB broadcasts. There is a risk that your frequency will cause interference with their broadcasting needs, and they will actively check to make sure you are not wireless. You don’t want to be there ready to go, and then all of a sudden not be able to use your microphone. Almost always this will be indicated to you before the actual day of the event, but to minimize any accidental memory lapses, it’s best just to have one handy. Even if the event allows wireless, which almost all do, you will occasionally have your own frequency interference issues no matter what you dial in, or perhaps another technical problem altogether, and the the wired option will be a viable alternative.
Step and repeat, what is it?
As a little side note to conclude this topic is the name of that board that always in the background with the movie titles, event name, sponsors, etc… It’s called a “Step and Repeat.” Like the definition for “IFB” I would always forget what the heck it was called for the first couple of years. It doesn’t really affect anything one way or another if you know it or not. However, if it comes up in trivial pursuit or something, you’ll thank me later. It is called that for one of two reasons, and it turns out both are right. The first reason is because of the logos being placed and repeated. That’s what I always thought was anyway, probably because I’m more of a techie. More recently I heard its because of the talent, step in to do one interview, and then repeat the process. That actually makes more sense, but who knows, maybe someone name James Step and Nancy Repeat invented it.
If I left something out of my red carpet tips and I can help out, email me and I’ll do my best to respond and update this blog. Have a great shoot!