Most seemed much more laid-back. A guy named Dave with an elegant gash across his face said, “Just relax and have a good time, that’s what it’s all about.”
Strick took hundreds of pictures that day. After a while, I managed to lose my self-consciousness about him. I was too consumed with observing, eavesdropping, questioning, scribbling notes—plus “acting,” of course. I was “on” for nearly 14 hours, and though I was exhausted at the end of the day, I’m convinced that having all of that real-time reporting—an entire standard reporter’s notebook filled—was the key to delivering what I consider one of my best yarns.
Sadly, since I wrote this piece in 2006, these types of assignments have become almost extinct, as entertainment journalism itself has capsized. (One could be forgiven for assuming that the corpses in this photo are people I had to murder to get the Premiere job.) The disappearance of in-depth monthly film magazines and rise of the quick-hit trade story that now permeates most of the industry-focused blogosphere is one reason, but it’s also a result of filmgoers being completely saturated by the factoids and ephemera of the movie world. There is now so much material available online every day about every step of the filmmaking process—through filmmakers Tweeting set photos, studios releasing seven different teasers and endless making-of featurettes, obsessive fans stealing smartphone pictures during production—that there is very little mystery left about how movies are made.
Film reporters traditionally derive much of their value from being somewhere the average reader can’t go, talking to talented people who cinephiles never meet, being in on things that the casual observer never hears about. While much of this is still in play for entertainment writers, the current all-access-pass climate on the Web means that journalists have little to reveal by offering access behind the scenes. Meanwhile, thanks to the likes of US Weekly and TMZ, a lot of that entertainment “news” is really celebrity content. Hard-news outlets either compete for the same juicy scraps or risk irrelevance by devoting dwindling resources to longer, more in-depth pieces that fewer people have the time or attention to read. Just as in the business they cover, the money’s in the sparkle and spectacle, not the thoughtful and thorough.
Before shooting, my little group gauges the camera positions and ruefully acknowledges that, given our placement at the back left of the set, it’s unlikely that any of our hard work will make it onscreen. . . .
Finally, everything is set: One hundred background actors, Kurt Russell in the middle, and dozens of crew, all ready to make some art, baby. Petersen comes on the “God mike” and gives us a little first-shot-of-the-day pep talk, ending with “G-G-G-G-Go for it!”
The dripping water is cued . . .
The fire bars go hot . . .
The lights are extinguished . . .
A tense pause as we all lie still in the silent darkness . . .
And: “Background. . . . Action!”