Panel probes pic press

Discussion covers the Internet, B.O coverage, other topics

A panel pondered the subtleties of press-public-publicist relationships and the changing nature of the media at the Santa Barbara Film Festival panel “The Press as Imagemaker,” held Sunday.

Moderated by Daily Variety vice president and editor-in-chief Peter Bart — who acknowledged the vastness of the topic — the panel generally maintained that scrutiny of the film industry had intensified in all areas.

Bart pointed out that a decade ago the press was highly protective of the President and other inner circles of Washington, while it got gleeful delight from unearthing the most lurid aspects of a movie star’s private life; however, he said, today the opposite is true: The press protects the stars and publicizes every aspect of the private life of public figures.

Pointing to the upcoming film version of the D.C. roman a clef “Primary Colors,” he observed that the news media rarely have explored star John Travolta’s private life, while they’ve waded into an unbridled investigation of President Clinton, upon whom Travolta’s character in “Primary Colors” is based.

“Thirty years ago, the press was more corrupt in Hollywood and also in Washington,” New York Times journalist Bernard Weinraub noted. “On the one hand, it no longer feels obliged to protect. At the same time, we are generally more accepting of all sorts of conduct. That’s just a societal change.”

So to what extent, Bart asked, is the Hollywood press manipulated?

Pat Kingsley, president of praisery PMK, maintained her agency does not manipulate — it negotiates. She would never tell journalists not to ask one of her clients a particularly sensitive question, but she would say upfront that they would not receive a response.

Los Angeles Times film critic Kenneth Turan said publicity’s form of manipulation is access. He added that the press and publicists now have an adversarial relationship, and the result is that one no longer sees the type of seminal profile pieces Gay Talese and Tom Wolfe did in the 1960s.

Among the other topics discussed were the effect of the Internet, the difficulty of getting press for specialized and foreign-language films and the sheer glut of product in the marketplace.

Daily Variety chief film critic Todd McCarthy said that while his publication attempts to review everything, even with an army of reviewers around the world some pictures simply slip through the cracks, due to the sheer volume of films.

Another hot-button issue was increased coverage of the box office and Monday morning box scores, which Bart said “vulgarized” film.

Mark Gill, co-president of MiramaxL.A., said that, like it or not, the ranking system has some effect on moviegoing, perhaps adding as much as several million dollars to a successful film’s tally. Comments that this could lead to exaggeration drew laughter in light of the company’s recent flap involving a $6 million over-reporting error on the company’s “Scream 2.”

As far as getting attention for the “worthy” picture that doesn’t have obvious marketing hooks, everyone conceded the difficulty. When asked if her com-pany works overtime to create “hooks,” a PMK staffer in the audience was heard to say, “Do we ever!” as her boss replied, “I don’t think so.”

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