One of the cool things about doing SXSW as press this year is that I’m on a list with every other member of the press, and I get contacted weeks in advance on screenings, interviews, publicity, and red carpets. Being the rookie that I am, doing a red carpet sounded like a lot of fun. The first red carpet I attempted to get on was the Texas Film Awards, which I did successfully get on for (you can read that coverage here). But I also got approved to cover a couple of red carpets for two world premieres and one U.S. premiere. The films were (in chronological order) My Blind Brother, Demolition, and Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru. I didn’t transcribe the interviews I conducted, mainly out of laziness and also because there wasn’t really anything noteworthy that I had asked these directors and actors. What I am going to give you is an account into the bizarre world of red carpets, and talk about what this experience has been like. I will name names, but I won’t defame anyone (mainly because everyone was supercool, both journalists and talent).
MY BLIND BROTHER
I got an email on Friday afternoon saying that I had been confirmed for the red carpet of My Blind Brother, an independent comedy based on a short film that played at SXSW in 2003. The film’s talent on the carpet that night was Nick Kroll, Jenny Slate, Zoe Kazan, Charlie Hewson and director Sophie Goodhart. The red carpet was at the Topfer Theatre, across the lake and off of South Lamar (it’s the new-ish Zach Scott theater for all us local people). I got there a few minutes early on Saturday night before my allotted time to get there to be safe. I went up to the front and the publicist asked who I was. I said Jake Salinas, and that my outlet was Movie Talk, which I still think its pretty cool that I get to say that at this festival.
I got on my spot, which was cool because it had my outlet right there, Movie Talk With Jake Salinas. Famous people could know who I am. I stood around looking like I didn’t know what I was doing (which was true) for about a half hour before talent started arriving. I talked a little bit with a reporter next to me, a guy who worked for Glide Magazine. I can’t remember his name, but I think he followed me on Twitter (follow him here). He was a cool guy, and I enjoyed talking with him inbetween interviews. The first person I interviewed was Sophie Goodhart, the writer-director. She was a very lovely woman to talk with, and very humble, which was nice. She talked about the road to getting her film from short form to feature-length, and what that experience was like. It was pretty cool hearing that journey, as I had read an article about the film before I went, and it talked about how she was pregnant during the filming. I wished her luck and she went onto the next press spot.
I then interviewed Charlie Hewson, who I didn’t really know all that much about and asked some lame questions (all my questions were lame, but everyone was cool). He was also a cool dude, and super nice, and then shortly went onto the next press spot. Nick Kroll, Jenny Slate and Zoe Kazan all came at once, which was pretty cool. They stuck me toward the end of the red carpet, which was actually the front since the way the talent had to get to the red carpet was from my side, so it was nice to interview everyone.
I talked with Jenny Slate first, which was cool since I’ve been a fan of her and her work since her ill-fated one season on Saturday Night Live in 2009. I asked her generic softball questions (what it was like to work with the cast, had she seen the short, etc.), and she was willing to answer my questions. Very professional and very quick. Thanks to these red carpets, I’ve begun to realize how quick and routine all of these carpets are. The talent knows what they’re doing, and doesn’t act like they want to be your friend or anything like that. I guess I had that energy of being really nice and friendly since, well that’s my personality and that how’s my parents raised me. I’m not saying my energy made the talent look bad, God no, it’s just that I learned that you don’t really need to be that approachable on these red carpets. Oh well.
I then talked briefly with Zoe Kazan. I’m a big fan of hers, so that was cool talking with her, asking her the same questions I asked Jenny Slate. Again, very professional, nice and quick. Next guy was Nick Kroll. I’ve been a fan of Kroll’s since I was in middle school. I started watching The League and Parks and Recreation around that time, so I’ve been familiar with his work for years. I very awkwardly extended my hand to shake his, which I later learned he didn’t really want to shake hands. I don’t hold it against the guy, he probably doesn’t wanna touch my hand along with everyone else, but again I put that on how I was raised and how I should shake hands with people that I meet. Sorry Nick. He was also cool. We talked a little bit about Austin, and then he talked about the cast and the movie. He also acknowledged my website by saying, “your outlet is Movie Talk?” which was super cool. He went on his way and that was it. First red carpet was successful. Now it was time to head to my next red carpet of the night, which wasn’t as smooth and easy as the previous one.
This was probably my least favorite experience so far at SXSW. I shall explain.
I get to the Paramount Theater pretty early, so I hang out in the lobby of the Stephen F. Austin hotel to write my review of Hunt for the Wilderpeople (which you can find here). The red carpet was for the new film Demolition, by Jean-Marc Vallee (director of Dallas Buyers Club) and starred Jake Gyllenhaal, who were both going to be in Austin that evening. It was a pretty exciting opportunity to interview both, since I like Vallee as a director and Gyllenhaal a lot as an actor, especially in recent years due to his work in Nightcrawler. When I began to walk over there, I noticed that I couldn’t find my voice recorder. This was troubling due to the fact that the interviews from before were on there, and I was planning on using it for today. I had lost it, and that really sucked. I got in the press line and whipped out my iPhone to use as a recorder, which didn’t look as professional. I got in line and it wasn’t as well-prepared as the past red carpet was. I didn’t have a spot right as I got there, which made me a bit uncomfortable. A reporter who I follow and read/watch their stuff regularly passed me by, and I thought about saying hi but she seemed very preoccupied with getting ready for this interview. Oh well.
I got placed in line at the very end, which wasn’t very surprising. I’m low on the totem pole when it comes to this stuff, so it wasn’t very surprising. What was interesting was how they put all the camera people at the very front (Fandango, E! Entertainment, etc.), which sucked because those folks would hog the talent for quite some time. Again, oh well. I stood next in line to Lauren Huff, a freelance reporter with US Weekly that night (follow her here on Twitter). We talked for a bit and she was really cool, but I could tell that it was going to be a long night for both of us, primarily since this was going to be a batshit crazy red carpet.
First things first, it went way behind schedule. Jean-Marc and the films screenwriter arrived, which was pretty cool, and I was about to ask Jean-Marc a question or two, but everything was so quick and overwhelming that there was no point. He did wink to me when he left the red carpet and walked into the theater, maybe out of kindness or as an f-you because I didn’t love Dallas Buyers Club (I’m guessing its the former).
It was also incredibly chaotic because whenever a big movie star like Jake Gyllenhaal comes to town, people go crazy. It’s been a lot of fun interviewing all of these celebrities and directors, but I don’t really get all that starstruck around them. The most starstruck I got throughout the whole festival was seeing Christopher Lloyd hanging out by the Stephen F. Austin Hotel, and seeing Steven Van Zandt walk into the Stateside Theatre while I was in line for Everybody Wants Some!!. But people in Austin go CRAZY when movie stars are in town, and I saw this very apparent on the red carpet for Demolition. After a long wait, a black Suburban pulled up. Gyllenhaal was in the front seat and got out, and shit started to hit the fan. Camera flashes were going off, people were screaming, anxiety attacks were close to occurring (for me at least), and we were off to the races. I had done a few red carpets in the days leading to this, but nothing like this one. This was flat-out crazy.
The worst thing about this red carpet was because a big movie star like Gyllenhaal was there, all of the bigger outlets were hogging him for the longest time. Granted, outlets like Fandango and E! Entertainment get to have all that time due to their esteem, but its a little bit frustrating to the little guy like myself and Lauren. The publicist told us both that we’d have one question each for Gyllenhaal, which made sense. He finally came down to the red carpet and everybody got to ask a question except me. Granted, I wasn’t being as assertive as I should’ve been, but it was definitely much more different from the previous red carpet. Since the red carpet took as long as it did, I wasn’t able to secure a good seat for the film, or the other movie I was trying to see, so I just went home and slept. The red carpet was sort of a waste, but an interesting experience to write about and meet some interesting folks like Lauren.
TONY ROBBINS: I AM NOT YOUR GURU
The last red carpet was for a movie that I actually saw (and really didn’t like). While this red carpet was less chaotic than Demolition and more in line with the My Blind Brother red carpet, it didn’t help that the red carpet was happening on the hottest day of the year. For some reason, the temperature in Austin got to about the mid-90s, and it sucked. I brought a suit jacket in my backpack just in case I needed to formal up, but I’ve quickly realized that most of these reporters on the red carpet don’t really dress up. I just kept to what I was wear, a collared t-shirt and blue jeans, but I was still sweating.
The only people confirmed for this red carpet were Joe Berlinger, the director of the film, and Tony Robbins, the film’s subject. Even though I had more time to talk with the talent on the red carpet since it was a smaller one, I only wanted to ask one or two questions for each of them because I was burning up and they probably were too. Berlinger was the first to arrive, along with his wife and kids for the world premiere. I nodded politely as they went into the theater briefly for some reason. The publicist came up to us and told us that he was coming through the back first (where I currently was) and that we should only ask a few questions because he was a little under the weather. I agreed to this, because as mentioned before I was only going to ask him a question or two because I didn’t want to take up too much of their time (you can tell that I don’t normally do this stuff).
As Berlinger began his interviews, his wife came running down to the red carpet. She screamed, “JOE!!!!!!”, which panicked some of us because we thought something was wrong. She ran up to him and exclaimed that their daughter had just gotten into MIT, which was really exciting stuff. The entire press line clapped for the couple as they looked ecstatic about the news. Berlinger and his wife ran into the theater to obviously be with his daughter, and his wife told us how excited they were about having two daughters going to the school. It was a genuinely really sweet moment at SXSW this year, and easily the best part of covering this documentary.
After this, Berlinger finally came to my corner of the red carpet. I congratulated him on the film and the exciting news, which he seemed pretty grateful about the latter. I asked him about why he wanted to make a movie about Tony Robbins. He told me he had been invited to one of these seminars and that he went in very skeptically, but came out of it feeling inspired and transformed by it and pursued Robbins for about two years to make a documentary about this, and he finally agreed to do so. He also talked about how this was his first “feel-good movie” he’d done. I then asked if Robbins had any stipulations about Berlinger covering the event, or if he had unprecedented access to everything. He told me that he told Robbins that he had the right to kill the film if Robbins felt his filming of the event was getting in the way of what the attendees of the seminar were feeling. Robbins was cool with the idea that Berlinger was pursuing and agreed to what Berlinger wanted to do with this documentary. I then wished Berlinger well and he went on his way.
A few minutes later, Tony Robbins arrived (with 4-5 bodyguards with him). After posing for pictures with Berlinger, he started making the rounds I was actually one of the first guys to talk with him. I only asked him one question because I was burning up in the sun, and Robbins looked pretty hot underneath the sun as well. I asked him why he let Joe Berlinger into the Date With Destiny seminar to film it. Robbins quickly answered by calling Berlinger a “persistent son-of-a-bitch”. He talked about how he was skeptical at first because he felt that the people attending these events needed that privacy and that they already had cameras broadcasting the event on-screen for the attendees. He liked the idea of doing the film like it was a concert film, and that was one of the selling points for Robbins to agree to do this film. He was also skeptical because the interventions in the film, where Robbins is helping the attendees with whatever problems they’re having, took about 1-2 hours in real life at this seminar, and wondered how Berlinger was going to be able to edit these interventions to 7 minute sections of the film. He also praised Berlinger for his integrity, and that he wanted to wait a year before the film came out so he could check back in on the subjects a year after the seminar. Quick and easy interview, and Robbins charisma really carried through to the red carpet because he was a pretty interesting nice guy (at least to us press people).
And those were the red carpets that I covered for the 2016 SXSW Film Festival. I had fun on all of them, met some cool people, talked to some cool actors and directors, and so on. I hope you enjoyed this lengthy write-up, and hopefully I’ll get invited again to cover more red carpets for the following year. Be sure to check out the rest of my SXSW coverage from the past week.