For those who keep their eye on the entertainment press, the celebrity walk-off is not an altogether uncommon occurrence. All it takes is one uncomfortable question from a reporter and, before you know it, microphones are being torn off and a prickly star — with publicist in tow — is making it for the exit.

But could the media be fighting back? News Limited entertainment editor-at-large Rebekah Devlin certainly seems to think so. In a surprising insight to the operations at News, Devlin told the Caxtons advertising conference that all arms of the media conglomerate were preparing a boycott against films that don’t offer up their stars for interviews.

“Before we were quite disjointed as a company … but we are really getting together now to say ‘OK, if you don’t want the help of the Fox network then let’s see how your film goes’. We are really starting to push back,” said Devlin.

With Rupert Murdoch in town for a family function, News was quick to hose down suggestions of the no stars, no coverage boycott. But word of Devlin’s rant — Crikey has been unable to contact her amid reports she was slapped down by News — has even made it to Hollywood, with industry bible The Hollywood Reporter picking up the comments. It noted:

“News. Corp could potentially deny coverage in any of its outlets, including the New York PostFox News Channel, the Wall Street Journal, and UK Daily Telegraph among other worldwide publications.”

Most major movie houses Crikey spoke to couldn’t report any issues with actor availability or News Limited coverage. “We work with News Ltd ongoing with phoners and junket access,” said Inge Burke, national publicity manager for Roadshow Films.

Film publicist Annette Smith says it’s likely Devlin is referring to the big PR companies in the US, where personal publicists wield huge power thanks to the stars they look after. She says smaller publicists aren’t particularly concerned by any News boycott, as they doesn’t necessarily reach their target market.

“The foot-soldier film distribution publicists, both here and abroad, who look after movie releases always do their utmost to try and persuade the agents and personal publicists of actors to make their clients available for interviews,” she told Crikey.

The commitment from actors often depends on the size of the movie. As James Hewison, theatrical distribution manager for Madman Entertainment, told Crikey: “Madman isn’t a studio, [it doesn’t] release blockbusters and certainly the local fare we’re involved with (Animal Kingdom most recently, The Loved Ones currently) has absolutely fully engaged the actors … the former’s publicity serves as proof of this, I guess!

“In our experience, production inform us of actors’ availabilities as it’s the producers who discuss and negotiate contracts. To date our experience has been that, generally speaking, there haven’t been any issues with media — including News Ltd — as described in the Herald piece.”

Karl Quinn, entertainment editor of The Age, says star tours don’t happen in Australia as much as they used to because publicists are trying to “maximise the hit” by doing domestic US tours or ’round tables’ with approved journalists in Europe.

“There used to be a quid pro quo where actors would do some press for a film and then get a couple of days off in Sydney in return,” he told Crikey. “Now there’s a pattern whereby if somebody comes here, a big name from overseas, it’s generally because the film needs work, it needs help.”

Quinn says the reason fewer stars make the trip could be attributed to the fight against piracy, which has led to worldwide release dates being brought closer together.

Louise Heseltine, PR director at entertainment agency Limelight, says most actors understand publicity is part of the job. “We have never worked with an actor who won’t ever do interviews,” she told Crikey.

“It can be challenging working around actors’ schedules and often agents can limit the amount of time they will do or be particular with what media outlets they will do interviews with.  But generally speaking, if we are working on an independent/small budget film, we find that a lot of actors tend to be really supportive and will do what it takes in order to promote the film.”

Issues might arise with release dates — a delay in the Australian premiere means overseas actors have moved onto other projects. “In that instance,” Heseltine said, “I can certainly appreciate not being available to talk about a film they filmed probably two-three years earlier.

“For the Brads and the Angelinas of the world, they can get away with not doing publicity because their name alone sells the film. Distributors can build a whole marketing/advertising campaign around the name of an A-lister and I don’t think a newspaper subsequently refusing to run reviews or editorial on the film because they don’t have access to the star will hurt the film.

“Having said that, you would have to be in the top 10 list in order to get away with not doing publicity and should they ever be in need of some positive PR.”

Peter Fray

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