Behind The Scenes as a Red Carpet Reporter

Actress Emma Stone on the red carpet at the 61st BFI London Film Festival.

The red carpet at the 2017 BFI London Film Festival. Photo: Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images for BFI

What it’s like to be a Red Carpet Reporter at the London Film Festival

If you’ve ever been to a film festival, you’ll know the energy on red carpet is palpable. The talent posing for photos, the fans screaming, the flashing of lights and the scrum of journalists waiting for interviews. From a distance, it might look like utter chaos but in fact, the red carpet is actually an intensely stage-managed affair.

2017 marked my third year of attending the London Film Festival as accredited film blogger. Alongside the press screenings, the round table interviews and the screen talks, press also get the chance to apply for red carpet events. A red carpet event is where top talent such as actors, directors and writers attend the public screening in an attempt to promote the film. Sometimes these events take place outside the cinema so that fans can line-up outside the barriers to take a snapshot of their favourite celebrity. For smaller or independent films, the red carpet events tend to take place inside the venue foyer.

But exactly how do you get to attend a red carpet event and what happens when you actually get there? When I attended my first red carpet event, I didn’t have a clue what to expect and wished someone had put together a blog post just like this to help explain it all! So, if you’re a fellow film blogger like me or just a film fan interested in how it all works, this post takes you behind the scenes of red carpet reporter so you can truly experience what it’s really to attend a red carpet event.

Applying For Red Carpet Accreditation

Preparation for a red carpet event starts the minute the film festival line-up is announced. Once press accreditation has been confirmed, press outlets can begin to apply for a place on the red carpet as a reporter or photographer. While you may register your interest weeks in advance, outlets often don’t find out if they have a spot until the day before the event. Spaces are strictly limited and publicists need to be certain of coverage so (rightly or wrongly) generally tend to favour international broadcast outlets over national print and online. This means smaller outlets, particularly online outlets, tend to miss out.

For bigger red carpets events, such as world premieres or award ceremonies, the number of media outlets multiplies threefold. For BLACK MASS, an American biographical crime drama starring Johnny Depp and Benedict Cumberbatch, around 20 press outlets attended the red carpet with reporters flying in from around the world to line-up on the opposite side of the carpet from the autograph hunters. Smaller red carpet events tend to take place inside the venue in more intimate setting. For A BIGGER SPLASH, I was part of only three online outlets (one of which was Empire, the world’s biggest movie magazine), with just over 10 outlets on the red carpet in total for this event.

What Happens On The Night

As an accredited reporter, you are expected to turn up about an hour before the talent arrives. The press outlets are arranged in a long line, in order of perceived importance. At the top end (the closest to where the talent arrives) are national and international broadcast outlets like the BBC and ITV, followed by syndicators like Reuters, the Associated Press and Getty Images. Further down the line are crews from major newspapers and glossy magazines. At the tail end are the movie websites such as Empire and Total Film and ‘the blogger pen’. After thirty minutes, the line is locked down and no one is allowed in or out. At this point, the press start to jostle for position (the closer to the barrier you are, the better) and start to prepare their equipment, whether that be a TV camera or a dictaphone.

Before the talent arrives, publicists hand out A4 pieces of paper with names and photographs of the talent expected to attend. You are asked who you’d like to speak to (although it’s not guaranteed) so they can move any cast or crew past you if you don’t wish to speak to them. When the talent finally arrive, they tend to do so in order of importance, with lesser known cast, writers, producers and other crew members turning up first. The stars of the show often don’t arrive until the very last minute and are usually late. Initially attendees will be taken to the photographers, and then to the stage to perform a live interview for the benefit of the crowd. Once this is done, they’ll sign a few autographs before spending their remaining time, which is usually anywhere from 20 to 60 minutes, with the press.

Claire Foy talks to a reporter at the 61st BFI London Film Festival.

Claire Foy talks to a reporter at the 61st BFI London Film Festival. Photo: John Phillips/Getty Images for BFI

All For Nothing?

While nothing quite beats the glitz and glamour of the red carpet, in reality you could spend all night (usually in the freezing cold) waiting to speak to someone but never get anything. The big player outlets might get a four or five minute interview but the majority of journalists are lucky if they get a question each. By the end of the line, reporters are often grouped together, trying to find a question or two that they can turn into content. For THE PROGRAM, a group of bloggers clubbed together to ask screenwriter John Hodge (best known for TRAINSPOTTING) three or four questions that we could all use in an interview piece. Similarly, for WHO KILLED NELSON NUTMEG, a fellow film blogger and I teamed up to interview the Danny Stack, the director/writer for a podcast episode. Any exclusivity is out of the window in this scenario but on the plus side, it makes for a nice camaraderie between the outlets.

A reporter ahead of you in the line can also spoil your chances completely by asking an awkward question, usually unrelated to the film in any way. These tend to be gossip magazines and less reputable newspapers who ask a controversial question looking for a juicy sound bite. This only serves to irritate the talent, forcing them to leave the red carpet as soon as possible and leaving you with nothing but a fleeting photo for your time. The general mood of the talent also has a big impact. If the actor is having a good day, they’re usually happier to spend more time with outlets. If you’ve caught them on a bad day, even if they do stop to chat with you, getting a decent response from them can be like getting blood out of a stone.

Practice Makes Perfect

I’m not going to lie to you, being accepted for a red carpet event can be difficult, especially if you’re a smaller outlet but don’t let that stop you from testing out your reporting skills at other events. The London Film Festival may be the biggest film festival in the UK but there are plenty of regional film festivals that are crying out for coverage. Sure, Benedict Cumberbatch may not be scheduled to grace the red carpet at these smaller events, but plenty of other talent is and they are usually more open to talking to reporters. At the recent 2018 Manchester Film Festival, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Shia LaBeouf and Jane Horrocks all took time out of their busy schedules to chat to reporters on the yellow carpet, providing regional film bloggers with some pretty neat and exclusive content.

Top Tips for Surviving The Red Carpet as a Reporter

Thinking of giving it a go as a red carpet reporter? Here are my top times for staying sane…

  • Wear comfortable shoes and dress warmly. Bigger red carpet events usually take place outside with no protection to the weather. Be prepared to stand outside in the cold and rain for at least two hours (maybe longer) and make sure you visit the toilet before you get locked into the press pen.
  • Have a backup plan. If you’re using a dictaphone, take extra batteries. Also consider using your mobile phone for a back-up recording. In a moment of panic, I thought I’d hadn’t switched on my dictaphone during an interview with an actor (thankfully I had) but if wasn’t for a kind fellow blogger offering to send me their recording, it could have been a disaster. Not everyone is as nice.
  • Do your research. If possible, make sure you watch the film before you interview the talent, or at the very least, understand what the film is about. Nothing infuriates talent more than clueless reporters who don’t know what they’re talking about. Prepare a set of questions in advance and try to be as creative with them as possible. Also, don’t be afraid to steer away from your original questions if the talent brings something interesting into the conversation. Some of my best content has come from off-the-cuff questions which have come to me by simply listening.
  • Act professionally at all times. You don’t get second chances in this job so if you are rude to the talent – or your fellow press pals – you won’t be invited back again. At one red carpet event I attended, a young video blogger completely took over, pushing other press people out of the queue and arguing with the talent. When the publicist asked her to step back, she was extremely rude and refused to cooperate. I haven’t seen her at a press event since.
  • Prepare to come away with nothing. Like I mentioned before, sometimes you can wait all night trying to speak to someone but you end up coming away with nothing so think about what other content you can produce if your interview piece fails to come to fruition. Perhaps you could interview some fans waiting outside the venue for a special fan engagement piece? Or maybe you could write about your experience of attending a film festival? Anything is better than nothing so don’t be afraid to be creative and make the most of what you have.

Most Importantly, Enjoy It!

In conclusion, it doesn’t really matter whether you’re at the Oscars or Oxford Film Festival, the red carpet experience is pretty special wherever you are. At an average film festival, most film bloggers are sat in a dark cinema watching back-to-back movies or locked in a hotel room churning out content like a machine. You rarely get to see the light of day, let alone engage with another human, so make the most of the glitz and glamour when you do have the chance. In a digital age where everyone runs a blog, it’s also nice to stand out. In my first year at London Film Festival, I was accepted for six red carpet events (thanks Premier Comms) which not only allowed me to produce lots of content for the site but also helped boost my readership. Seriously, stepping out on the red carpet might feel a little scary but give it a go, you won’t regret it.