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FIRST-PERSON: How movie press junkets help you

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (BP)–How does my going to a press junket help you, and for that matter, what is a press junket?

Well, members of the entertainment press are flown out to L.A. or New York, or occasionally someplace exotic — like Rome — in order to see a film and to interview the actors and filmmakers. The press are put up at hotels and given per-diems for food and those well-stocked room refrigerators, all with the intent of gaining publicity for the film by the studio. If a film is aimed at the family, or if it possesses a spiritual theme, we who write for Christian outlets are sometimes included in the invitation.

Some editors of Christian publications are weary of junkets due to the perception that their representatives will be seen as enablers, that their work will be used to promote rather than report. I see it differently.

There are instances when these interview opportunities allow writers to dig out uplifting gems that give insight concerning a filmmaker’s endeavors. Like a photographer who takes a hundred pictures in order to capture one great moment, the Christian reporter attends these junkets in order to uncover a meaningful nugget of spiritual truth.

These interview opportunities give reporters the chance to understand not just the artist’s motive for making the movie, but his reason for making movies in general. And every once in a while, we are introduced to a spiritual side of the moviemaker. This happened to me while on a junket for “Racing Stripes” during an interview with one of the stars, Steve Harvey. The film was amusing enough for kids, but there wasn’t a lot of ethereal depth to the storyline. I kept wondering how I would be able to make this a viable piece for the Christian publications I write for, when suddenly in walked comedian Harvey and, with the first question, his spiritual leadings were made manifest.

Though he will be the first to admit that he’s no saint (his use of language in a few past film and stage presentations are colorful and sometimes just downright objectionable), nevertheless, in our 2005 interview the entertainer stated the kind of material he wants to leave behind for his children and to honor God. Read this short transcript:

BOATWRIGHT: “I’ve heard that you used to sing in a church choir.”
HARVEY: “My mamma raised me in the church. I was not allowed to stay home on Sundays. There was no option. My father didn’t go, but he gave us a haircut and made sure we went. I sang in the choir until I went off to college.

BOATWRIGHT: “Still go?”

HARVEY: “Yes. I’ve always had God as a part of my life. It’s important out here (Hollywood) too, because it gives you a base, you dig? ‘Cause out here it’s like Sodom and Gomorrah. This is Sin City. And if you don’t have a spiritual base, you’ll get caught up in it. It’s inevitable.”

Besides making my living by writing about Hollywood’s influence on the culture, I have been blessed with some extraordinary moments that uplifted my soul, such as the time on the “Gods and Generals” junket in Washington, D.C., when I found myself alone at 11:45 on a Saturday night, looking up at the Lincoln Memorial. Not another person around. (If there were security about, they were very discrete.) If you’ve stood at the feet of Mr. Lincoln, you can relate to the emotions that ran through me, both patriotic and spiritual.

In Rome, I saw the Pieta in St. Peter’s Basilica while there to interview the stars, director and writer of “Angels and Demons.” Trust me, you don’t have to be Catholic to be spiritually moved by Michelangelo’s miraculous work in marble.

But what does this have to do with you?

Content (the reason for the rating) has become as influential as the artistic and technical merits of movies. When a Christian reporter attends a junket, he’s not there for the freebies or the chance to rub shoulders with the entertainment elite. The writer has come to further understand the intent of the filmmaker, as well as the film.

I hope you’ll pray for those of us who examine Hollywood’s cultural impact. Ask that the Holy Spirit will give us discernment. And remember, the first step in any battle is to be informed. So, the next time you decide to see a movie, please, “know before you go.”
Phil Boatwright reviews films from a Christian perspective for Baptist Press and at previewonline.org.

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  • Phil Boatwright