There’s no such thing as bad publicity

Posted on April 18, 2011

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Six minutes in a swanky hotel suite with a Hollywood A-lister pretty much sums up the quality time you get with a star during celebrity junkets. I can hear some of you groupies now, “that’s all I need…!”. Trust me it feels like a bad love affair, it’s over before you realise and you spend the next hour wondering if you were actually there and why you bothered!

I remember my first big tête-à-tête four years ago was with John Travolta. I’d never done a junket before, but I didn’t tell the planning desk that – how hard could it be? When I arrived at the venue I was ushered into a tiny room already stuffed with dozens of other expectant journalists. Human cattle-trucking is a phrase that springs to mind. These things never run to time but if I’d been made to wait much longer, I probably would have started moo-ing myself.

“Three minutes”, I was warned by the big-haired-collagen-enhanced sphincter police. Travolta clearly didn’t want to be there and it was so obvious he was going through the motions because his contract said so. But what a learning curve. At least I came out with usable soundbites; one poor whippersnapper was interviewing Ray Liotta next door and left in tears. He only got ‘yes’ and ‘no’ answers delivered with sarcasm and disdain. Lord knows what his editor added to that by the end of the day.

So when I hear that a Hollywood director started a rumour that ended up peddling the publicity mill for his latest film at no extra cost, was I surprised? Absolutely not. Junkets are a bore for both journalists and film-makers. Most hacks couldn’t care less about what happens in or out of LA-LA Land, there’s plenty more important things to worry about.  The director was clearly poking fun at the media. The trouble is, he hadn’t anticipated the can of worms he was about to open. Joke or not, animal cruelty is no laughing matter.

Crystal, a capuchin monkey used in the film Hangover Part II

Last week, Todd Phillips, director of The Hangover Part II said in an interview with Total Film Magazine that the capuchin monkey used in the film had become addicted to smoking cigarettes.

He said: “I wanted the monkey to smoke so we had to train her to. She was just shooting Cameron Crowe’s movie ‘We Bought a Zoo‘. And the monkey won’t stop smoking. Now I have PETA after me because the monkey’s become addicted to cigarettes.”

We can all breathe a sigh of relief, because this story was in fact cooked up by Phillips as a hoax, or in his words “a joke”. After making international headlines, some more bizarre than others, he released a statement via email to the website Movieline to clear the air.

He said: “This was a joke. I make comedies. When you are doing press for a film, it tends to get repetitive, lots of the same questions over and over. Sometimes I like to mix it up with the journalists. Obviously, the monkey in the film NEVER smoked a single cigarette. There are people on set whose sole job is to protect that monkey. Even if I wanted her to smoke it wouldn’t be allowed.”

Well there’s a relief. A director who can’t have it all his own way at someone else’s expense. In an almost therapeutic confession, he went on to warn viewers about a scene in the movie where the primate is doing cocaine.

“By the way, she also appears to do cocaine in the movie, but I guarantee you that she didn’t do that either,” Phillips said. I won’t print what he said about one of the co-star’s alleged use of coke in the film. I’ll leave you to surf the net and do your own investigating.

Interestingly when I called PETA (The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) for a comment, the press officer said she didn’t know if there was a pre-prepared statement ready to send out on request. That was near enough two hours ago, if that’s PETA going after someone, then is it any wonder Phillips was making up all kinds of nonsense? I’m surprised he didn’t name a big brand tobacco manufacturer saying it had sponsored the fags for the monkey to smoke!  I’ve put in a bid for a statement from PETA, so I’ll update this post when I get a response.

Good publicity or bad publicity Phillips got his column inches regardless. To quote Oscar Wilde’s aphorism: The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.

The sequel to The Hangover is released in the UK next month.

UPDATE:

PETA has just finally managed to get me a statement from their people in the US, who have apparently been dealing with most of the press queries. This it what they had to say:

“Todd Phillips decided to use a monkey in his film just for cheap laughs. He’s got talented, truly funny actors in the movie who could certainly have carried it without his having to resort to forcing a monkey into the act. Animals forced to perform are subjected to rigorous and abusive training methods to coerce them into doing stressful, confusing, uncomfortable, and even painful acts……

“……All of this was conveyed to Todd Phillips many months ago when PETA US first heard that a monkey was being used in this film. PETA US encouraged him to use a CGI (Computer-Generated Imagery) animal instead, but he ignored the recommendation. Using animals in films, such as the monkey in The Hangover 2, is cruel, boring and unimaginative.”

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