Secrets From Red-Carpet Reporters

Kwala Mandel
Coverage of The 84th Annual Academy Awards®

At its mythical best, entertainment reporting involves dressing up for parties, receiving messengered envelopes with Governors Ball tickets, and schmoozing celebs over a glass of champagne. While red-carpet reporting has its perks, it does not always live up to that fantasy.

"While some reporters get the same luxuries as stars, like extravagant gift bags and tickets to sit inside the Oscars, that is more the exception than the rule," says celebrity-media expert Vanessa Diaz, who interviewed more than 50 entertainment journalists for her anthropology research at the University of Michigan. "The reality is we're talking about a job where you stand outside for hours, often in the cold since most events are at night, hoping that at least one A-list celebrity actually shows up and then talks to you."

Beyond the spray tans and teeth whitening, real-life Hollywood reporters reveal what work is really like when your office is an Oscar afterparty.

Celebrities are not always polite, and they don't always like small talk. "I remember my first assignment for People magazine, and I got yelled at by Kid Rock," says one reporter. "I asked about the party, and he said 'Why aren't you asking about my music?' and threatened to have me thrown out of the party. And I asked Russell Crowe how he was feeling at his movie premiere, and he started yelling that it was the stupidest question." Another reporter confessed to Diaz that she once asked an actor how he was doing. "He said, 'How about I give you a big can of shut-the-f***-up?' and then walked away from her."

Even legends can have an off day when asked a mundane question. Lauren Bacall attended the premiere of "Beyond the Sea," where an Us Weekly reporter asked her, "What brings you out tonight?" Bacall chided back, "What do you think brings me out? I wanted to go to the movies, and that's why I'm here!" An entertainment reporter who observed the exchange added, "She may as well have added 'duh,' for the same effect."

Journalists are not posing for the cameras. On the carpet, reporters are separated from celebrities by metal barricades, says Diaz. "It makes the reporters look like caged animals that need to be restrained," she says, adding that once inside the event, reporters can come across as "well-paid stalkers who need to track the celebrity's every move."

Red carpets may look glamorous, but they can be absolutely uncomfortable, especially in the winter. One reporter covered an evening premiere in Manhattan, where it was 40 degrees outside. There were no heat lamps, and the wind chill was brutal. The film's stars finally showed up,posed for photos, and walked in without stopping for an interview. "I stood for two hours in the bitter cold for nothing," the reporter said.

Red-carpet reporters often have to ask ridiculous and intrusive questions. Diaz recalls interviewing Justin Timberlake right after his split with Cameron Diaz, and she knew she had limited time to bring it up. "On the red carpet, you often have just two seconds for a question. If that's the biggest thing going on with a person, and your job depends on the news, the only thing I could do is be straightforward and ask the question about the breakup. I knew he was offended, but my job is on the line in that situation."

Additionally, sometimes the red-carpet questions feel downright silly. "Reporters have told me they feel embarrassed about the kinds of things they have to ask on a red carpet, things that seem inconsequential like, 'Do you have Bieber fever?'" says Diaz. "Many reporters would love to talk to Angelina Jolie about her humanitarian work, but instead they have to ask her why she and Brad Pitt haven't gotten married."

Reporters are generally not friends with the stars on the red carpet. Diaz recalled a reporter sending out a tweet and Facebook message that said "hanging with Halle Berry!" after they spent the night staring at Halle Berry across the room. "Inside award ceremonies or on red carpets, there is generally no interpersonal interaction between reporters and celebrities unless it's coordinated by a publicist," said Diaz. "It is actually a reporter's job not to bother the celebrities."

There is an unspoken autograph and photograph policy. "It's actually quite sad, because people who come to the red carpets for the first time usually think they are going to be able to take pictures with stars," said Diaz. "One reporter brought her cousin from out of state to an event, and they didn't even get to meet one celebrity." Diaz, who spent seven years as a red-carpet reporter, never once asked to take a photo or for an autograph. "There are lots of reporters who seek out close and personal relationships with celebrities, but some follow the motto 'Be friendly, but never be friends.'"

"You are not there to be a fan," said former Los Angeles Times red-carpet reporter Jenny Sundel, who now runs the JesusYearProject blog. "It makes them take you less seriously. You are there to be professional."

There are nights when you get paid for nothing, says one former TV Guide reporter. "If no one shows up for an event, you get to eat appetizers and have a drink at the open bar. I've gotten paid $450 and there was no work except maybe interviewing a D-list celeb or two." However, says Diaz, "it's not a good feeling. I think reporters feel bad about the evening when they don't get anything. They don't want to have nothing to deliver to their editors."

Sometimes big stars are unexpectedly generous. "Angelina Jolie stopped and talked to every single reporter at one of her Hollywood movie premieres," said a People magazine reporter. "It made her late for her own movie premiere, and all the other celebrities had gone inside and stopped doing interviews, and it wasn't like she needed the publicity. Usually the big stars only stop to talk for two seconds and then go into the event. I've never seen anyone do that before or since."

Stars can also run counter to expectations. "Kristen Stewart is one of my favorite people to interview," says a Huffington Post reporter. "She's often described as someone who doesn't care what others think, and she's actually the opposite. She actually thinks about the questions posed to her and wants to give a thoughtful response. Julie Bowen is also awesome on the red carpet and answers questions gracefully; Denzel Washington is another one who takes his time on the carpet, answering everyone's questions."

Red-carpet reporting may have its share of challenges, but it can be rewarding even after standing in uncomfortable shoes for hours. "It is certainly not the worst job in the world, by any means, and I don't think any reporter would ever make it seem that way," says Diaz, who is writing about the occupation in "Manufacturing Celebrity and Marketing Fame: An Ethnographic Study of Celebrity Media Production." "Like with every job, there is the good and the bad that comes with red-carpet work."

Kwala Mandel is an editor for Yahoo! who works on special projects ranging from the royal wedding to the remembrance of 9/11 to the live-streamed Decade of Difference concert. She's contributed to omg!, TV, Movies, Shine, and News. Kwala has written for People magazine, In Style magazine, Sunset, Fortune and the Los Angeles Times.