Few things impress an editor or publisher more about an article than the prospect of having a quote or interview with a renowned expert within the body of the piece. And if that renowned expert happens to be an A-list celebrity, well my friends, you may have just given your editor a big smile, because nothing catches a reader’s attention like a famous name dropped here and there. Many freelance writers don’t have a clue as to how to go about getting a quote or interview from an expert or celebrity, and the truth is; it’s easier than you think.
Let’s say you’re writing an article on Nuclear Fusion. How can you find an “egg-head” who can give you a quote or answer some questions for your article? It’s very simple. All you have to do is ask. Most people are looking for their fifteen minutes of fame, and everyone likes to see their name in print. By simply contacting you local college or university, you will find a host of experts on most subjects you may be covering. Dozens if not hundreds of experts on your topic can be found through the Internet. Type in any subject and do a search. You will be surprised at how many hits you get with names and contact information for academics and experts on your subject. Sometimes your first source may be too busy or not interested in participating in your interview. Don’t despair; just contact the next one.
Getting the Dirt
If your article entails exposing a fraud or mishandling of a situation, don’t call your interviewee and tell them you are planning an article “to expose your phony baloney business.” Instead, tell them there have been a lot of negative stories about their business and you’d like to present “their side of the story.” It works every time. Politicians are publicity hogs. Contact a Senator through www.senate.gov and Congressmen at www.house.gov .
For celebrity interviews, you can’t just call any celebrity and ask them to comment on a subject you are writing about. The trick is in finding out what the celebrity’s pet peeves or special interests are, then contact them regarding that subject. Doris Roberts (Everybody Loves Raymond) testified before Congress about the lack of opportunities for older actresses in Hollywood films and television. This led to an idea for an article on “Ageism in Hollywood” and, when contacted, she agreed to an interview with me after returning from vacation.
An article about selling screenplays got me a quote from Ben Affleck (though his publicist) after letting him know that his Project Greenlight would be featured prominently in the piece. Tom Hanks’ personal assistant personally called me to apologize for his not being available for interview for the next few months due to his shooting schedule. You’d think I worked for Entertainment Tonight instead of writing $100 freelance articles. By the way, go ahead and ask for a picture to include in your article. Your editor will love you for it.
I, obviously, don’t know these celebrities personally, and unlike the paparazzi, don’t chase them down for a quote or interview. I simply call their publicist. The job of the publicist is to get their client’s name in print, hopefully in a positive light. If you call asking for a quote or interview, nine times out of ten you will get it. Even a “No comment” is a quote, when you magically work it into your expose’. Generally I give the option of being called, faxing in a few questions or just getting a quote. The objective is to have a “heavy” name to drop. IMDBpro will allow you to search the name of any celebrity or person within the entertainment business and gives you a brief filmography, biography, date and place of birth and contact information. If the publicist isn’t listed, a call to their agent or attorney will usually get you that number.
Another great source is Who Represents. Simply type in the celebrity name and you will get a listing of their attorney, agent, manager and publicist. Click on one of these and you usually get a list of others they represent.
The HOLLYWOOD CREATIVE DIRECTORY is another great source. Upon calling the publicist, identify yourself as a freelance writer, aware of actor “So-and-so’s” interest in the subject matter on which you are preparing an article for “XYZ Magazine” and would like a comment, quote or interview. You will generally get an answer within four days, and believe me when I tell you that a publicist can be your best friend when it comes to contacting a celebrity, so always treat them with respect and in a friendly manner. Even when turned down, always thank them for their time. This will sometimes lead to a second try by the publicist and at least permission to use an old quote. When asked what your deadline is, always tell them four to six weeks, even if you haven’t queried or sold your article yet. This gives them enough time to come through for you and gives a sense of urgency without making it impossible to get you that quote you want in time.
No matter who my source, quote, expert or celebrity is, I always keep a paper trail to confirm the validity of the quote and always send a copy of the published article to the sources, celebrities and publicists in gratitude for their time and effort.
David William Cabrera is a South Florida screenwriter and freelance writer who has written seven screenplays and has also written for Hot Spots Magazine, Scr(i)pt, WritersWeekly.com and Reader’s Digest. His book, Frankie Stein’s Monster, was published in 2001. David is the president of the SOBE Screenwriters Guild and maintains an active role in the blossoming Miami film industry. He is represented by literary agency Acuna Entertainment. David writes a monthly column for the New Orleans Film and Entertainment magazine TAKE 2.