x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

The truth about the red carpet

For journalists, red-carpet interviews are not about glitz and glamour - they're more of a nightmare.

Glitz. Glamour. Cameras. Celebrities. These are just a few of the words most commonly associated with red-carpet events, especially film festivals and premieres.

And anyone reading the headlines would struggle to think how they could be anything different. “Suchandsuch dazzled on the red carpet”,  “blah blah blah red carpet blah blah blah”.

Don’t you just wish you were there to soak up the A-list wonder? Aren’t those who get to work at them lucky?

Not quite.

There’s one crucial thing that is being omitted from such investigative reportage and that’s the minor fact that red carpets are awful affairs. Ghastly, even. Enough to sometimes reduce journalists to shivering fits. And it’s about time somebody called it.

OK, so when you see TV clips from the Oscars or whatever and there’s a reporter smiling at some celebrity while asking a load of inane questions about their outfit or their take on the Greek economic crisis, yeah? Inside they’re crying. That’s right. Crying.

Because, before that interview took place, that journalist was stuck in what is referred to as a “press pen”. Yes, like in a farm. With a horde of other media types in an area that animal rights campaigners probably wouldn’t deem large enough for cattle.

They also had to turn up in said pen about an hour before the actual red-carpet procession started to stand around and perspire slowly under the bright lights. Organisers of such events (they’re the ones running around with clipboard talking frantically into mouthpieces as if there were commanding some sort of US Navy Seals operation) refer to something called “lockdown”, a time long before the first person steps on the red carpet when all the reporters and camera crews must be in place. If you arrive after “lockdown” (and I’m cringing just typing this), you’re not getting in and you’re probably going to have one very angry editor.

So, to recap, a word used in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks to describe the three-day restrictions of US airspace is being deployed to determine when the media should get herded into tiny areas beside red carpets so they can ask actresses who made their dresses.

It’s also worth pointing out that there aren’t any toilets in the press pen and you’re not allowed to leave until the whole event is over. Don’t touch the water bottles.

When you actually get to interview someone who provides you with interesting quotes about their film, that’s a moment to savour. Unfortunately, this makes up around one per cent of the red-carpet experience.

The remaining 99 per cent is spent largely wondering who on earth it actually is you’re looking at on the carpet. When someone of note does start their saunter, this is the time for chaos to break out as journalists claw at each other to get there first, screaming to get their question heard over everyone else. The only thing to do is shove your Dictaphone into the scrum and hope that you capture something without losing a limb.

Then it’s quickly to the laptop to type it all up, trying to hear whatever it was that was said above the din. And then, once it’s all over and your piece about someone or other’s dazzling red-carpet adventure is written and sent, off home for a cry, perhaps stopping by a bathroom first.

There we have it. Red Carpets. Rubbish. I’ll see you at the Dubai International Film Festival.

Alex Ritman is a reporter for The National’s Arts & Life