Author Archives: DiAngelea Millar

Los Angeles Times entertainment reporters discuss challenges of finding truth in Hollywood

By DiAngelea Millar

Los Angeles Times reporters discuss the newspaper’s challenges in covering the entertainment industry, like evasive sources. (Chad Garland)

Finding the truth in Hollywood is a challenge the Los Angeles Times entertainment reporters face for every story.

A panel of entertainment journalists from the newspaper discussed what it’s like covering the industry and how it has changed. The panel included Dawn Chmielewski, Steven Zeitchik, Amy Kaufman, Chris Lee, John Horn, Mary McNamara, Meg James and Scott Collins.

One challenge is the same for all — finding the truth.

“Hollywood has never been known for truth telling,” said Chmielewski, who covers technology in the entertainment industry. “It’s difficult to get passed stonewalling.”

Sometimes people stall or they don’t respond, she said.

“Behind every great story there’s a bunch of people trying to make money and people with agendas,” Chmielewski said.

The key to getting beyond stonewalling is to be motivated, fair and honest, Zeitchik said, an arts and entertainment reporter. And it doesn’t hurt if they know you have talked to a rival or someone else, he added.

Although some things in the industry remain the same, the introduction and adaptation of social media has changed Hollywood.

For reporters, live tweeting (Twitter) and sharing of stories can help disburse information and gain more followers, Kaufman said. She covers entertainment and young Hollywood. Using Twitter also allows fans to interact with reporters, she said.

For entertainers, social media has framed their entire persona, Lee said. He covers entertainment and culture for the paper.

In fact, what most fans and reporters know about celebrities comes from social media websites like Twitter and Facebook. Justin Bieber, Rihanna and Kanye West rarely give interviews anymore.

An actor’s value has diminished, Horn said, and it’s now the franchise that makes the actor.

Entertainment reporters at the LA Times say it is especially important to cover entertainers because they’ve become so influential. (Chad Garland)

“It’s the rise of the super fan,” said Horn, who covers movies for the Times. “You play to the fan base and you give them what they want.”

Covering entertainment is more important than ever, the reporters said. It’s especially important to follow the money and ask questions about what the numbers say, Chmielewski said.

“Pop culture has become such a dominant force,” said McNamara, a TV critic. “It’s an enormous force in people’s lives.”

The reporters’ recent coverage on the Oscars received the second most website views in the history of the Times. People read entertainment news all over the world.

And it’s important to write in a way that appeals to the masses, Horn said.

“The ideal story for us is one that is equally read by consumers and people in the industry,” he said. “You don’t want to write as too much of an insider.”

Still, many of the reporters approach their work as fans.

“It’s a fascinating, glamorous world,” Chmielewski said. “Everyone wants to cover it. Out of all the types of journalism I’ve done, this is the most challenging.”

Reporters covering entertainment need a good poker face, Zeitchik said, and they cannot write from emotion.

Kaufman said they have to be especially careful in covering Hollywood to be careful about what information is on and off the record. It’s not a good idea to ruin a relationship with a publicist or contact, she added.

“Integrity takes a long time to develop and it can be lost in seconds,” Horn said. “You’re only as good as your last story.”

American Film Institute trains L.A.’s future movie stars

By DiAngelea Millar

It’s tough to make it in Hollywood in front of or behind the camera. That’s where film schools come in.

Southern California is home to many universities and colleges, and a few in Los Angeles offer top-notch programs in cinematic arts.

The Hollywood Reporter ranked the American Film Institute No.1 on its “25 Best Film School Rankings” in 2011. AFI started in 1969 and has five disciplines: cinematography, directing, editing, producing and production design and screenwriting.

“The idea is to train the next generation of storytellers,” said Joe Petricca, executive vice dean of the conservatory.

AFI’s fellows produce about 150 short films a year. Fellows also show their projects during the thesis showcase.

AFI has an internship coordinator who helps fellows get internships with specific companies or within the discipline they are most interested.

A new career office also helps connect fellows to employers and is available to fellows up to 18 months after graduation.

A lot of companies call his school knowing that AFI has a fellow that can do the job, Petricca said. Past graduates include Jonathan Levine, who directed the recently released “Warm Bodies,” and cinematographer on “The Dark Knight Rises,” Wally Pfister.

“They’re looking for a mix of professional craft,” he added. “More graduates are finding that initial job sooner after graduation.”

Petricca credits the success of graduates to AFI’s program that allows fellows to explore their own voice. The school is located in the heart of Hollywood, which also allows fellows easier access to companies in the industry.

AFI has a relationship with Sony that provides the institute with new equipment regularly. Fellows have access to the newest equipment, which helps prepare them for a job.

Many people leave AFI and work with a team they met during schooling, Petricca said. Film school can help people get into the industry if they work hard, but there’s no guarantee, he added.

“Some people take years to make it or quit,” he said. “Film school can help you jump out of some of the places that you can get stuck.”

The University of Southern California’s Cinematic Arts program is ranked No. 2 on the Hollywood Reporter’s “25 Best Film School Rankings” in 2011. The college’s notable alumni include Jon Landau, who produced “Titanic” and “Avatar,” and Judd Apatow, who produced “Bridesmaids.”

USC’s cinematic art’s program started with film production and introduced more programs over the years as the industry changes. The newest program is digital media, which focuses on the newest technology and online trends in the film industry.

The program offers several degrees for both undergraduates and graduate students including disciplines in animation, writing and p

Online channels and visual effects have become big tools in the industry, said Associate Dean Brian Harke. There’s a shift in Hollywood that has people dabbling in all different areas in film, he said.

“We no longer solely teach students to work in a studio setting,” Harke said. “We are now a cross-platform school.”

That’s the benefit of going to film school, he added. Students take classes across all disciplines so they understand how everything works. Without an education, you would start at the bottom, Harke said.

Everything in the industry is becoming more interactive and visual, which creates a great opportunity for students, he said. The next big thing will be streaming on wire-free platforms. He believes fewer people will be watching televisions and will instead watch everything on their laptops and phones.

The college also has a partnership with Sony that provides them with the newest technology.

“Professionals expect our students to understand the business and be assets to their company,” Harke said.

Not all graduates go into the industry, he added. Some use their USC education to go to law school or open up businesses. A liberal arts degree, such as USC’s, makes you more marketable, he said.

“An education is valuable no matter what you’re going to do,” Harke said. “A liberal arts education gives them (students) what they’re going to create. The education opens their eyes.”