Publicity Blunders

This week: “Careful the things you do. Children will see and learn.”

Balloon boy. If you haven’t heard by now the alleged publicity punking of America then you must have been in a perpetual tech-week (sorry) or fixated on your Wii (oh, you need to get a life).

Fame and attention. Nouns conjoined — like twins Chang and Eng Bunker — the twosome desires are often borne from one source; insecurity. It’s a, “Someone, anyone, please pay attention to me!” syndrome that not only befalls civilians such as the Heene family of floating-jiffy-popcorn-fame but also it’s a disease among our own; entertainment professionals. Re: actors. And like the helium high jinks in which the Heene’s hijacked our attention there are actors known and obscure who foolishly make missteps in a desire for getting attention.

Recently I was in a movie theater lobby with a talent agent. I noticed a stand-up trumpeting an upcoming family feature from a studio that has cartooned mice, beasts and princesses. Knowing that the agent has a client who is a lead in the animated tale I pointed out the cardboard cutout of the creature for which his client provided voice and character. The agent then groaned and said, “I haven’t told you what [name withheld] did.”

The agent’s client, in a desire to generate publicity for him/herself during what is always a marketing extravaganza whenever this studio where dreams-come-true releases an animated feature, informed the theme park/family entertainment conglomerate that he/she was a recovering alcoholic. And wouldn’t this be a great angle for publicity on a family film?

Oh. My. God.

The studio side-stepped. In response the movie making mouse has removed the actor from upcoming publicity junkets. Now while that may anger a few reading this recall that the film maker’s audience has a fair amount of morals minded parents purchasing tickets. They’re going to be a bit judgmental before opening the wallet for a family cinema  convene; paying out for concessions and tickets for their clan. An investment that is almost as costly as a trip to the mouse’s lair in Orlando. Even though the actor is recovering it may be difficult for some lesser informed parental units to differentiate between “recovering” (tipped the tequila often eons ago) from “alcoholic” (once a drunk always a drunk). With the latter perception in mind that cute, cuddly animated animal the parent’s child is watching on screen is perceived as a piranha.

As of now, the actor’s attempt to gain publicity has backfired. And while his/her action for attention did include an honest, brave admission the actor would have done them self a favor by following advice once given to me by my editor: Everyone doesn’t need to know everything.

So while at times you may want to garner attention to advance your career or agenda think well through all possible consequences resulting from the action you’re about to pursue. The worn adage “any publicity is good publicity” does not always ring true. The actor in the family film will now have to be concerned with the movie’s success. If there is a sequel will he/she be asked back? Falcon Heene will — because of video clips — be met in the future by strangers with, “Hey, weren’t you that balloon boy who threw-up on TV?” It was the parents, not the child, that have crafted their son’s persona for the remainder of his life. It was the actor, not the film maker which prevented him/her garnering exposure in a project that should be a time for celebration. You, as well, hold similar responsibility for yourself and others as you try to gain attention. When wanting publicity; careful the things you do…

My Best,

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Paul Russell’s career as a casting director, director, acting teacher and former actor has spanned nearly thirty years. He has worked on projects for major film studios, television networks, and Broadway. Paul has taught the business of acting and audition technique at NYU and has spoken at universities including Yale, Temple and the University of the Arts. He writes a column for Back Stage and is the author of ACTING: Make It Your Business – How to Avoid Mistakes and Achieve Success as a Working Actor. For more information, please visit


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