My colleague, fellow blogger and PR guru Tom Murphy holds forth on Joel Schumacher's comments that "all publicists are paid liars." This comes in the wake of Phone Booth, a film in which the protagonist (played by Castleknock's own Colin Farrell) is a PR person. There's a kernel of truth in what Mr. Schumacher says, or else Tom wouldn't be so antsy. That said, like lawyers and despots, PR people often get a bad rap. They're just doing their job, after all. Sure, it'd be nice if every company in the world was entirely transparent about itself, but that ain't going to happen.
What I'm more interested in, however, is how work is often inaccurately portrayed in the movies. As Tom says about Farrell's character:
[The] main character is a PR person who doesn't use an office but walks the sidewalks with his assistant and a cell phone. That certainly sounds like my working day.
Tom doesn't have Colin's foppish hair either, but that's another story. This issue came to my attention when Roger Ebert, reviewing the utterly forgettable One Fine Day:
I amused myself by trying to figure out Michelle Pfeiffer's job. She works for a big company, I guess, but her only colleague seems to be her elderly and powerful boss. When she trips and falls and breaks the model of a big architectural project, it's her job to take it downtown and hire a guy to glue it back together again, and yet she also seems to be the designer, or planner, or salesperson, or broker, or something, of this whole undertaking.
Isn't that often the case? When characters are at work in films, they mostly seem to be yelling into the phone or chatting with coworkers. We rarely see them do work. This isn't because work is uninteresting. I remember Stephen King saying that people love reading about work. And why not? It's something they can relate to.
Why don't we see more work in films? A couple of reasons: One, filmmakers generally don't have much non-filmmaking experience. Spielberg, Lucas, Coppola, Scorsese (to name a few)--all went pretty much straight out of film school and into the movie business. Not surprisingly, the films where we see a lot of work are movies about filmmaking.
Secondly, writers are a lazy bunch. If they're writing an action thriller, they don't want to spend a whole lot of time researching what, for example, a PR person does. The writer of Phone Booth (Larry Cohen, for those keeping score) probably has a friend who's in PR who talks on his cell phone a lot and is occasionally chased by his assistant. Tah-dah, we've got a protagonist.
Occassionally I'll see a film that integrates a character's work seemlessly into the film, so that we learn a lot about their job. Pushing Tin is a good example of this. Admittedly air traffic controllers have a tense and therefore dramatic job, but it's not fire-fighting or mountain climbing. That movie gave me this really effective understanding of what it was to be an air traffic controller, of how they spent their days. This is more than I can say for a dozen cop movies.