Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Ben Falk - Entertainment journalist and visiting lecturer at Birkbeck University on his passion for Hollywood movies and the moment he almost spilled a drink on Natalie Portman



Why did you decide to get into entertainment journalism? 
I fell into entertainment journalism mainly because my dad was actually a film critic and I remember quite early on going to film previews like going for my 10th or 11th birthday to Howard the Duck preview screening. I seemed to love movies and it transformed from there and that’s where I got into the whole showbiz spiel.

Why did you write the books you wrote such ‘The Rise and Fall of Robert Downing JR’ or your most recent book, ‘The Wonders of Brian Cox?’
It is a good test for a journalist to write a book because we are used to writing 400 or 1200 word pieces. This gave me an excuse to delve into something deeper and try to write something well thought which I think is a real skill.

Did you get to meet Brian Cox or Robert Downing Jr.?
Oh no! They were unauthorised biographies. You don’t need to have permission to do them as such. Brian Cox, I interviewed before I did the book. I was actually commissioned to write the Brian Cox book. As for Robert Downing Jr., he is such an interesting guy and I love his movies. I thought it would be a great story to tell.

You’ve covered the Oscars, Emmy’s and Golden Globes at Hollywood. How glamorous is it really?
Yeah it is. I wish I can say otherwise but there are elements of it that aren’t like the fact that the Oscars’ red carpet starts around 3 or 4pm in the afternoon Hollywood time. So you have to be there at midday and sit out in the sun for quite a long time in a tuxedo…it’s quite hot and there’s a lot of waiting around. Seeing all these people walk past is incredible however, especially when you get to go backstage and experience it from the auditorium.


And would you go back?
Yeah, I would love to do it again. Blagging your way into a party is always fun. I remember almost spilling a drink on Natalie Portman once and going to… what was it called? Oh, Elton John’s Oscar party. Free champagne obviously and I did some work for the red carpet so we got to see Elton John and John Legend sing ‘Rocket Man’ duet and I think Prince and Pamela Anderson. So it is glamorous in that way but obviously you have worked the whole day so by 10 o’clock that night you’re absolutely exhausted in a really good way, on a high.


You’ve also produced for the likes of Channel 4 and Sky. Is this something separate to your journalism career or have you used producing shows and pod casts as another form of entertainment journalism?
Producers are journalists or at least they should be. I was doing segments for TV shows and working on breakfast shows choosing content, editorialising the content, making it feel journalistic, compelling and executing it. So I was writing scripts, reviews and raddling talent. It is absolutely journalistic.

We tend to have negative pre-conceptions of working at a newspaper as stressful and chaotic. Was this the case when you were at the Sun newspaper?
I was actually a freelancer there. Hmm, not really, however, when I worked at the press association office, it is hard work and now it seems harder since I left. The turn over of content is huge.

What made you decide to take on teaching? And why, Birkbeck University?
When I started out in Journalism I was aware of how important it was to have someone giving you shots. I learnt on the job really and I would practice on my own but no one particularly other than my dad, I suppose, helped me. Someone taking you under their wing is important. So every journalist needs someone to say, ‘this is how you do it,’ but everyone is busy these days and it happens less and less. You need to be in multi-media. You need to be able to shoot and edit, work with different mediums and be a positive force in some way to make people think that journalism is an enjoyable thing to be part of.

In terms of Birkbeck, I like the flexibility in that it is during the night and there are good, nice people. There is no particular reason as when you are a freelancer, you take any job and that’s how you treat it as.

So you write books, produce, have a television pod casts, write articles for big media names and teach - how do you manage your time? 
I write fast so I write quickly as I get going. I decompartmentalize a lot and figure out what I am doing. Be prepared to work weekends and nights that’s why it is important to enjoy and be passionate about what you want to do.


Do you have a diary or check list?
No. I write lists, lots and lots of lists that I tick off on that yellow ‘things to do’ pad.

What is your greatest and most memorable moment in your career so far?
(Laughs) That is a really hard question. The greatest moment is writing a book. Writing a book, finishing a book, having it in your hands and seeing it there in a shop is pretty amazing. The Robert Downing Jr. one was by myself and it was really hard work.

Some of the people I have met are fun that’s part of memorable things. Like going on a junket to New York to meet Julia Roberts. One of the great things about journalism is the comradery. There will be a group of us going to the junket and we would do stuff together. I remember my friend, Colin, and I flew first class to New York and it was totally awesome. We went to a junket in Athens and it was someone’s birthday out there. We went out there for work but we were by the pool and Vinnie Jones was learning his lines for his next film in the hot tub. We also went out for someone’s birthday and visited the Acropolis. And was thinking what a great job this is. I mean I love talking about films and talking to movie stars like Angelina Jolie, who I also interviewed there. It’s running to the Oscars and covering it. I had to get to a party but because it’s Oscars night Hollywood is blocked and there are so many limos around that you can’t get anywhere. It is gridlock and I had to file my copy from the back stage still in a tuxedo. I sent my copy back home and then I ran down to try and find a cab to get to this party. It is things like that that is a weird thing to do for a job but it is cool.

Where do you think Journalism is going?
I am comparatively old. I am 37 and there is a whole raft of people that are two generations of journalists below me that are doing things that are really innovative but I think that ultimately there are still readers that still want to read papers and magazines. So I think print is not going anywhere but how we treat print maybe different and more like a luxury item. I know a lot of magazines and media conglomerates are spending money on tablet journalism so soon we will read our paper on tablet. But journalism is not going to change. We still need to find stories, hold people to account, review records, or whatever you want. The things journalists do on a day to day won’t change but new journalists will be able to do a lot more. I think the journalists coming through now will, hopefully or certainly the people I teach.

Any advice for amateur journalists who want to make a mark in the world?
Remember that journalism is a craft and you can’t get good at it straight away. Writing my opinions is not what journalism is. It is not just about saying what you think. Realising that quickly is already important. You have to practice and it takes people a long time to get really good at it. You have to love the media and you have to love reading. You have to cover yourself with media until you become part of the media you want to be in. You have to love reading the papers and be part of the magazine. Just be a part of it and just enjoy reading, watching and also understanding what you are good at and what you are not good at. Also finding a niche quite early on and I don’t mean something that you can only do but having a focus from the get go is really useful.