Flickering Thoughts – It’s Who You Know
As with many modern walks of life there is great truth in the old adage, ‘it’s not what you know, but who you know’. Take for instance what I still consider to be the most high profile piece of writing I have done so far in my journalistic career.
I’d been working for the company Visual Imagination – who published such entertainment magazines as Starburst, Film Review and Cult Times amongst others – for a couple of years, before I met the actress Ingrid Pitt. David Miller, the editor of Visual Imagination’s horror title Shivers had managed to engage the ‘Queen of Hammer’ to write a column for the publication, and she became a regular fixture at the company’s offices in Putney, West London, when she came in to deliver her copy. As I worked in the department which dealt with subscriptions and contributor’s copies, I got to know her reasonably well when she came down to the basement to collect the latest issue of the magazine.
Always on the lookout for any opportunity to contribute writing – either for a Visual Imagination publication, or anyone else who would take notice of me – I decided that an interview with Ingrid would surely be of interest to someone, especially when I discovered that she was about to release her autobiography. Taking the bull by the horns (I’ve always believed in going to the top) I contacted The Sunday Times Magazine, to ask if they’d consider Ingrid, and her daughter Steffanie as subjects for their regular ‘Relative Values’ column, to coincide with the release of Ingrid’s book Life’s A Scream. I received a very nice reply telling me that they had been trying to get Ingrid to agree to an interview for years, but she had always said no. They wanted her to talk about her experiences in a concentration camp during World War II, and this (understandably) she had refused to do.
Not easily put off, I asked Ingrid the next time I saw her if she would do the interview. She said she would – she’d changed her mind about discussing the early part of her life because, as part of her book deal, she had had to agree to talk about her wartime ordeals. This was fine. I approached the magazine again, but this time they told me that they wanted one of their own writers to do the interview; understandably I suppose they wanted someone they knew and could trust to do the piece as opposed to an unknown quantity like me. This however was where Ingrid came up trumps. She knew the husband of the section editor and contacted the magazine herself to say that she’d do the interview, but only if I was allowed to conduct it. In the end we were all happy – the magazine got their interview and Ingrid some good publicity for her book, whilst I had a piece of writing published in one of the country’s most prestigious Sunday supplements.
More importantly however it taught me a tough lesson where my journalistic career was concerned – or, let’s be honest, most spheres of modern life. Namely that it doesn’t really matter how much experience you have or how skilled you are at something, knowing the right people will often be the thing which open doors when all else fails. Ok, as a journalist or critic you do need a degree of talent at writing and composition to hold the job once you’ve got it – though you do wonder sometimes when you read some people’s published work. But more often than not knowing the right person is what gets you the work or the exclusive interview with that elusive celebrity in the first place.
I’ve had other occasions when contacts have worked in my favour. I’ve often discovered that an editor will take more notice if you can approach them saying that such and such a person has already agreed to do an interview or participate in a feature, as opposed to asking whether the magazine would like the piece if I can get a subject to cooperate. It doesn’t always work that way round, but it’s certainly easier if it does. I once wrote two features for Ireland’s Homes Interiors & Living magazine on houses belonging to my mother’s best friend and her sister. It definitely helped that I knew the subjects involved and that they had agreed to the idea in principle before I approached the magazine.
Last year I had work published in a film book because I was recommended to its editor by a friend of his. I had approached the other man – who is the editor of a popular in-house film magazine – to work for his publication. He said that unfortunately he’d nothing going at the time, but that he had a friend he’d used to work with who was doing a book and that I should contact him to see if I could contribute. This resulted in me doing two pieces for The Greatest Movies You’ll Never See: Unseen Masterpieces by the World’s Greatest Directors, which has now been come out in the UK and America.
On the whole I would generally prefer to land a writing assignment or piece of freelance work on my own merit – by persistence and determination rather than simply because I knew the right person. In the long run the outcome means more. Equally well though, in the increasingly pushy and exclusive world of entertainment and celebrity journalism, you’d be mad not to use contacts if you have them.
DUO OF THE WEEK
I know not many will agree with me – but I just loved The Love Punch (2013), the new romantic comedy starring Pierce Brosnan and Emma Thompson. The storyline may be a bit naff, but it’s worth watching just to see these two as a divorced couple going at it hammer and tongs, whilst knowing that beneath the surface they still have the hots for each other. What’s not to like?
Wearing people down – when do you take no as an answer?