Covering the scene in Bayonne on Steven Spielberg's film, War of the Worlds, proved something of a chore. Part of this involved Spielberg's culture of secrecy that kept many of the people I talked to glancing over their shoulders in nervous anticipation that they might be saying something wrong.
But the biggest obstacle to doing a good story and getting the right art involved my inability to find a press person willing to give me permission to take pictures or even provide basic information.
This may have been done deliberately to keep media far enough away from the actual production so that no one might be attempted to reveal anything management wanted kept under wraps.
This lack of cooperation hit home most just prior to when Tom Cruise was slated to start of shooting in Bayonne. I needed to get permission to take some pictures of the sets. I knew the New York Times was also seeking similar permission, and being the home town reporter for Bayonne, I was bound and determined to get whatever the Times got. I knew, too, that if I waiting until after shooting concluded the sets I wanted to take pictures of might cease to exist.
Henry Sanchez - who eventually agreed to an interview after the movie finished shooting - would not talk to me about the details about his home being used for the movie, but gave me a name and number Spielberg's staff had issued him on the good chance the media would begin hounding him for an interview. Sanchez already told me reporters from the New York Times and several New Jersey daily newspapers had knocked on his door requesting an interview and photographs.
Being the small town weekly in a town which Spielberg just happened to do a movie did not promise to get me much attention with the public relations staff. But I've always tried to make up in determination for the natural advantages the bigger newspapers had. Besides, I believed that if the dailies were already hounding the press office, the Spielberg people might just throw up their hands and say, "What's one more," and give me what I wanted.
Never was I so wrong.
I made the call. There person on the other end of the New York City exchange transferred me to another office where a kindly receptionist not only offered to help but had even heard of my newspaper and better liked what she had heard. She said she would leave a message with her boss to have her answer within a day or two.
A week later - when I had still heard nothing - I called the number again, left a message with a different receptionist, but feeling time was running out, I decided to call DreamWorks directly and work my way through the organization via the long road.
In the late 1800s, Bowery freak shows in New York City used to advertise the most outlandish acts in order to get people to pay the price of admission. A visitor would buy a ticket go through one door, then another, and yet another, and finally hear the last door slam and lock, leaving him or her in the building's back alley. Some modern websites have adopted a similar scam.
That's a little how I felt when I contacted DreamWorks. The receptionist gave me a number for publicity where I soon learned there was another, more specific office to deal with War of the Worlds and I got transferred there. But that office told me that I was dealing with a site on the East Coast therefore I had to call a number in New York, which I did, and was transferred several more times before that person told me I had been misled and wanted to transfer me back to a contact on the West Coast who could help me. The pleading sound in my voice as I told my tale of woe kept me from getting launched into another network of misaimed calls, and the person promised to take my name and number and pass it on to whomever he believed should be in charge of giving me permission.
A week later, a day after the shooting stopped, some important mucky muck from Paramount called via a poorly connected cellular phone to give me permission to take pictures of sets already being taken down.
If anything consoled me about my experience was the fact that the New York Times seemed to fair no better than I did and ran their story with only a picture of a local café owner.
I might have thought the problem exclusive to Paramount and Spielberg had I not sought out a photo from the public relations agency handling Tom Cruise. Doing a follow up story on the movie, I needed a head shot of the actor. We had one picture a resident had taken of him with her daughter but we had already used that and hoped to get something more professional. The west coast office directed me to the east coast office - where so indignant cold-hearted soul informed me that I had to make my request via email, and then reeled out the email address so quickly I had to ask him to repeat it - drawing even more scorn as a result.
I dutifully made my request, using my official newspaper email. I explained that our archives had no head shot of Cruise and that we needed one to run with a story we had planned for a week later. I listed our deadline and our mailing address, and even offered to accept a digital format by email provided it met the minimum resolution standards we needed in order to print.
One day passed, then two, and by the third day I began to get nervous.
Concerned by the idea that we might not have the picture in time I emailed from my home, reminding the Cruise publicity department about my initial request and repeated much of the information I had included in my first email - urging them to send a digital picture because a mailed hard copy would not arrive in time for our deadline.
The weekend passed. So did most of Monday.
When finally someone replied within a few hours of my deadline, they said, "You really need to deal with Paramount."
Needless to say, the story ran without Cruise's picture.
To prove a point, I made contact with someone I knew connected with the filming. To this point, my newspaper and this website - with one exception - used only pictures I had taken, even those poor shots of the filming I had taken with a low-resolution digital camera and later enhanced.
Within a few hours, I not only had a shot of Cruise, but one of him playing his role as Ray Ferrier for the War of the World's movie (as pictured above).Contact Al Sullivan at email@example.com