Anatomy Of The Perfect Red Carpet Moment

Photo: John Shearer/Getty Images.
Jennifer Lawrence and "Joy" director David O. Russell at the 2016 Golden Globes.
What do you want out of an awards show red carpet? Sure, it's great to see the glorious presentation of a glittering gown and millions of dollars in jewelry. But when we watch those interviews on live TV, we're really hankering for something more elusive: a glimpse of nominees getting the jitters before their big night, a totally awkward interaction with another celebrity they've never met before, a hint that they're just as starstruck as we are at home, or maybe, if we're lucky, the reveal of a new project (or engagement ring, or baby bump). The perfect red carpet moment shows us the human beneath the armor of fashion and makeup.

Are those moments reliant on pure luck? Hardly. To find out what goes into a great pre-show interview, we spoke to the people who work for months behind the scenes, preparing to make it all happen. TV producers, on-air correspondents, and publicists are just a few of the very important cogs in the big celebrity machine, and they let us know how it all comes together.
1. Preparation is everything...and nothing.
"For the big shows like the Oscars, we begin our planning in the summer — everything from potential nominees to new ways to cover the carpet," Gary Snegaroff, the executive producer of E! Live From the Red Carpet, told Refinery29 via email. That said, they leave a whole lot of room for improvisation on the show. "Our script is really just two pages: a welcome to the show and a goodbye at the end. Everything else is whatever happens in the moment."

"Study, sleep, hydrate!" are Ryan Seacrest's essential of preparations for a carpet, as he told us via email. "We prepare hundreds of questions, because you just never know what is going to happen or who is going to turn up. But one of the great things about the carpet is that it is spontaneous and stuff just comes up. Weather can very well shape a conversation, especially if it is really hot or raining… A good percentage of our interviews are driven by the unknown, which is both exciting and a little scary."
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"You have to discuss how to avoid certain questions," Liza Anderson, the founder and president of Anderson Group Public Relations, said. "You're very aware of what the topical news stories are, so if those sort of questions come up — right now we're in a very heated political climate, so if those questions come up about Donald Trump — you have talked to your client about how to skirt that issue if you don't want to get in the middle of political issues. It really depends on the client: Some clients like to express their political opinions, and others don't." And, by the way, there's no montage-worthy training she puts her clients through, however green they may be to the scene. By the time they hit awards season, they've attended smaller carpets at parties, premieres, and other events.

"Typically for something like the Oscars, a week out, I will start to make a list of every nominee and presenter as they're announced," MTV News host Josh Horowitz explained. "I'll alphabetize the list, and I'll highlight the names that I know I want to talk to. I'll list out upcoming projects and highlight the ones I'm excited about talking about." Then again, Horowitz said he doesn't really need to do that much prep for the later awards shows, because he's talked to everyone so much leading up to them. "The real trick is coming up with a new angle after you've seen these folks half a dozen times in the span of two months."
In addition to preparing questions, Giuliana Rancic told us via email that she makes sure to get a facial three days before the carpet "from Nurse Jamie at Beauty Park in Santa Monica." Rancic says "over-preparing for the red carpet is a bad thing because you run the risk of not being in the moment and you can easily miss something that's really interesting and right before your eyes." Of course, a mani-pedi doesn't hurt, either.

2. Who ARE all those other people running around?

The setup around an MTV correspondent at a VMAs red carpet, for example, includes a cameraperson, an audio person, a stage manager (who directs the correspondent and the talent), a floor producer (who communicates between the people on the carpet and the show producers in a nearby truck), and a talent representative (who wrangles the celebs and their publicists to do the interviews). "[Talent reps] are also the ones who are reaching out to people in advance of the red carpet and doing as best a job as they can to pre-schedule time or to at least confirm that a celebrity will do an interview," said a Viacom producer, who asked to remain anonymous considering how many A-listers he harangues on any given awards night.

"They really only let the guest in, and then the publicist if they can get the credential," Anderson said, quashing our visions of massive entourages trailing celebs. "Getting a credential to get on the carpet is really strict."

"On a big show day like [the] Oscars, when we do eight hours of live coverage, more than 200 people are involved behind the scenes," Snegaroff said. That includes people on and off the carpet, doing everything from holding research cards to coordinating schedules.

Photo: Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic.
Penelope Cruz at the 2015 Oscars.
3. Physical comedy and/or disaster always loom.
For live shows, someone like the floor producer can help the host with interview cards and the like, but when the setup is simply a correspondent with a cameraperson, things can get physically awkward. "I turn into a circus performer," Horowitz said. "I'm holding a microphone, I'm holding a stack of cards, and when a celebrity comes over and wants to shake my hand or embrace, how do I do that?" A rainy Golden Globes with an uncovered carpet a few years ago made this situation treacherous. "I'm holding an umbrella, a microphone, my cards, and trying to wrangle talent myself. I remember nearly poking Penelope Cruz's eye out with my umbrella."
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When Lady Gaga arrived at the Grammys in an egg in 2011, Snegaroff said Seacrest wasn't even on the carpet yet. "We told him to jump into his tux and just rush to the carpet. He did, and we just captured the entire thing as it happened. None of us had had any idea what would happen. Then her team stopped at our platform, and Ryan just stuck his microphone up to this enormous egg being carried by a bunch of shirtless men. It was absolutely the oddest thing, which nobody had prepared for. We were flying by the seat of our pants, and it turned out to be unbelievable television."
Photo: Jason Merritt/Getty Images.
Lady Gaga arriving at the 2011 Grammys.
Publicists have their hands full trying to prevent wardrobe malfunctions. "The things I've had happen the most have been like, 'Oh my god, I just got red lipstick on my beautiful white Armani jacket and nobody has a Tide pen!' Or, 'My left boob just fell out of this dress when I got out of the limo, I don't know what to do! Did somebody take a picture of that?' Or, 'I'm going to trip over this dress if I don't get a different pair of shoes.' That just happened to me at the SAG Awards. My client could not walk in her dress because her shoes kept getting caught in her beaded gown. We tried to go home to get her another pair of shoes, but we didn't have credentials to get back in. It was a nightmare. She felt like she was tripping all night, but she didn't." Anderson and her employees carry kits with things like stain remover, double-stick tape, and safety pins, but they can't prepare for every potential disaster. "The bad moments are when I trip and fall on top of my clients or something."

4. Timing is pretty much out of everyone's control.

"[The carpet lasts] about an hour and a half to two hours, so...if it's a really well-known client, we want to not get there early-early, but probably about a half hour into the carpet, so that you have time to do most of it without rushing," Anderson said. "If it's a somewhat well-known client, you want to get there at the beginning, so that you can have time to do [all the outlets] before George Clooney shows up and then everybody just tramples on top of you and forgets who you are."

"It's a live environment, and not only are we doing a live show, but they're contending with getting ready for a major event, and driving through L.A. or New York traffic, or wherever, so unpredictable things happen," the Viacom producer said. On a short, live TV show, even a few minutes makes a huge difference. "You can't really predict when people will show up, and when they do, you can't always move them to where you want to get them to. So, you may want a particular guest to a certain host, and because of where they happen to be on the carpet and how much time they have before you go live again, you can't get them there."
Photo: Dan MacMedan/WireImage.
Michael Keaton at the 2015 Oscars.
Things get even harder when multiple important people show up at once. At last year's Golden Globes, Horowitz was interviewing Michael Keaton when Chris Pratt came by. "I found myself, literally in the middle of talking to Michael Keaton, stopping, and just screaming at the top of my lungs, 'Chris!' and Michael Keaton totally called me out on it, in a joking way, 'Would you rather talk to Chris?' And I was, 'Oh, I'm sorry, Michael Keaton, idol of mine, I want to talk to you both.' That was an embarrassing thing."
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5. Interior design affects celebrity behavior.

"In order for us to get the best show, the best thing is to create an environment that is comfortable for [celebrities] to stay there and linger," the Viacom producer said, explaining how organizing the space affects whether talent tries to rush through to the venue or pause to chat with fellow celebs. This is when you get those great moments of watching long-lost co-stars embrace or new connections being made before your eyes. "[Red carpets] can be a little bit overwhelming, especially at the top, where you have the step and repeat and all these photographers yelling at celebrities. So you create a space where you can turn a corner from there and it feels a little quieter and a little calmer, and there's space between outlets and between people asking things of these celebrities." And if you're a network like MTV, you can go even crazier and offer pens full of puppies to keep stars hanging around.

6. What's the perfect red carpet question?
If an interviewer is lucky, they'll get a couple of minutes with a celeb. Other times, Angelina Jolie will walk by slowly and let reporters call out to her while she smiles and waves. "The red carpet is not a place for a substantive conversation," Horowitz said. "If you go into it thinking you're going to have some kind of thoughtful chat, that's a recipe for disaster... It's where I'm most in the moment, playing off of the vibe of the actor or filmmaker and riffing. It's where I cash in on a pre-existing relationship with the actor."

"We are not restricted from broaching any relevant topic," Snegaroff said. "That said, the red carpet is not 60 Minutes."

Rancic uses her judgment in the moment when deciding how far to go with an interview. "If it doesn't feel right and doesn't feel like the time and place for that conversation to take place, then I don't go there," she said. "There's a time and place for various conversations, and sometimes a quick two-minute hit on the red carpet isn't the right environment, but as a host, you need to know how to feel out every single situation to avoid uncomfortable moments."

From the publicists' perspective, things should stay focused. "I keep one eye on the client and one eye on the press and just keep things moving, ensure that you're talking about...the reasons why you're at the event and what makes the event special. Try not to get off the subject too much. If you stick to that, then you're fine. These interviews shouldn't go for more than three or four minutes. [If it goes too long] you start getting into what kind of lip gloss you're wearing and, you know, what did you do last week and how's your mother."

7. What's everyone saying off camera?

Rancic said there's a lot going on in her earpiece at any given time. "What aren't they saying in my ear is the question," she told us. "Everything from where to toss out of my interview (to Ryan or to break), who the guests are of the celebrity I'm interviewing (in case I don't know), and timing of the show. It's pretty wild because you literally have to be able to have two completely different conversations at one time, one with the celebrity and one with the producers in your ear."
Photo: Timothy Kuratek/CBS/Getty Images.
Ryan Seacrest and Giuliana Rancic at the 2016 Grammys.
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If the publicist wants to wrap things up during a live interview, it's a rather complicated process. "There's a daisy chain of communication where the publicist will talk to our talent rep," the Viacom producer explained. "Our talent team will then talk to us in the truck, and then we'll have to talk to the floor producer. It's kind of funny because they're standing right next to each other, but it needs to go through that whole thing... By the time they've relayed their request to wrap up the interview, it's usually over anyway."

8. The magic happens.

Like those of us at home, producers hunger for the rare instances when celebrities meet each other or reunite on air. "One of my first years covering the Golden Globes after-parties, I introduced the late Robin Williams to Halle Berry live on camera," Rancic recalled. "They had a very warm, sweet, and genuine exchange. It was a really nice moment I won't soon forget."

"I love when there are these natural collisions on a carpet," the Viacom producer said. "You try not to force those moments, but if you feel like it's about to occur or you can see the right ingredients coming together, you can do what you can to encourage it. I think it's important that those moments feel natural."
Horowitz named basically every interview he's ever done with Jennifer Lawrence as his best red carpet moments, because they feel most real. "I've had so many great, fun, silly, irreverent moments with her on red carpets," he said. "What you see is what you get. That's the talent I love, talent that I can have an interaction with. I can give them shit, they can give me shit, and we can have a fun dynamic. That's what people want to see on a carpet. People want to see them geeking out over seeing other celebrities, actually being nervous, having a drink. It's in this very manufactured bizarre atmosphere, seeing how once you're put into that, all of us are nervous and awkward and weird."
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