Local graduate promotes Hollywood movies

The following was published in The Brookville Democrat newspaper in June 2011.

By Melanie Padgett Powers, Special Contributor

Do you have plans to see some of this summer’s biggest blockbusters: “Thor,” “Kung Fu Panda 2,” “Captain America” or “Transformers: Dark of the Moon”? One of the people who makes sure you hear about these movies is Kirsten Anderson, a 1995 Franklin County High School graduate. She is the daughter of Mary Lou and the Rev. Gary Anderson of Brookville.

Anderson is a publicist for Paramount Pictures in Los Angeles. She supervises the movie studio’s L.A. promotions and oversees publicity in parts of the country that include Atlanta; St. Louis; Minneapolis; Kansas City, Mo.; and Bismarck, N.D. “I represent talent on behalf of our films,” she said.

As an essential but routine part of her job, Anderson works with well-known actors such as Will Ferrell, Robert Downey Jr., Jack Black, Brad Pitt and Tina Fey. However, she said, “I try to do my job with the least interaction [with the actors] as possible. My job is not to be their friend. It’s to make sure they’re doing their job.”

Anderson’s department oversees “press junkets,” all-day media events for a new film that allow dozens of reporters to conduct interviews with the movie’s actors. Reporters from around the world file into a room, often in Los Angeles, one after another to interview the stars.

When you see an interview on shows like “Entertainment Tonight” and “Access Hollywood” in which the actor and reporter are sitting on chairs across from each other and there’s a curtain and movie poster behind the star, that interview was done as part of a press junket. “[The actors] could sit there for six hours and you could file in 60 different press,” Anderson said. During the junkets, Anderson keeps the interviews on schedule and makes sure the event goes smoothly, acting as a “hall monitor.”

Anderson’s department also works with radio stations across the country to promote films, providing “advance screening” movie passes the stations give out to their listeners. Her team also keeps in frequent contact with the Los Angeles radio show “On Air With Ryan Seacrest” to schedule interviews and arrange promotions. And while you won’t see her on TV, Anderson is often walking the red carpet with the stars at their movie premieres. “It’s our job to blend into the background,” she said. “Luckily, I’m short so a lot of times I just hide behind people.”

While she and her co-workers keep their cool, Anderson acknowledges that people in the business do have celebrities that cause them to be star-struck. “It’s an unwritten rule you’re not supposed to ask for autographs, but everybody has their crushes,” she said. She admits being in awe the first time director Steven Spielberg walked down the hallway she was standing in.

When Anderson was in high school, she couldn’t have imagined meeting the likes of Spielberg. She became interested in public relations at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio, and thought she might do publicity for a sports team. She graduated with a public relations degree in 1999 and soon became an assistant promotions director at the rock radio station QFM96 in Columbus.

Although she enjoyed working at the station, she became interested in getting into the entertainment industry and began looking for jobs in Los Angeles and New York City. She wanted to stand out, so instead of a paper resume, she mailed potential employers T-shirts that said on the front, “Coming to a desk near you,” with her resume on the back.

The unique approach worked, and she nabbed an interview in Los Angeles. Though she didn’t get the job, she moved to L.A. three years after graduating college. She worked as a temp for a while at New Line Cinemas and as an “extra” on television and movie sets, including on an episode of the TV show “The West Wing.” “You can see my shoulder,” she said, laughing.

She landed a job in the marketing department at Fox Cable Networks before being hired as a field marketing assistant at DreamWorks SKG (a movie studio created by media giants Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen). “I started the week that ‘Shrek 2’ opened, but the first film I was really involved in was ‘Anchorman.’” After DreamWorks was bought by Paramount in 2006, Anderson became a marketing manager and eventually a publicist.

She has discovered that it’s often the comedies that are the most fun to promote. For last year’s computer-animated movie “Megamind” (starring Ferrell, Pitt and Fey), Paramount broke the Guinness World Record for having the most people dressed as superheroes in one place, with 1,580 participants gathered in L.A. Promoting “Iron Man” in 2008 was a thrill, too. “‘Iron Man’ was a new experience because it was such a huge film with a lot of attention,” she said. And, she said, the “Jacka**” movies are “always fun to promote because those guys are up for anything.”

Two non-comedies that were interesting to be involved with were “Paranormal Activity,” a low-budget film that generated huge buzz and made a lot of money, and “Waiting for Superman,” a critically acclaimed documentary about the failings of the U.S. educational system. Publicizing that movie was a little different because Anderson’s department had to brainstorm on the types of audience the film needed to reach and how to explain the hot-button issue.

“[Our efforts] helped people start talking about the education system,” she said. “Sometimes more time is spent on those smaller films than the big blockbuster.” For example, it won’t be as difficult to explain the intent of this summer’s “Transformers 3.” “People know what that’s about. You’re going to go see that, but with ‘Waiting for Superman,’ we had to present it right and to the right people.”

What’s the best part about Anderson’s job? “Every month is something different,” she said. “You’re hitting different demographics, and you’re trying new, creative ideas to get people to pay attention to your film.” But she cautioned people that life in the movie business is not 9-5. She is able to travel the country, but rarely gets to explore the cities she’s in, often seeing only airports and hotels. And it’s not unusual to work from 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. “It’s considered leaving early if you leave at 6 o’clock,” she said. “I’m used to the schedule now, and overall I like my job.”

She has no plans to leave L.A. any time soon, but Anderson would like to try working in New York City’s entertainment industry one day. She makes it home to Brookville two or three times a year and is proud to be from a small town. She tries to stick to advice her uncle gave her when she first moved to L.A.: “Make sure you stay true to your roots because you’ll be a breath of fresh air.”

Anderson encourages young people in Franklin County to explore interesting and unique career possibilities. “I had no idea about this [job] growing up.” Just because you’re from a small town doesn’t mean the world isn’t full of career opportunities, she said. “Don’t be afraid to live somewhere else.”

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