Tom Cruise is exercised about Coronavirus. Aren’t we all? you might say. But the star of Mission: Impossible 7 has been particularly concerned about the behaviour of crew members on the set of the movie which is currently being shot in the UK. We’ve provided media training and even crisis management to film and TV production companies and so this story caught our eye.
“If I see you doing it again, you’re f***ing gone,” Cruise shouted, according to The Sun. “And if anyone in this crew does it, that’s it — and you too, and you too. And you, don’t you ever f***ing do it again.” The paper reports that “Fifty members of staff at Warner Bros. Studios in Leavesden, Herts, were left stunned by the angry outburst.”
Is the Hollywood A-lister a hero or a villain? Is he acting professionally and doing his bit to ensure that people keep their jobs, investors’ money is protected and we the public get to see the film as soon as possible? Or is this an example of a paranoid, precious movie star going over the top with health and safety and bullying people earning a fraction of his fee?
The fact that it could be interpreted either way is part of the appeal of this story to the media. We journalists love
“on the one hand…and on the other…”
stories. The BBC coverage of this outburst, for instance, is peppered with social media comment for and against Cruise’s outburst. If you’re producing a radio phone-in show this afternoon or this evening, you’d have lots of fun with listeners taking one view or the other. The Sun has a Quick Poll at the bottom of its coverage, we noticed.
The fact that we’ve got such a huge celebrity involved is always a story. When we look at what makes a story in our media training courses, we’ll explore the human element. Hero or villain, celebrity or ordinary person, male or female, movie industry or fish and chip shop owner – it doesn’t matter as long as a human being is involved.
What does matter though, is that that human being has an element of the unusual about them – another box tick in our special newsworthiness test. It’s something that we run through at the start of our media training courses. Once people understand what makes a story and what journalists are looking for when they’re doing interviews, then those people feel more confident and in control of the interview. Confidence and control are key for us. Another key element of the story is, of course, the fact that piggybacks off the ongoing debate about Coronavirus, safety and a return to work.
So how should the producers handle this incident? There’s an element of crisis communications here but more generally, it’s the type of issue that we help clients in our media training workshops to deal with – sometimes at very short notice. The first is the producer’s and studio’s comms teams plus the unit publicist should be ready to comment. As we advise our clients
never looks good. Even if they say we’re carrying out an investigation, they’ll at least be seen to be doing something.
They might want to issue a statement. If they do it should use simple, everyday language and subtly include a selling point for the producers, perhaps emphasising that, like Tom Cruise, they passionately believe in maintaining social distancing and other protocols to protect cast and crew.
Should Cruise apologise? Well, that’s a matter for him and his publicist but, if he does, it should be direct and unqualified. As we’ve discussed before an apology that contains phrases such as
“if I’ve offended anyone”
“if our clients feel that they’ve been inconvenienced,”
just looks pathetically mealy-mouthed and will only enrage the media further.
Any incident that, like this, suddenly erupts can put an organisation on the back foot.
Having a line to take on the issue all ready to go and spokespeople who are prepared to speak as well as a crisis strategy if necessary can help turn it from a crisis into an opportunity.
We work with a wide variety of organisations to do this.
Finally, call us cynical but could this also have been a bit of publicity. As I mentioned, we’ve worked with film companies and studio publicists and we know that when it comes to promoting a new movie and getting coverage in conventional and social media, incidents like this don’t do any harm.
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