Release Date:November 6,2012
CELEBRITY TRIALS IN THE MEDIA confronts one of the most pressing issues facing the modern television news business today -- the need to deliver big ratings that drive advertising revenue – and a new definition of ‘news.’ Celebrity trials are big business, and when the news media comes to town to cover sensational cases, lives are changed and ethical barriers are shattered. If a celebrity is involved, an otherwise unnoticed case of drunk driving, insider trading, rape, or even murder gets more national and local coverage than the real news of the day.
Director Brian Malone was granted unprecedented access to the journalists scrambling to cover the rape trial of Los Angeles Laker Kobe Bryant in 2004. From his behind-the-scenes vantage point in the tiny town of Eagle, Colorado where the trial took place, Malone captures a pivotal moment in the news-gathering business -- when celebrity justice became a staple of reality television. The same year, the child molestation trial of singer Michael Jackson in Santa Maria, California, saw 1,800 journalists take extraordinary efforts to report on little but the screaming throngs of fans and footage of Jackson and his entourage entering and leaving the courthouse.
In CELEBRITY TRAILS IN THE MEDIA, notable news reporters candidly share the challenges and ethical dilemmas that arise when the camera lights go on and the deadline to deliver a compelling news story, nearly 24 hours/7 days a week, arrives.
The Kobe Bryant sexual assault trial brought a media circus of unprecedented proportions to the small town of Eagle, Colorado from July 2003 until September 2004. Over four hundred media organizations requested credentials; many setting up shop for the trial that took fourteen months but ended with a dismissal. During the same time, Michael Jackson was indicted on multiple child molestation counts, while fans and the media camped out in front of his ranch Neverland for a glimpse of the Wacko Jacko. Filmmaker Brian Malone steps into this nexus, camera in hand, to capture a fascinating behind-the-curtain view of how the news machine kicks into gear when celebrities go wrong. Available November 6, 2012 for the first time on DVD and VOD platforms from Cinema Libre Studio.
CELEBRITY TRIALS IN THE MEDIA shows how journalistic ethics and the ratings demands of corporate media owners collide over celebrity scandal coverage. With impressive access, Malone shows in great detail how TV reporters scramble to report on every tawdry detail of the Michael Jackson and Kobe Bryant trials, trying to pass them off as news, which, on slow days, become an analysis of what the celebrity is wearing, how the celebrity looks or, if he opens the door for his (female) lawyer. Says one news reporter, “A case like this, you know, they couldn’t invent something better for ratings…unfortunately.”
Malone, a five-time Emmy ® Award-winning filmmaker, lives in Colorado and had access to the assembled media over the fourteen months the Bryant trial took place. In addition to capturing the circus-like atmosphere, he was able to tape some fascinating glimpses into the process of celebrity trail news coverage including a sequence as news producers from major networks, local affiliates and “non-news” outlets such as ESPN, Celebrity Justice and Court TV jockey for the limited number of seats allocated to media in the courtroom. Off camera, news people share their ethical dilemmas. Says one producer, “Do we use the word ‘panties,’ which is very sensual and sexy, or do you use the term, ‘undergarments’?” Another tough decision: To not use the word “sperm” during the 5:00pm story hour in order not to offend any of the earlier—and older--viewers.
The documentary, which has previously only been seen at film festivals (Boston International, DC Independent, San Luis Obispo, Boulder International and Visionfest NYC) examines American’s fascination with celebrity scandals from Fatty Arbuckle to Patty Hearst and Tonya Harding to Winona Rider. And, of course, the O.J. Simpson trial. Even Simpson’s prosecuting attorney Marcia Clark makes an appearance in Eagle, Colorado for the Bryant trial on behalf of Entertainment Tonight.
But Americans’ fascination with soap opera–esque tragedy is not the only factor. Malone points to the role that Ronald Reagan played by deregulating the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) which threw open the door to media consolidation. And news programs, which had been insulated from commercial demands previous to this, became part of the bottom line and subject to the ratings game for advertising dollars.
Director Malone has produced or directed more than a dozen independent documentaries for broadcast and cable. His programs have aired nationally on PBS and cable networks. His most recent film, PATRIOCRACY (also released by Cinema Libre Studio), explores the extreme political polarization in America that cripples the country from tackling its most serious problems and will air on The Documentary Channel in November 2012. Other Malone films include: the Artivist Award-winning environmental film INTELLIGENT LIFE; the Emmy-nominated documentary BLINKY, a look at one of Colorado’s most famous television personalities; the ARTIST’S PROFILE series on notable folk and jazz recording artists for PBS, which won critical acclaim and aired nationally; and POW-WOW, a documentary on modern Native American culture that has earned an honorable exhibit at The Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.