Lights. Camera. Set Visit – An HFPA World Tour of Movie Magic

Reflecting back on the astonishing years spent as a member of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, what strikes a nostalgic chord as the most blessed part of that journalistic journey has been the unparalleled opportunities bestowed on us to visit some of the most creative film and television production sets of the past twenty years.

Imagine walking the early 1900 streets of New York in both Budapest and Wellington, built for the respective sets of The Alienist and King Kong. Strolling the fabricated grounds of Hogwarts, housed at Leavesden Studios outside London for three different Harry Potter films. Entering the enchanted forest of Mirror Mirror inside a soundstage in Montreal. And watching a Day of the Dead parade in Mexico City’s historic Zócalo Square along with 1,500 extras as James Bond got his Spectre on.

While some are true pinch-me cinematic moments, at the heart and soul of these behind-the-scenes occurrences has been the art of the craft for me – writing and reporting for one of Europe’s largest film publications.

As a collective body covering more than 50 countries, the HFPA provided a one-stop shop for studios, streamers and networks to present their films and television shows for worldwide coverage. The influence of that assembly enabled countless creative professionals to showcase and give insight into their impeccable work.

Over the years, this has included on-set conversations with not only such powerhouse filmmakers as Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson, Alfonso Cuarón, Ridley Scott, Woody Allen, Christopher Nolan and Damien Chazelle, but also the likes of some of the stalwarts of Hollywood’s below-the-line creatives. One recalls fondly the interviews and design sneak peeks with three-time Oscar-winning costume designer Sandy Powell on the sets of Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella and Rob Marshall’s Mary Poppins Returns. Production designers Catherine Martin for Australia, Eve Stewart with Les Misérables and Stuart Craig on behalf of Fantastic Beasts sharing their designs. And getting valued music insight from such composers as four-time Golden Globe recipient Justin Hurwitz as he was creating the score of First Man as well as double Globe winners Justin Paul and Benj Pasek guiding through an on-set musical performance of The Greatest Showman.


But the fondest memories come from observing some of the industry’s greatest talents doing what they do best, being a fly-on-the-wall watching that nuanced take when actors catch lightning in a bottle, seeing the camera forever capture that magic.

The joy of saying ‘I was there’ when Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio shot a scene together for Catch Me If You Can. Enthralled as Jennifer Hudson gave crew members goosebumps singing “And I Am Telling You” on the set of Dreamgirls. Getting royal thrills seeing Olivia Colman hold court on the set of The Crown. Breathlessly watching Felicity Jones climb atop a helium balloon for The Aeuronauts and keeping a safe distance from Tom Cruise as he practiced his sword-fighting on the set of The Last Samurai.

From the outside, the experiences could appear exhilarating, and in many instances, they were. But the pursuit of these stories required endless hours spent on flights to far-off locales. While they could be perceived as exciting destinations, those same flights caused constant states of endless jet lag as turnaround time in and out could sometimes be as quick as 36 hours (thank you, Thor!).

But the thought of doing anything else never even enters the mindset. A big thank you is extended to the HFPA as we transition to a new phase. Much appreciation for the journalistic thrills and challenges over the years. Thank you as well to all the filmmakers who invited us into their sandbox as they created worlds of dreams. As a new door opens, who knows? Maybe even better things await the keyboard on my computer.