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So What Do You Do, Dave Karger, Chief Correspondent for Fandango?

How the Oscar obsessive turned a love of movies into a dream job

By Richard Horgan - January 16, 2013
For Dave Karger, Oscar nominations day is his version of the Super Bowl. It's his busiest day of the year and a media whirlwind, amplified this time around by an extremely competitive film awards season. How busy is Karger, you ask? Last week when the 2013 nominees were announced, he did a whopping 27 interviews for everyone from NBC's Today to Access Hollywood and Bravo's Watch What Happens Live.

Having just settled into his new position at Fandango after a successful 18-year run at Entertainment Weekly, the movie aficionado says reporting on Oscar-winning films and the stars behind them is just as challenging and thrilling as ever.

"When I was with the magazine, along with TV and radio interviews, I was also writing a big article about the nominations to go in that week's issue and usually interviewing some of the nominees, as well as blogging," he told Mediabistro. "But with my Fandango job just being a broadcasting position and not really a writing position, I was able to focus on the on-camera stuff... It really is my version of election night, and I love being that busy. It's a real rush for me."

Name: Dave Karger
Position: Chief correspondent, Fandango
Resume: Started at Entertainment Weekly in the summer of 1994 and worked his way up from intern to senior writer. After 18 years at the magazine, Karger joined Fandango in September 2012.
Birthdate: April 4, 1973
Hometown: Yorktown Heights, New York
Education: Graduated with a double major in English and psychology from Duke University
Marital status: In a relationship
Media idol: Matt Lauer. "His adeptness at any topic from pop culture to politics is astounding. I've been interviewed by him about 70 times over the years, and I feel like I've gotten to learn from the best."
Favorite TV shows: Parenthood, Southland, Mad Men, Modern Family
Guilty pleasure: All the singing-competition shows: American Idol, The X Factor and The Voice
Last book read: "Gone Girl by my former EW colleague Gillian Flynn. So impressive."
Twitter handle: @davekarger

Do you think Seth MacFarlane is sort of the Academy's last unconventional bet for hosting the Oscars, and if he fails Hathaway-Franco style, that they might move towards someone more classically molded like Jimmy Fallon?
I don't sense desperation on the Academy's part. I think they brought in Craig [Zadan] and Neil [Meron] to produce in part because of their great musical background, and wanted someone who was not just funny but also had great song-and-dance skills. I don't get the sense that it's a last ditch effort of any kind. I just feel like MacFarlane had a great year. His movie Ted was a massive success, his SNL hosting was well received... Obviously he appeals to a younger demographic than, say, Billy Crystal does, and I know that getting ratings for the telecast is very important to them. I think that, combined with the fact that a lot of the movies that are nominated this year are very commercially successful, I think it bodes well for next month's Oscar viewership.

"Find something that you're extremely interested in, so that becoming an expert in it doesn't feel at all like a job or a chore."

How can someone position themselves for TV appearances of the kind that you make regularly? For a writer looking to get into that, is it just about getting the right job (where producers come to you), or is it about actively pitching yourself?
I think the important thing is just to know what you're talking about and really study it. Find something that you're extremely interested in, so that becoming an expert in it doesn't feel at all like a job or a chore. If I didn't have the job that I have, I would still be obsessed with the Oscars and I would still know who Quvenzhané Wallis is. It just happens to be that this is what I get to talk about for work.

I feel like all the great stuff I've gotten to do over the years, whether it's the Today show or being the Academy greeter, it was never a calculated plan. I just tried to be comfortable in front of the camera and really develop an expertise. I think the fact of the matter is that I'm really interested in this, and that just shows when I talk about it or in the past when I have written about it. And I think that's all you can do: Just find what it is that you are truly fascinated by and become an expert in it. If you can speak about it in an articulate fashion and not get nervous on live television, then producers, I think, will respond to what you do.

You've done so many celebrity interviews. On that front, what are a couple of do's and don'ts?
For me, there's two things that I would say. With my Fandango show "The Frontrunners," as with all the shows I'm developing for the site, the goal is to have the format be different enough that it's the only time these celebrities will do that exact interview. So with "The Frontrunners," I pick one scene from each actor-director's movie, and we watch it with remote controls, and we pause it at opportune moments to really dissect what's going on. That's the only time they'll ever do that.

I have a show I'm developing for this summer where a celebrity will bring with him or her someone else from their movie that they think is deserving of some attention, whether it's the costume designer, or the dialect coach or the cinematographer. And, that way, that's the only time they'll ever do that kind of interview. So, that's the first thing that I try to do and has proven helpful so far.

NEXT >> So What Do You Do, Elvis Mitchell, Film Critic and Host of KCRW's "The Treatment"?

The other thing that is very important to me and has always been, whether I was a print interviewer or now a broadcast interviewer, is to never have my interviews feel like an interrogation but rather a conversation. And I think there's an important distinction between those two. I go out of my way to try and make my interview subjects feel respected and comfortable, because the fact of the matter is these are people who get interviewed on a regular basis as part of their job. I try to create an atmosphere that will hopefully make them comfortable enough that they'll say things to me that they wouldn't necessarily say in any other interview. So those are the things that I've tried to do. Just being friendly goes a long way.

Most celebrity reporters have had the occasional bump in the red carpet or interview road. Is there one that you've had that you care to share and also impart what you learned from it?
Obviously, the biggest challenges are the celebrities who are more reticent like Harrison Ford or Tommy Lee Jones. But I happen to love both of them as performers, so I always agree to interview them and try to do my best. I remember being unprepared when [composer] Alan Menken came to me on the Oscar red carpet and I definitely low-balled how many previous nominations he had received. He was very nice about it, but that was a lesson to me to focus even more on some of the behind-the-scenes people, because when it comes to the Academy Awards, they are just as important as the other stars.

As far as this year's Oscar nominations are concerned, obviously everyone has been talking about the omission of Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow from the Best Director category. Were you as surprised by that as everyone else?
Definitely. The whole category of Best Director was the biggest surprise. I just think that people need to remember that the directors' branch of the Academy, which solely votes on that race, is fewer than 400 people. So, just a handful of votes can make the difference between getting into that category and not. I think that's why you saw them go off the reservation a little bit with some of their picks, because it's a small and very high-brow group. It is very difficult to get into the directors branch of the academy, so these are people that are not necessarily easily impressed by spectacle and scope and scale. They are looking for a real point of view, and that's what they saw in Benh Zeitlin [Beasts of the Southern Wild], Michael Haneke [Amour] and David O. Russell [Silver Linings Playbook]. Hence, the three surprises in that category.

"I try to create an atmosphere that will hopefully make [celebrities] comfortable enough that they'll say things to me that they wouldn't necessarily say in any other interview."

I was also surprised and disappointed by the absence of John Hawkes [The Sessions]. A few months ago, he was someone at the top of everyone's list, and I just think for whatever reason that movie lost steam. It's just too bad, because it's such a wonderful performance. And for Best Actress, I had a feeling they would either nominate Quvenzhané Wallis and have the youngest nominee in history or Emmanuelle Riva and have the oldest nominee (85) in history. I did not expect the Academy would do both, and that was very exciting to see.

Have you been able yet to get a sense of the incredible data that Fandango gathers from movie ticket buyers, and how you can tap into that as a journalist?
I am only just beginning to scratch the surface of what I'm realizing is a wealth of data and information that Fandango amasses on a daily basis. They really seem to have a pulse on what moviegoers like and get excited about. I'm definitely looking at ways to incorporate that into my programming, because my programs first and foremost are for the hardcore movie fan. So why not have their voice in there, somehow?

The next show that is going to start for me at Fandango is a weekly preview show, where I talk about all the films that are opening that weekend and help guide people to what they might be most interested in. That's the kind of show I think that could really benefit from the data that Fandango is developing.

NEXT >> So What Do You Do, Elvis Mitchell, Film Critic and Host of KCRW's "The Treatment"?

Richard Horgan is co-editor of FishbowlLA.

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This interview has been edited for length and clarity. The foregoing is the sole property of WebMediaBrands Inc. The opinions and views expressed in the interviews and/or commentaries are solely those of the participants and are not necessarily the views of WebMediaBrands Inc., its affiliates or subsidiary companies.

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