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Nerdy Jobs: Marvel's Comic-Con pro hunts leaks and wrangles rogue celebrities
If you've ever wondered how to get a job with Marvel, Sarah Roberts has a rather unorthodox origin story. Currently a public relations liaison and event coordinator with Disney and Marvel Studios, it's Roberts' job to hunt down leaks and to assist celebrities in getting to panels, photoshoots, autograph sessions, and more to interact with fans and press alike. As to how she got there, it turns out being a fan can come in handy.
"I was attending San Diego Comic-Con at the time, and harassing the folks working the Marvel booth for information that I would then post to Twitter," Roberts tells SYFY WIRE. "They eventually caught wind of me posting the information they trusted me with on social media and asked if I would be interested in interning with them at their Los Angeles office."
This was in 2012, as major studios were just beginning to harness social media as a way to interact with fans, especially at major events such as San Diego Comic-Con. Roberts' internship eventually led to a part-time position she still holds today.
Hunting down leaks and leakers is a major, and stressful, part of Roberts' duties with Marvel and Disney. This is especially true when it comes to the big releases, including the latest Avengers movie, Avengers: Endgame. From the time screenings start to the time the embargo is up, she's on the hunt.
"People tend to forget that we are also fans and would like to avoid footage or spoilers ourselves. Leaks and spoilers ruin it for everyone," she explains.
Most of the time leaks originate from the early screenings people attend, including footage captured on cellphones that are uploaded and end up trending on the internet. Those are relatively easy to track down and get rid of. Other times, Roberts admits, they are informed of certain leaks or they simply stumble upon them as they comb the internet. After verifying that the leaked footage is legitimate, she and others like her spring into action.
"We kindly request removal of it from the direct source so that any further sharing of it will also be removed," she explains. "Most of the time, this is all it takes without any further discussion. We are very familiar with the joke that the 'Marvel snipers will come after you.' We will."
Roberts knows she and her fellow "snipers" probably don't have a great reputation, especially among fans who want to know spoilers and get frustrated when videos are taken down or things are delayed.
"Everyone plays an important role, from the movie directors to the folks who perform maintenance in the Disney offices. It requires a lot of communication and a lot of organization," Roberts says. "Sometimes that involves delays, because we only produce 100 percent quality content. We do the very best we can, and many people dedicate their entire lives to ensure that fellow fans watch their same childhood dreams come true from watching their favorite stories come to life."
Her only request from fans? Don't share leaked footage. Seriously, just don't do it.
As for wrangling celebrities, Roberts says that it's her favorite and most fun part of the job. Even though she's a major Marvel fan herself, she quickly learned that the key to working with talent was to simply treat them as normal people.
"We do get time for fun chats and maybe even a photo or two at the end of the day," she says. "But our goal is to ensure that they are where they need to be for both their commitments and for their fans." She explains that at these conventions and events, the talent is simply trying to do their job, but they do want to have some fun while they're doing it.
"I will admit that many celebrities love and appreciate their fans so much that they are happy to put themselves far behind schedule and even forgo lunch just so they can converse with every last person in line to see them," she says. "It is very hard to pull them from that moment when they need to be at their next panel 20 minutes ago."
During these events, Roberts will work directly with convention staff to help plan the affairs of the talent she is in charge of by securing appointments, hotels, and transportation, and to help ensure that they and their families have what they need and know what their schedule will be. On the day of the event, it's more about making sure she gets celebrities to their panels, signings, and photo ops, and to make sure they get breaks for food and to just take a step back from the grueling con schedule.
"I worked at one convention where a celebrity had to cut an autograph signing short in order to make their panel. Con staff helped organize another signing later that day, and the celebrity returned to sign the autograph of every last person in line," she recalls. "Not only did they skip their lunch, but they also missed their flight home to make that signing."
Having spent quite some time with a number of celebrities during these events, Roberts can assure fans that many of them really want to be there for them and are excited at conventions and to meet them. So often it's portrayed that they're just there for a job, and that's not necessarily a lie, but the face-to-face interaction with fans who enjoy their work is something much of the talent she works with look forward to. That said, not all experiences are great ones.
"I’ve had a few very interesting celebrity-fan encounters while escorting folks to the restroom or to their hotel," Roberts says. "They have usually been harmless and can be very fun for everyone involved. Most people just want a photo or an autograph and the celebrities rarely have an issue with that, unless they are eating or with family — be respectful," she explains, and is quick to mention that sometimes they see the same people over and over again. In some cases, the fans will go as far as to change outfits to try and not be recognized. Some just continue to watch from a distance, never interacting.
Other times, the issues may come from the talent themselves. Sometimes they go rogue.
"I’ve been the personal escort for one celebrity who decided they were going to make their own panel entrance and ran away from security into a tsunami of fans, who then parted like the sea and chased them for a solid quarter mile down a hallway," Roberts says. "We lost track. Security lost track. But they still made it to their panel on time."
She loves all of it, though, and getting to spend multiple days with talent and their families is something she truly cherishes about her job. It gives her the ability to see an entirely different side of a person most see only through the lens of a camera or by the script of their PR team.
"It’s wonderful getting to know someone and what their hobbies are or where their favorite vacation spot is. And also hearing about where they came from or a few childhood stories. You sometimes learn that acting skills aside, you have a lot more in common than you think," she says, though she's had her fair share of embarrassing moments. Over the years she's learned to laugh them off.
Otherwise, it's their work with the Make-a-Wish Foundation that she finds the most fulfilling. Watching kids getting to meet their favorite Avenger or go to Disneyland not only pulls at her heartstrings, but also makes her realize how important the media that Marvel and Disney produce can be.
"Everyone gets caught up in the moment or the entire day just watching children who have been through the worst of the worst just having the best moments of their lives," she says. "There is nothing that folks won’t do to ensure that the kids get exactly what they want and what they deserve."
For those who are looking to do what she does, Roberts says the most important thing is communication, people skills, and overall kindness. A great resume with internships and loads of experience wouldn't hurt either.
"My biggest piece of advice is to immerse yourself in the content and the role you would like to work in. Internships are great for getting established and also the best way to ensure that this is really what interests you before you dedicate your livelihood to it," she explains. "There are a lot of common misconceptions in the entertainment world, and you should always go into it with realistic goals and not just a vision of getting to work with specific people."