Tuesday, January 23, 2007

One Step Closer to the Prize

Beverly Hills- The race starts today.

The morning the Academy Awards announce their nominations is when the fog of early Awards Season is lifted and the contenders are thrust into focus.

Reading between the lines of the announcement, the media looks for what is called the "snub". Who got snubbed and whogot a nod? Dreamgirls got snubbed because they didn't get nominated for Best Picture. I guess if you get eight nominations and not the top one, its a snub.

The nominations made it clear that the Best Actor Oscar will go to Forest Whitaker and Best Actress to Helen Mirren. Consensus has it that Martin Scoresese will finally get a Director Oscar.

A nomination can change a career. Jennifer Hudson, nominated for Best Supporting Actress in Dreamgirls, has come from nowhere reality television star to center stage in Hollywood. Eddie Murphy can now get some respect for acting, not just playing a clown. Sasha Baron Cohen, whose Borat is considered in the low-brow comedy genre, is taken seriously with a nomination for best adapted screenplay.

The actual nominations event is run like a CIA clandestine project. A lot of employees at the Academy know who the actual nominees are before they are announced and the Academy takes every effort to keep the knowledge from getting out prematurely. Cellphones, cameras, Blackberrys and other communication devices are not allowed on the upper floors of the Academy building where the information is processed. The media arrives in the middle of the night to set-up for the 5:38:30 a.m. PST live announcement. They shut down the theater from 3:30 a.m. to 5:15 a.m. to have rehearsals and everyone must vacate the area with all TV cameras pointed down and all microphones turned off. A security force checks all bags and all attendees are issued badges that you have to get photographed for in advance, yet no photo is actually placed on the badge itself.

After the announcements, all hell breaks loose. Publicists call their clients. The actor that reads the nominees, in this case Salma Hayek, is mobbed by media to comment on what she just read. TV shows, print, radio and photographers jockey for position.

Ms. Hayek was very accomodating. Her friend, Penelope Cruz, was nominated for Best Actress for her role in Volver, and she pumped her fist on live television when it was announced. She later said to the media that she thought is was a great day for Hispanics with Cruz, Adriana Barraza, and Alejandro González Iñárritu getting nods from the Academy. One television interviewer asked what she was wearing, and Hayek put her hands up to the camera lenses in a mock protest.

For a photographer, covering the event, which is pretty much the same every year, is a challenge. The whole thing is over in less than five minutes. The president of the Academy, Sid Ganis, walks out to the podium, introduces Salma Hayek, and they both read off from a teleprompter as five panels behind them show the nominees. The theater is small and well lit.

You pretty much have to shoot from the center if you want a photo of the announcers with all five panels shown behind them.

I used three cameras, one with a wide-angle 16mm-35mm lens for an overall shot, a medium-range 70mm-200mm zoom lens to get a variety of photos during the event and the third body with a 24mm-105mm lens with a flash for post-announcement photos. I brought a fourth body along to set-up a remote camera, but wasn't allowed to set it up. (No unmanned cameras).

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Fear and Loathing in Hollywoood

Hollywood- There are two kinds of people in Hollywood. The famous and those who want to be famous.

The ironic thing is that the famous say they don't want the attention and those who want to be famous will do anything to get it.

Everyone knows who the A-listers are. Those are the ones who get invites to the Golden Globes. The others, who are working their way up the list, have to go to the endless promotional parties that their publicists set up and hope they can get some ink in Page Six.

This week I got to see the whole gamut.

Monday was another Award Show, the Golden Globes. It's less like an award show and more like a free-wheeling party in the ballroom of the Beverly Hilton. There is dinner and drinks. Celebs sit at tables and mingle. Everyone goes home happy.

If you saw the show, you know who won. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which gives out the awards, have plenty of categories for both film and television including drama and comedy, where everyone goes away happy.

The whole event is a barometer of who's in and who's out in Hollywood. Who gets to arrive in a limo, and who arrives on a bus. The media parking lot was in Century City via a shuttle bus. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were not on that bus.

A party for Donald Trump's Vodka on Wednesday was another story. This is more of the down and dirty Hollywood.

Les Deux, a night club off Hollywood Blvd. was location for this little event.

These promotional events serve many purposes. The main mission if to promote a product or service. In this case, Trump Vodka. The other benefits are self-promotion, which come hopefully when you photo is published in a magazine or you get interviewed by television.

The Hollywood clubs also serve as a meeting ground where a group of trust-fund babies hang out nightly. Some of the names you know, Paris Hilton, whose great-grandfather, Conrad Hilton, started the Hilton Hotel chain. Others include Kimberly Stewart, daughter of rocker Rod Stewart, her brother, Sean, Kim Kardashian, daughter of O.J. Simpson attorney Robert Kardashian, Brandon Davis, who late grandfather is billionaire Marvin Davis, Brittny Gastineau, whose father, Mark, played pro football for the New York Jets, and even the DJ at the party, Steve Aoki, whose father is Rocky Aoki of Benihana fame.

Absent from this particular party was Lindsey Lohan who just checked into rehab after a particularly rough night at some Golden Globes after-parties. But Jessica Simpson and her sister, Ashlee, made an appearance, trying to evade photographers.

Part of any Hollywood event is the parade of starlets and young actors that walk the red carpet. The amazing thing is that every now and then a few get plucked from obscurity and flung into super stardom. A couple years back Scarlett Johansson was an actress that photographers had to ask each other who that was. Before "Desperate Housewives" became a hit, Eva Longoria dutiful walked down every carpet indistinguishable from the rest.

First, some rules on who gets picked. Generally, you have to be young and pretty. Over 25? Forgetaboutit. You also need a vehicle for stardom. That vehicle can be a movie, a hit TV show, a hit record, even a porn video (Paris Hilton). Or you can be somebody's famous best friend or lover (K-Fed anyone?).

You can't be boring. Drug rehab, arrests, marriages, divorces, babies, affairs, all contribute to the mix.

So what's a pre-stardom star like? That person could be a waitress like Julianne Moore or sleeping in their car like Hilary Swank. On a soap opera like General Hospital in the case of Demi Moore.

And no one can predict the future. So photographers snap everyone that comes down the red carpet. Maybe one day that person will be in the spotlight and that photograph becomes valuable. It's like investing in penny stocks, even Microsoft started small.

Pity the photographer who doesn't take at least one photograph of someone because they think that person isn't worthwhile.

Everyone who shoots a lot of celebs knows of a guy who didn't bother shooting an ex-football player whose days were long gone at a movie premiere with his family. That player was O.J. Simpson with his wife, Nicole and kids, the last time they were photographed publicly before Nicole was murdered. I'm sure everyday that photographer wished he had just taken a few frames, not that he could of retired on the money, but because missed opportunities are a photographer's bane.

I got a lot of photographs of obscure people that will never see the light of day. Somewhere in that batch are a few diamonds, waiting to be mined.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

How To Get Your Photos in the Tabloids

Most people who read a celebrity magazine don't have a clue how they get their photos. They think a bunch of paparazzi stalk celebs by hiding in the bushes and then sell them to the tabloids. Its not that simple.

A lot of the most valuable photos come from regular folks who stumble upon a picture that makes its way into a magazine.

A simple snapshot of Sen. Gary Hart and his girlfriend, Donna Rice on the aptly named boat "Monkey Business" makes it way to the cover of the National Inquirer and history is changed. Sen. Hart drops out of the 1988 presidential race.

So what should you do when you have that valuable photo? Who do you call? How much is that photo worth? It's something they don't teach in any photography class.

  • First a few questions about the photo. Is the photo exclusive? If not, who else has similar photos. A hundred people could have shot similar photos but if your the only one marketing them, it might as well be exclusive. A lot of people have cell phone cameras but they don't know how to actually sell the photograph.

  • The second question is content. Is the photograph newsworthy? What makes a photograph valuable is the storyline. If a writer is doing a story about something it usually needs some kind of photography to illustrate it. The more important the story, the more money a magazine will pay. Its not always how famous the person is that sells a photo. A picture of a famous person walking out of Starbucks with a latte is of little value, a snapshot of Elizabeth Smart with the people that kidnapped her, much more interest.

  • The third question is the photo real? Verification is important. Your cat just had a kitten with one eye, can you prove you didn't Photoshop one eye out? Can you back the photo up with several other pictures and witnesses? Tabloids and magazines do get sued and they want to be safe, especially if they receive a photo from an unknown source. Professionals who shoot for the magazines on a regular basis are trusted more than a guy off the street.

Okay, your photo passed all three tests. The clock is ticking. Every minute that passes means the photo is worth less and less. A magazine somewhere in the world might be finishing up their layouts and your photo is not in their hands.

The first thing you might think of doing is try to get your photo to biggest possible magazine and hopefully make the most amount of money. Wishful thinking.

I don't recommend you try to market your photos yourself. Unless you do this sort of stuff everyday, you will get taken and basically ripped-off. No contest. You are a guppy with the sharks.

The most important thing is to have a photo agency sell the photo for you. They deal with editors everyday and they know the value of a photo in the marketplace. Agencies usually get a 50/50 split of the gross sales. The more they sale, the more you make. You get paid after the publication pays them. They issue you a statement of how much a photo sold and to whom.

The agency I use is Landov in New York. The reason why I use them is because the market a wide range of photos from news to sports to travel along with celebs. You can use any agency you want, but not all agencies understand how to sell all kinds of photos. Some agencies only sell celebrity candid photos taken on stake-outs, others only at red-carpet events. You might have a newsy photo that is not celebrity related.

You can get an idea of photo agencies from looking at the photo credits of magazines. Unfortunately, some photo agencies have relationships with the actual celebrities and don't sell photos that are unflattering to the stars. Those agencies may or may not be right for you.

The photos that get the most money are the ones where an agency gets the magazines to bid for it. An auction with phone bidders. The deepest pocket wins.

To get the most mileage out of a photo, a photo has to be sold to different markets. The first market in the U.S. is the New York City tabloid market. The New York Post and the New York Daily News will bid on photos depending on value. I remember ten years ago in 1997 when I worked at the New York Post when they bought a photo of Bill Cosby with his son, Ennis, who was just murdered, from a photographer for $10,000. They used that photo on the front page.

Was the photo worth that much? The deadline for the next day's paper was drawing near and that was the only photo they could get their hands on. There might have been a few snapshots of the two in someone's album, but whoever had them wasn't calling the Post or the Daily News.

Did that sale kill other sales? No, because that sale was just for usage rights for newspapers in the U.S. The photographer then sold a similar photo to Time magazine. Time magazine doesn't care if a New York City newspaper used that photo, the magazine sells all over the country and readers in Peoria haven't seen the photo. Actually the sale of the photo to the New York Post increased its value. Every major magazine in America has offices in New York and every photo editor reads the New York Post and the Daily News. When they see the credit for a photo with the photographer's and agency's name on it, they know who to call to acquire rights for it. Photo agencies love when the New York tabloids run their photos, it is like a free ad.

The London tabloids are even more rabid than the New York tabloids. They invented the tabloid. They too bid crazy money for photos. Photo agencies make sure what time it is in London, and try to make their deadlines too.

A valuable photo can be sold to every country on Earth. Certain photos may not have a lot of value in the U.S. could be big in Germany, huge in Japan. A street-wise photographer and editor knows each market. David Hasselhoff and Heidi Klum, small celebs in the U.S., huge in Germany.

Here is a real-life case study. I shot a few photos of Britney Spears two weeks ago on the red carpet on New Year's Eve at the nightclub PURE in Las Vegas. She posed quickly and left. My photos sucked. I thought maybe I could get a few photos of her outside when maybe she was on the club's balcony during the fireworks they have on the Vegas Strip. Got a few photos of her on the balcony and left. I figured it was a wasted night. Sent the photos to my agency in New York anyway.

Next morning Robin Leach writes in his blog about how Britney passed out. I call my agency to tell the story. They call the New York Post and Daily News to see if they want the photos. The Post uses a photo shot by a photographer paid by the club. The Daily News uses my photos of a very unflattering Britney. The London Sun sees my photos in the News and contacts my agency to buy them. Other publications around the world contact my agency to buy the photos. This week the National Inquirer writes a cover story about Britney and runs the photo on the cover and big inside. Star magazine runs my photo this week inside small.

What made the photo valuable? First, it was Britney Spears, the magazines run a story on Britney every week.

Secondly, there was news value, Britney having an incident.

Was it exclusive? Nope. They could of been other photos from the party. I bet every person at the party had a cellphone that could of taken a photo of the incident. A professional photographer was there but he can't release any unflattering photos because he basically works for the club.

That basically leaves my photo, which is not the best quality, but it illustrates the story and it was shot very close to the time frame when she supposedly collapsed.

Can I verify the photos? Yes, I have a whole series of photos of her and I just happen to get some business cards of people that attended the party that the tabloids can call to verify the story.

Am I going to get rich off the photos? Nope. But because I understand how the system works, I can maximize the value of the photographs and any other photographs I take.


Wednesday, January 10, 2007

People's Choice Awards

Los Angeles- The People's Choice Awards usually is a so-so award show where stars come knowing they are winning something beforehand. Its a win-win for everyone and you get exposure and a nice glass trophy.

Tuesday, the show was brought up another notch when the some mega-stars showed up.

How about Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn? Throw in Halle Berry, Cameron Diaz, Carmen Electra, Christina Applegate, Eva Longoria, and Patrick Dempsey with rest of the Grey's Anatomy cast.

Even though this was a CBS telecast, stars from the other networks decided to invade the show. Practically everyone from NBC's Heroes showed up. Howie Mandel of NBC's Deal or No Deal.
ABC brought Grey's Anatomy and Desperate Housewives' Felicity Huffman and Longoria. Ugly Betty was represented by Vanessa Williams.

Queen Latifah didn't need a reason to come. Maybe just to say hi to LL Cool J and Halle.

Emily Proctor
and Joely Fisher vied for the low-cut dress of the evening award.

Aniston and Vaughn made their way to the press room for photographs, albeit separately. Vince, his usual surly self and Jennifer, all smiles.

The real couple of the night seemed to be Ellen DeGeneres and Portia De Rossi. They posed together, but the cries from photographers for them to kiss fell on deaf ears.

The award show, which used to be held in Pasadena, is now in the same spot where the Emmys and Screen Actors Guild have their show, at the Shrine Auditorium. They are also using the same public relations firm that does the Emmys too. It now actually feels like a real Awards Show.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

SAG Nominations

Los Angeles- Actors Sandra Oh and Elijah Wood got up early Thursday morning to read the nominations for the 13th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards. The awards show will be held on January 28th and will be televised live on TNT and TBS.

Of the four big Hollywood awards show, the SAGs are the least known step-child to the Golden Globes, the Emmys and the Academy Awards. They don't have a major network broadcasting the show and I don't think anybody remembers who has ever won a SAG Actor award.

But it does have some great attributes. First, it just honors actors and is voted on by its peers. It just focuses on actors and nothing else. No best short film, or sound editing.

It recognizes film and TV, so you get to see all the top stars of both unlike the Oscars which handles film only, and the Emmys, which is TV only.

It's a great predictor of who wins an Oscar because its voted by other SAG members, not "members of the foreign press" like the Golden Globes, who sometimes have unusual choices.

By the list of nominees, this year's SAG should be good. International stars like Leonardo DiCaprio, Will Smith, Penelope Cruz, Meryl Streep, Kate Winslet, Eddie Murphy, Cate Blanchette, Jeremy Irons, Helen Mirren, and Greta Scacchi mixed in with television favorites like Kiefer Sutherland, James Gandolfini, Alec Baldwin, Matthew Perry, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Mary Louise Parker and Jaime Pressly.

The wild card are movies and TV series which are nominated for ensemble awards.

Will Brad Pitt and his wife, Angelina Jolie, show up for "Babel"? Ashton Kutcher, Demi Moore, Lindsay Lohan, Christian Slater and Sharon Stone for "Bobby"? Beyonce Knowles and Jamie Foxx for "Dreamgirls"? And how about the "Desperate Housewives" cast, of which only Felicity Huffman was nominated? Will Teri Hatcher, Eva Longoria, Marcia Cross and Nicollette Sheridan make an appearance?

With all its star power the SAGs should be a high-profile awards show. The show hasn't embedded in the media's or the public's minds yet. You will read in the first sentence of a news story "Oscar-winning actor...or Emmy-winning actor...or Tony-award winning actor" but never "Actor-winning actor"???? Maybe that is the problem. The award they hand out it called the "Actor".

It might mean more than the other awards because its judges are other actors, but a "Moonman" from the MTV awards will probably attract more attention in the trophy case.

Monday, January 1, 2007

Waking Up to a New Year

In a few hours things can change drastically.

On New Year's Eve I covered Britney Spears' party at PURE at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas.

Took a few photos of her on the red carpet. She didn't pose long, just a minute and gone.

I stayed a while to see the fireworks on the strip. I thought that there was a chance that Britney might want to do the same and looked to see if she was at the night clubs' terrace overlooking the Strip. She did and I took some so-so photos of her from the street.

I went back to my hotel room and edited and transmitted the photos to my agency in New York and went to sleep.

When I awoke in the morning I was browsing the web looking for a tip on where Michael Jackson new home was in Las Vegas and came across a story about Britney collapsing shortly after midnight. I immediately called my agency in New York to tell them those Britney photos just got more valuable and to price them accordingly.

The strange thing was while waiting for Britney to show up at the red carpet, we photographers were joking about some of the club members came out stumbling out drunk and that you better be ready if Britney were one of them. No one really took it seriously, we were just bored waiting for her to show up.

It's not like you plan or even hope for stuff like this to happen. Its always a surprise.

I was not inside the club when whatever happened. I just shot some photos of her just before it happened. Britney's publicist stated she was tired and was sleeping. Whatever. It's a story either way.

What Happened to Britney?

Las Vegas- No one likes to be under scrutiny. Put a magnifying glass to anyone and you will find the flaws. That's the downside of being famous. There is a huge upside, in a financial sense.

Britney Spears is one of those pop stars that seems to have a huge bull's-eye on their back. I don't know if she tries to paint that target herself, or does the media-induced frenzy paint it for her.

In the last month she was photographed with Paris Hilton at L.A.'s clubs. She has two young children at home and partying with Paris Hilton doesn't seem to be the right thing to do especially after filing for divorce from Kevin Federline. So what does she do this New Year's Eve?
Host a party at the night club, PURE, at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas.

Nothing wrong with a twenty-something going out and enjoying herself. Especially if a club is paying you a fee that has been reported anywhere from an outrageous $300,000 to a somewhat, dare I say modest, $30,000. I don't know what the details of her contract with the night club is, but its hard to turn down a job where you get paid to host a party.

Paris Hilton couldn't make the trip to Vegas, she was in Australia promoting beer. Actress Shannon Elizabeth, Jesse Metcalfe of "Desperate Housewives" and the co-found of myspace.com, Tom Anderson made an appearance.