Monday, May 28, 2007

Cannes wrap-up

Cannes- The core of the Cannes Film Festival is about buying and selling films. The red carpet, the lavish parties, and the photocalls get all the attention. The real business of movie making is when producers and distributors get together and make deals.

At Cannes, buyers and seller from all over the world convene in a marketplace that help facilate transactions. Everyone in the world needs to fill up their programming schedule. If you have a film, there is someone who will be buy it, at the right price. Cannes is the two-week Wall Street of the film world.

Most of the public really doesn't care about deals. They want the inside info on the movie stars. Some of the stars understand Cannes as the marketplace and come to promote their project. Others think Cannes is one huge party. Those are the ones that get in trouble with photographers and gossip mongers.

The photographic landscape that is Cannes is broken up into several areas if your looking to take photos of celebs. First and foremost is the official premieres and photocalls that Cannes organizes. Photographers are required black-tie apparel to shoot the premieres on the steps of the Festival des Palais. Usually in the morning of the premiere the festival organizes a photocall, a less formal event with casual attire. At night, there is an after-party for the film that is also black-tie. That gives official press photographers three chances to shoot the stars of a film. With over 200 photographers at each event, the film and its actors get a lot of carefully controlled exposure.

The real photos are taken at the other, unofficial areas of Cannes that make up the paparazzi landscape. First there is the street. Many times an actor has to run through a gauntlet of photographers and fans to go from their car to a party. Anything can happen and photographers hope something will. Sometimes you'll see a less well known celeb walking the streets unnoticed. Somewhat easier is the yacht parties. Multi-million dollar yachts are docked right next to the Palais and every night someone hosts a party the celebs go to. Some are easy to spot. Robert Cavalli had his yacht with his intials on the bow where Sharon Stone stayed while she was in Cannes. You could see here on deck from the dock. Jessica Simpson went to a yacht party sponsored by Budweiser. The pier where all these yachts are docked are in public areas where anyone can walk and rub elbows with celebs. The thing is that most of the public was unaware of it and hung out at the big premieres on the steps of the Palais.

Another watering hole for celebs were the nightclubs that spring up during the festival. They are situated in Palm Beach, about 2km from the Palais. The VIP Room is a loud tecno disco where a few celebs like Kylie Minogue and Dita Von Teese hung out into the wee hours of the morning. The cast of Oceans 13 and the fashion house of Dolce & Gabbana held parties at Baole in the area. Celebs flocked to the D&G party as they were giving out free sunglasses, which retail in the $400 range. I saw Edge from U2, Naomi Campbell, Robert Rodriguez and his new girlfriend, Rose McGowan, Michelle Rodriguez and Jay Z among others leaving that party.

The photographers who were looking for the big score rented boats or sat on a jetty overlooking the Hotel du Cap in Eden Roc. The hotel is where the cast of Oceans 13 stayed. So if you wanted photos of Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, George Clooney, Andy Garcia, Don Cheadle, Ellen Barkin or Matt Damon, you had to stake the place out. The place is pretty well known by the paparazzi and they are in plain site so when a celeb gets there photo taken on the beach there, they are either really naive because its there first time there or hoping someone will take their photo and gain some publicity. I think its mostly the latter.

A few more random things about Cannes. An Amercain sandwich has french fries in it. Why do the French think Americans love french fries so much that we put them in out sandwich? We of course don't. McDonalds is so anti-french in its food philosophy but hordes of kids flock to it at Cannes. The food there is not the same in the states, the meat patty is smaller, the bun has herbs, the mustard is dijon. Even though its called fast-food, everyone in France doesn't work fast, expect a little longer for everything. The supermarket in France has a whole aisle devoted to yogurt. I guess the French love yogurt. You can't get cheddar cheese in France, so don't ask. In a restaurant, the bottled water cost as much or more than anything else, about 6 eur or about $8 for a liter of Evian, more expensive than the beer or wine. They will ask if you want water, you think you are getting regular tap water, but you getting the most expensive water in the world. You can ask for tap water, sometimes they will give you it, sometimes they will not understand, or pretend not to understand. Tap water is drinkable in France. In general the food is much better than in the US but because of the weak dollar, you will pay for it. The thing that surprised me the most was how backwards technological France is. The internet is really slow, I have yet to pass by a store that sold computers and plasma TV's. Maybe things are different in a big city like Paris, by Cannes is like the US in 1998. Its not that they don't have anything you can get in the US, it is just not as widespread. You see people with digital cameras, ipods and laptops, but only rarely. I guess they are too busy smoking cigarettes and hanging out in cafes, which is a stereotype but somewhat based in fact.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Cannes Day 4-5

Cannes - Owning a yacht at the Cannes Film Festival is key to meeting people. You can attract everyone from a major movie star to a horde of photographers. Italian fashion designer Robert Cavalli uses his to entertain his Hollywood clients.

Sunday night Sharon Stone, Gong Li and Mischa Barton came by to say hello to Cavalli.

It doesn't matter who you are in Cannes, everyone must remove their shoes while boarding, the teak on deck must be protected.

The deck of a private yacht is also the best way to watch the fireworks at midnight.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Cannes Day 2-3

Cannes- A few impressions if you ever plan on attending the Cannes Film Festival.

First get a local mobile phone. If you don't have a phone, you are SOL on the party scene. There are literally hundreds of parties every night. An invite is just a phone call away. You can't network without a phone. A phone in Cannes is easy. I bought an unlocked GSM phone off eBay for $30.00, make sure it has 900-1800 mhz, and then you just have to buy a French SIM card and your all set. The Orange phone company was selling pay-as-you-go phones with a starter card for about 40 euros. Then you just buy recharges to top off the phone for more time.

Second thing is the internet. Make sure the place your staying has an internet connection. France is lagging behind and it's not common. The flat I'm staying doesn't have broadband and I tried sniffing a WiFi connection in my neighborhood but is nothing was available. So I'm stuck dragging my laptop to an internet cafe every day.

A car is pretty useless during the festival because many roads are closed and the traffic is gridlocked. But a bicycle or Vespa maybe an option. If you wait until you get to Cannes, its already too late, everything will be booked. I found that out the hard way. The bigger problem is that the rental places are not online, you have to call them directly.

Do you have to speak French in Cannes? No problem. Everybody here seems to understand English. You can just point at menu items. Hollywood doesn't speak French. You don't have to either.

Cannes is like Hollywood. The bigger, the more expensive, the glitzier, the better. Multi-million dollar yachts, Ferrari's, Arab sheiks, are commonplace.

Last night, Jessica Simpson had a party on a yacht and then walked two yachts down to party with Kid Rock.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Cannes Day 1

Cannes, France - The Cannes Film Festival is the Cirque du Soleil of Hollywood. All the glitz of Hollywood, with a French twist.

I landed Wednesday and by evening I was photographing Elizabeth Hurley on the Croisette. Which is hard to do when you have nine hours of jet lag. Hopefully I can get my bearings and try to get a handle on Cannes. Which may be impossible.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Concert Photography

Hollywood - Shooting a concert sounds like a great gig. Getting paid to shoot legendary artists from the front row. It's not bad, but there are a few caveats.

Saturday I was at the Henry Fonda Music Box Theater in Hollywood to shoot Hullabaloo, a benefit concert featuring Edder Vedder of Pearl Jam fame and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Any photographer who shoots concerts knows the drill. First you can't shoot the whole concert. Back in the day, early 1980's you could hang out and shoot and watch the whole show. Now you can shoot certain songs. Some artists allow you to shoot the first two or three songs. Some stipulate an odd arrangement of songs in the middle.

Eddie Vedder only wanted photographers to shoot the fourth song. The Red Hot Chili Peppers wanted only the first two songs to be shot. I have shot U2, and they allowed the first five songs. A couple of weeks ago at the Ricky Martin concert at the Staples Center, you were allowed the first two. The other thing during the performance, is no flash photography. Available darkness only.

I don't really know what changed in the mid-80's. But it became standard for concert photographers.

Here are some tips on shooting concerts.

First bring ear protection. You could be shooting right next to a stack of speakers and the last thing you want is to lose hearing on the job.

Second, bring a flashlight. When the performance starts, its pitch black, a flashlight comes in handy if you have to fiddle with camera equipment or just find your way when your escorted out after the shooting time expires.

The third thing is to make sure you have the right lens in advance of the concert. A small club venue like the Music Box Theater, a wide-angle and a medium telephoto lens is all you need. But at the Staples Center and other 20,000 seat arenas, they might put you back behind the sound board, which could be 200 feet away from the stage. You better have a fast 400mm lens or you will basically shooting wide shots of the whole stage instead of dramatic shots of the lead singer.

The last bit of advice is understand that you will have a very limited time shooting so have a plan of action in place. If you need shots of the drummer or bassist, make a mental note before the concert. Plan on shooting some wider shoots along with tighter shots, two or three cameras make sense, you don't want to waste time changing lenses. Shoot very heavy, the lighting changes a lot during most concerts and you want to get as many photos as possible in that short amount of time.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Do Ethics Exist in Photojournalism?

The ideal situation for journalists would to be totally independent and non-partisan and just record and report the news.

In the real world that almost never happens.

One of my first jobs I was reminded by the editor-in-chief that a newspapers was a business and the our number one job was to sell newspapers. My idealistic view of the journalists being integral to a free society, the fourth estate, freedom of speech, voice of the people, was shattered.

How do the demands of fair and balanced reporting relate to the business side of selling newspapers? There is supposed to be this imaginary wall dividing the editorial side and the business side of things in journalism. The problem is the wall is like the emperor's new clothes, and not all that well built.

I have worked at small, medium and large newspapers. The one thing I was never handed was any thing relating to ethics. Nothing on what you could do or not do. Actually, I never held a job where ethics were spelled out. What are the rules? Are there no rules?

There is a telling scene in the first episode of "The Sopranos" this season. Tony Soprano, his sister and brother-in-law are playing Monopoly. All of sudden new rules are implemented. Tony's brother-in-law objects, citing the official rules in his protest, but to no avail. I remember the exact same thing happening when I was in the fourth grade. My friend made up the rules as we went along, eventually I learned what the rules were. I have had similar experiences in journalism.

One of the first rules of a newsphotographer is that you never manipulate people for photos. You are supposed to capture what is in front of you and by doing so, have truthful images. When I was a young teenage photographer shooting for my college student newspaper, "The Spectrum" in Buffalo, NY, that's what I did. I was so shy I couldn't do anything else. I didn't know how to direct someone to do something to make a photograph more interesting.

Then one day I covered an event that the mainstream press covered. The veteran newspaper photographer who showed up probably didn't even know I existed. He staged and directed people and was in and out of the event in no time. Was he unethical? His boss wouldn't have thought so. This is how things were done. And in most cases still done at big and small newspapers and other news organizations across the country. I have seen it first hand.

The second rule is that you don't manipulate the image after the fact. You know, photoshop it. It's funny that a software program is now a verb in the mainstream.

Back in the day of no computers, we made black and white prints. We darkened and lightened selected areas of the print in the darkroom. We rubbed ear wax on the negative to get rid of scratches. We used bleach to whiten someone's eyes or open up shadows.

Some photographers went a little too far. They had hockey pucks and balls that could be placed in a photo. They combined negatives. They darkened areas from pure white to pure black. It was called "hand of God" printing. The practice not only was accepted, it was encouraged, many award-winning photo used its methods.

Photographers tried to grandfather techniques from the old days, stating that Photoshop could only be used to replicate a darkroom print. Really?

It's pretty easy to change a photograph. Clone out something. Add something. A photographer who grew up learning from the veteran shooters who rules were that they were no rules, not only be tempted to change things radically to make a perfect photo, it would be like leaving the cars to the Porsche on the kitchen counter while you left on a two week vacation with your teenagers in charge. Wanna bet the Porsche has some uneven wear on the tires when you come back?

This is a typical day for a working photographer on a small to mid-size newspaper. Four to six assignments ranging from a feature portrait, a sporting event, a craft fair and a couple shots of features of people doing stuff that can be used anywhere in the newspaper. Some newspapers call it "wild art", enterprise feature, a standalone, and I even heard the term "rope" a take on the acronym ROP which means run of press. Pretty boring stuff. From this you have to make photos that make readers want to read the stories. For a photographer you also want to make photos that will be in your portfolio so you can land that bigger and hopefully higher paying job.

My first full-time job paid $280 a week. I worked 6 days a week and 14 hours a day. The minimum wage at the time was $4.00 an hour. The newspaper did not pay overtime. So basically the guy at the local fast-food joint was making more money and he didn't have to own expensive camera equipment, drive his own car or have a college degree. I had to fill a whole newspaper with photos. Front page, sports page, feature pages, local pages, special sections, a couple of photo pages a week, plus process and print all the reporters photos, and make prints for the public who saw their photo in the newspaper and wanted copies. Oh and by the way I was also in charge of ordering photo supplies, fixing and maintaining all photo equipment and trouble shooting the computer equipment at the newspaper.

With all that on tap, do you think ethics was a topic of discussion in the newsroom. Most reporters had a bottle of booze in their desk drawer and you couldn't see the other end of the newsroom because of the haze from cigarette smoke. That was 20 years ago. Okay, they banned drinking and smoking in the newsroom, but have things really changed? I know of one reporter who works out of a bar to circumvent the drinking and smoking rules. Ethics? This guy works out of a bar, so I guess bar rules apply.

There are some great photographers who have the backing of there news organization to put in the long hours to document incredible story-telling photos. Unfortunately with the down-sizing of newspapers and other new gathering operations, that has become a luxury. It's very difficult and expensive to cover stories that are important. The pressure to get those same photos in a few hours or minutes that should take days or months has lead to questionable means to get them.

Editors never ask how? They ask why not? Like, why did you not get that shot? The other newspaper has it. Why is that photo so boring? They never ask, did you manipulate the subject to get that great photo? It's the don't ask, don't tell policy. Editors don't really want to know.

Here is some of the answers they would get from some photographers if they were given truth serum.

  • I drove two hours looking for a feature and I saw these kids playing and they stopped when I got out of the car so I told them to redo the thing so I could get a photo. The last time I didn't get the feature, you yelled at me so I took things into my own hands.

  • I had two minutes for the photo and I missed the distracting thing in the background so I cloned it out.

  • I was told to get a picture of holiday traffic, but I couldn't find any so I used a long lens to make it look a lot worse that it really was.

  • The only place there was flooding was in this one area so I went there and got a low angle to make it more dramatic, plus the story was on how bad the flooding was.

  • I was late for the event with all the other assignments, so I had them re-create the event.

You get the idea.

So why are ethics important? A news photograph represents truth. Do you want a lie? Are you happy to pay for a premium product and to later find out it's a knock-off, a fake? The box shows a photograph of a mouth-watering steak dinner, inside it's a frozen mass of brown. Mission Accomplished? Jessica Lynch a hero? We make life changing decisions based on photos. The photo of that cute person you met online, it has been retouched. That beautiful house you saw on the internet, they didn't show you the termites in the basement? The elected official doing....oh forget it, it was a photo-op. Jaded, cynical? Men didn't land on the moon? The Holocaust didn't happen? Every photo is a fake? What and whom are we to believe?