The Digital Journalist
The Red Carpet

by Nancy Kaszerman

While I always did well covering daily news in New York City, it didn't take me long to figure out that I could pay my bills much easier shooting entertainment. The reason is simple: There's a seemingly unending thirst for celebrity pictures. Here is an example of one celebrity-packed evening in the Big Apple.

On Dec. 1, 2005 I waited for Paris Hilton to appear and she was late. I had to get to the hottest play opening of the fall season, "The Color Purple." She eventually made her appearance at the Virgin Megastore-Times Square, posing in an elegant golden-colored evening dress with her not-so-elegant new book "Your Heiress Diary: Confess It All To Me." On her arm, the teacup Chihuahua Tinkerbell.

Dec. 1, 2005; New York, N.Y., USA: Socialite and actress PARIS HILTON promotes her new book, "Your Heiress Diary: Confess It All to Me," at Virgin Megastore in Times Square.

Nancy Kaszerman/ZUMA Press
As quickly as possible, I made my way up to the Ed Sullivan Theater, located at 53rd and Broadway, hoping to catch David Letterman escorting Oprah Winfrey to the play opening next door. The streets were blocked off with barricades, and the police weren't letting anyone through even with a press pass. There was no organized press area and few minutes to spare. I fought my way through the multitude of fans and attempted to get to a point where I could see something. Using my folding ladder I was able to find a vantage point over the fans. I managed to get a shot, though fans and photographers were desperately leaning out trying to get a photo, an autograph, a handshake, a glimpse or a touch. As Letterman and Oprah passed me she changed direction and waved to the fans on the opposite side of the barricade, leaving me with a useless photo. I was fortunate to get one, although it had to be cropped due to someone leaning into the frame.

Next, I had to find a position at the Broadway Theater to shoot the rest of the celebrity arrivals for the opening night of the play. This theater was next door to the Ed Sullivan and there were marked spots for photographers, most of whom had been in place all day. I wasn't sure I was credentialed because the PR (public relations) office didn't return my phone calls or e-mail--never a good sign. Of course, I had to try anyway as the play was turning out to be a bigger deal than I had realized, especially with all of the Oprah Winfrey-David Letterman hype.

I tried to move a barricade separating the press from the fans in order to find a place to shoot, but an alert police officer stopped me, saying I had to move, check in, or I would be arrested. Meanwhile, fans were slipping in with point-and-shoot cameras.

I went to check in, not sure I was on the list but figured, "What do I have to lose." The PR guy looked through the list up and down, puzzled, not appearing to find my outlet when he suddenly, fortuitously waved me into the red carpet press area. I went to the back of the riser area already filled with about 50 photographers looking for a second row spot where I could place my ladder, found one that was really a third row but with a little friendly prodding I was able to manage.

Dec. 1, 2005; New York, N.Y., USA: OPRAH WINFREY and DAVID LETTERMAN at the arrivals for the Broadway premiere of "The Color Purple" held at The Broadway Theater.

Nancy Kaszerman/ZUMA Press
Now it was just a short waiting game for the talent to arrive and pose for photos. First S. Epatha Merkerson arrives, posing with PeeWee Herman of all people. Next Quincy Jones with a blond. Oprah comes back out; the photogs go crazy because everyone wants Oprah alone. She poses with Rudy Dee and Angela Bassett. Looking to shoot saleable images means mostly full-length fashions and headshots. Meanwhile as we are shooting, there are several obstacles that detract from cleanly composed photographs. First, the numerous NYPD officers standing on the red carpet who insisted on locating themselves in front of the photographers even though the shooters were behind the stanchions. The officers were either next to or blocking the talent for no apparent reason other than they had the power to do so. When politely asked to move, they ignored us or growled. Then, when there was a clear view, the press agents literally attached themselves to the talent. Photographers just want a shot of the talent, not the star accompanied by the flack.

Shooting on the red carpet, photographers find they are not only competing with themselves for shots, but for time. The star is constantly pulled away either by friends or hangers-on who just have to say "Hello," in the middle of the few precious seconds the still photographers have for a photo-op. Or, the talent is pulled away for TV or print interviews that the publicists deem more important. "Don't get excited," "We'll be right back," "Oh, sorry, she's running late," the PR touts. Translation: You're not getting the shot!

Often, the celebrity will pose for only one set of photographers, completely passing up the rest of the line. Everyone went crazy for a shot of Tina Turner (who is rarely around) posing with Oprah. But half the line missed it because they were together in only one place. By the time the event had ended we had photographed writer Alice Walker (the author of the book on which the play was based) clutching a copy of the program, "The Color Purple." Also, Diane Sawyer, Mike Nichols, Kimberly Elise in red, Sidney Poitier with Jamie Foxx, the ubiquitous Donald Trump and Melania, Jerry Seinfeld, Star Jones, Lynn Whitfield, Iman and David Bowie, Naomi Campbell, Ashanti, and Sean 'Diddy' Combs were photographed.

Finally, The PR woman made a list of those cleared to cover the curtain call. She checked the photographers' names against her list, marking off some, sending others away. When she got to me, I gave her my name; she looked, and said, "You're not on my list, you shouldn't even be here. I guess it's too late now," and even she had to laugh.

© Nancy Kaszerman

Based in New York, Nancy Kaszerman covers entertainment, news and feature stories. Represented by ZUMA Press for more than a decade, her work regularly appears in leading media including People magazine, US Weekly, In Touch, LIFE, Style Weekly, Newsweek, TIME, BusinessWeek, AOL, E! Online and more.

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