Adventures From the Red Carpet: Carpetbaggers beware!

Posted in Uncategorized by johnwildman on July 17, 2009

Between the AFI stuff, the film festivals, Vision Awards and other charity events I do there are a lot of red carpets (okay, to be absolutely correct – the Feel Good Film Festival has a yellow carpet in honor of its sunflower mascot/logo). And, as with most things I do there is somewhat of a code in how these things are run and how I think people should behave on both sides of the velvet rope.

And, it’s simple. It’s just about being fair and accommodating and showing respect for each other. Really. Nothing more complicated than that. I try to give the press as much access as I can (and is reasonable) and I trust that if I do that, then they will give as equal play (again, as I can reasonably expect) to the filmmakers and actors and actresses, etc. that I put on that red carpet.

It’s a little dance and negotiation that basically says if I give the photographers and video crews, etc. the chance to take pictures and interview the big movie stars that make their trip out there worth it, then they will also take photos and give the time of day to the first time filmmakers and up-and-coming talent that I put before them.

And I am careful about who I let walk on that carpet. Very careful. I have to be because I want there to be a sense of security and relief for both sides when they see that I am at the front of that thing, running that show.

And that’s why I hate the carpetbaggers.

Carpetbaggers (my definition) aren’t the celebrities that come out (as they say) to the opening of an envelope. I have no beef with those folks. Because more often than not, there is at least a reason why people still take their photos and let them talk into a microphone at these events. No, carpetbaggers are worse because they really, really, really have no reason to be there.

Tuesday, we had red carpet entrances for a special screening of a horror/thriller by Bruce Reisman titled THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT. The film starred Joe Mantegna, Gail O’Grady, Kris Black, Michael Guarnera, etc. I was asked to handle the premiere for the film by one of the producers, Tony Oppedisano and was warned that the film’s “publicist,” who was handling the after party, might take some additional “handling” as well.

That was an understatement. Soon after setting place cards for the confirmed press I had photographers begin to show up that I wasn’t expecting because this guy had taken it upon himself to confirm them for my event. This was after he had sent me a list of press he HAD asked me to put on the carpet with no contact info to follow up on who they were. And – totally weird coincidence – the primary video crew on that list (for an online site I had never heard of let alone had on one of my carpets before), turned out to be his client. Oh wait, and one that I frequently have at my events informed me that they weren’t able to make it, but they had tried to arrange for a sit down with the film’s major players with Mr. PR dude, but for some reason it was beyond him to pull that off. So…dubious. Anyway…I really hate to say no to press if I can help it, and after figuring out what happened and who the photographers were, I found them a spot and everyone played nice. It sucked a little but there are worse things as I know very well and was about to experience…

Now, a few days before the event I was sent a guest list of people that were told they could walk the red carpet by this publicist and the producer/director, Bruce Reisman and the producer/lead Kris Black. There were 50 names of cast and crew and another 78 names of “celebrity guests”.

I will digress for a quick moment about the level of celebrity we’re talking about. Usually, a publicist like this has one name he or she loves to trumpet as their shining example of glitter and pixie dust – and Pamela Bach-Hasselhoff was this guy’s standard bearer. According to him, having her show up was a guarantee of coverage from Access and E.T. and The Insider, etc. Where she went they followed. They couldn’t get enough of her. Because getting a quote from her about what her lawyer told her The Hoff was up to or maybe reminiscing about the Baywatch days 6 years ago….THAT is television gold. GUARNTEED.

Almost like an uncontrollable allergic sneeze, I laughed out loud at that one. And to be clear, for you PBH fan club card holders (and I’m not talking Peanut Butter and Ham) – I have nothing against her. I’m sure she’s very nice (and she seemed it, I guess, as she spoke to the remaining crew (yes, his clients) when she arrived long after I had already shut down the carpet). No – it’s the grandiose pimping out of a “celebrity” just because they will actually take your call or respond to your email. And usually, looooooooong after they have ceased to be a primary draw. Gross. Just gross.

Back to our drama… We had one hour to get those people down the red carpet. And out of those 78 names, a dozen (more than a few generously) could be described as a celebrity. So, I called this guy and told him this is what we would do: One, other than the principals of the film, I would group everyone else in 3s and 4s, etc. to make the cast and crew thing work. Two, I had done the IMDB thing and narrowed the guest list down to 29 people that I could put on my red carpet without throwing up a little in the back of my throat. Therefore, he needed to email, call, or somehow get in touch with the other 50 or so people and tell them there would be no show at the OK Celebrity Corral on Tuesday night for them, or the last boats were launching off the Titanic and it was women and children and people with at least a TV guest spot that amounted to more than “Businessman with Snow Cone” on their resume’ – whatever, I didn’t care.

You have to be way ahead of me on this one. Of course, he didn’t do that and of course a good number of those people showed up. And here is one of the reasons why (and this was genuine news to me because I insist on downplaying the existence of this kind of crap in my head): According to a few of the photographers, this “publicist” actually has many of these people pay him so they can walk down the red carpet and get photographed. So, his clients and a few other more than dubious “publicists” show up with people that at best were supposedly an extra in something that was part of GRINDHOUSE or made a movie that posted on IMDB before it went Direct-to-Their Parent’s-Video-Cabinet, or worst have to be paraded in front of the photogs with identifying name plates that can’t even state a credit beyond “actress” or “recording artist” on it.

It’s gross, sleazy, and what’s more – I was also told this guy has to change the name of his company from time to time because once the press catches on that he’s involved with the event – a lot of them just skip it and don’t show up.

Now, let’s take a quick step back to clarify my feelings on walking the red carpet. It could seem as though I have a bit of a double standard since I always put shorts directors side-by-side with the movie stars and more notable filmmakers at my film festivals. Except…..those shorts directors not only made a film but it went through the screening process and made it into the film festival. Legit. Capital “L” on that.

And that’s why this really bugs the crap out of me.

I am already working a precarious balance by coercing the press (and the stardust in their editors’ and photo editors’ eyes) to give those shorts and first time filmmakers their rightful moment in the press’ sun. So – when some little aspiring reality hootchie-actress or Ed Hardy reject wanna-tough boy actor-guy shoehorns their way to the front of flash bulb land so they can document their ‘tude – that more than chips away at the unspoken agreement I have with the press not to waste their time.

So other than recount this little story, should I out this con-artist in hipster publicist/ promoter clothes? No, because there are a lot of him out there. And they can only do that shell game thing for so long before their bottom feeding really hits the rock bottom. But it is a rare case in which I actually feel a little sorry for the carpet baggers because this guy actually feeds on their desperation for this false facsimile of fame.

So – carpetbaggers beware.

I do have to say, the one fun coda of all of this is that the next day I was told that Kris Black, the film’s lead had signed with this guy to be his personal publicist.

Yeah, good luck with that. Enjoy that next event at the Apple Lounge with Pamela Bach-Hasselhoff.