It's possible that the price of fame has never been higher — and not just in the tried-and-true Hollywood storylines of fame, fortune and the tragic falls from grace. In his new documentary $ellebrity, seasoned celebrity and event photographer Kevin Mazur looks at the money-making machine that is the world of paparazzi photography, tabloid magazines and reality television and how it's changed through the years in Hollywood.
Out January 11, the film interviews rumor mag stables like Sarah Jessica Parker, Jennifer Aniston, Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony about their worlds under microscopes — as well as some people who helped put them there, like former Us Weekly/current HollywoodLife.com editor Bonnie Fuller.
We talked with Mazur about the film, how his own career as a photographer and as the co-founder of red carpet and event photography database WireImage (now part of Getty Images) relates, and what he thinks it will take for the paparazzi to relent.
Why did you decide that now would be a good time to make this film?
I wanted to make this film because we wanted to create a roundtable discussion about the business that would start a conversation about our culture's obsession with celebrity. And I wanted to give our audience a behind-the-scenes look at celebrity gossip, tabloids and fame. I wanted to take people through the history of fame and through the present day … from the moment you take a photograph and how it works through this billion-dollar industry machine.
You co-founded WireImage. How do you think websites like that have fueled the need for this content?
There's a big difference between me and the paparazzi. I am a hired photographer. I'm invited to all these major events and to photograph celebrities in their homes and musicians backstage at concerts, on their private jets. I am totally different from those guys.
I use this analogy of [the documentary about the food industry,] Food, Inc.. I love documentaries and I love when you learn something from a documentary. [Because of] Food, Inc., every time I go to eat something I think about what I'm eating. With our film, I wanted people to understand and think about where are all these images are coming from that they see in magazines and websites and on their cell phones.
You got your start smuggling in cameras and doing unauthorized photos at rock concerts and moved up the line to be more legit. Do you think that idea of a fan snapping a picture — on the street, at an event, etc. — would that be considered too personal today?
In our film, Salma Hayek says there are just ordinary people today being paparazzi. Our culture is so obsessed with celebrity right now, they want to be around celebrities, they want to take pictures of celebrities; they want to be celebrities. They want to be reality stars.
Do you think the paparazzi helped create the reality star or do you think the reality star helped create this generation of paparazzi?
I've been in this business for 30 years and I've seen the ups and downs of it. I saw after Princess Diana, it died down. The paparazzi in the United States weren't crazy at all.
And then the magazines started competing with each other. You had OK! magazine come over here. You had Us magazine and People magazine all competing with each other. They were all jacking up the prices and getting photos. All the big stars were going to People magazine … and all the other magazines were using paparazzi shots. So we interviewed Bonnie Fuller because she changed that whole concept with Us magazine.
What do you think about social media tools like Twitter and Instagram — or even a star's personal website — that change this dynamic? Do those help control an image or does it just make it worse?
In the film, we talk about how technology has changed the landscape of fame. Back in the day, publicists really controlled what was going on with the images of celebrities. The movie companies controlled what images were going out there; what magazines were using what images. Now, publicists have a really hard time because it's hard for them to control their celebrities. They Tweet stuff, they call the paparazzi. It's so out of control. Right now, it's like the wild, wild West out there because of the Internet, blogs, cell phones and Twitter.
Your film happens to coincide with the unfortunate timing of the death of paparazzo Chris Guerra, who was killed chasing Justin Bieber on January 2. Do you think we're about to see a change in the way paparazzi cover celebrities?
It's very sad and unfortunate that a photographer lost his life chasing down a photograph of Justin Bieber … [but] do I think things are going to change because a photographer died? It's sad to say, but I keep comparing this to gun laws right now. Automatic weapons, nobody cared about. But children got killed. Now it's an issue. So what do we need to happen with the paparazzi in L.A. or New York or somewhere? Does a child have to get killed to make some laws? Something has to be done before something else gets hurt.
The thing I don't understand is how come the paparazzi photograph children? And how can magazines put children on the cover? Celebrities' kids are not celebrities. So why can't they start there? … It's really sad that you can't do something to prevent a tragedy.
But it's really hard to pass laws against this because you're treading on the First Amendment, which also protects celebrities who go on stage and perform and do what they want and the press that go and cover that event. It's a really tricky area right now.