To some, Mila Kunis looked great as she stepped onto the red carpet at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood outfitted in a stylish black Dolce & Gabbana dress at the premiere of her film Jupiter Ascending. But the actual hit of the red carpet among photographers was someone who isn’t even in the film: Jenna Dewan Tatum, wife of the movie’s co-star, Channing Tatum, who came attired in a fetching orange floor-length dress that had every camera lens pointed at her.
“It was Mila and Channing’s movie but Jenna shone because she made the most of her appearance,” recalls Hollywood event photographer Kathy Hutchins. “The females who wore black, although they were shot, did not shine as brightly.”
Hutchins contends that solid white or black outfits don’t reproduce well in print. They lose details, she explains. There is also this “myth of the little black dress” that holds that everyone feels comfortable in black. While that’s often the case, and certain stylists love the look, it just doesn’t work as well for photographs on the red carpet. And, no, she says, not all celebs know this.
Dewan Tatum, who came to boost her husband’s movie, got plenty of fashion coverage out of the event because of her dress. Fashion & Style wrote that she “looked gorgeous … rocking a smoky bronze eye and glossy nude lip with her striking orange Cushnie et Ochs gown,” while the website Red Carpet Fashion Awards wrote that she was “looking every inch a movie star herself.”
Red carpets are, of course, ubiquitous in Hollywood, but they didn't always have the importance that they do in the Internet age. “It used to be the red carpet was this little thing that happened before the event,” celeb photographer David Edwards explains. “And now the red carpet is the event.”
Hutchins and Edwards, who between them have 50 years of experience photographing stars, see too many people who have no clue what to do on the red carpet. For that reason, they have founded the Hollywood Red Carpet School, a 2½-hour crash course where actors — or, really, anyone who wants to quell fears — learn to look their best and step with confidence along any red carpet before a phalanx of photographers.
Here are some of the practical tips the photographers share with their students:
- Stay in the moment. Pay attention to the photographers directly in front of you. Don’t turn your head at photographers 40 feet away yelling to get your attention.
- Some basic poses: Stand straight in front of the cameras. For full shots, make sure your hands are relaxed and at your sides. No hands on hips. No hands in pockets. Advanced techniques such as a sideways or three-quarters turn can come later.
- Be sexy — within limits. Women offering up a racy back or lowered shawl that reveals a little skin is perfectly fine. Be flirtatious. Photographers eat it up.
- Pan and scan — twice. Essentially, this means looking directly at each camera lens. After only a second or two, look at the next camera and then the next and so on. When you’re finished with the first row of photogs, do the same with the second row and then the third row. Repeat. This is because every photographer needs two basic shots: a head shot and a full length. When you repeat, they get both. Other poses can come after that, but the straight-ahead shots are preferred by magazines and websites to show off the outfit.
- Nothing goes unnoticed. Rings, earrings, shoes, clutches. If you wear a showy bracelet, hold it in front of you or up next to your head, perhaps while pushing back your hair to reveal your earring.
- Bulges detract. Remove wallets, iPhones and keys from the pockets of your jeans.
- Attitude sells. The trick is to look relaxed and natural.
- Know your place in the universe. Step back and allow a big star to pose.
- Don’t linger. When the din dies down, move on.
At the end of the class, each student gets the opportunity to step onto a red carpet and pose while being shot by both teachers. Some of the students are very uncomfortable at first. One student, a 19-year-old actor, tried to strike a self-conscious, tough-guy look. “Some make facial expressions because they are trying to be funny, but we explain to them that we want a nice, stable look,” Hutchins says. “That’s really not doing you any favors. I said, just give me a bright smile. Don’t try to be what you think you should be, just be natural.”
Hutchins says even people in the entertainment industry who you'd think are familiar with the red carpet aren’t using the media exposure to their full advantage.
“I know publicists who have been around for 40 years that refuse to carry a sign on the red carpet stating their client’s name,” she says. Carrying a sign is not meant as an insult to the star, she explains, but it helps to remind photographers, who shoot several hundred celebrities a week. Tom Cruise doesn’t need a sign carrier, Hutchins says, but an upcoming star such as actress Margot Robbie, who made a splash in the Leonardo DiCaprio film The Wolf of Wall Street, did at the time of the film’s premiere.
So, who are some of stars who perform best along the rope line?
“Tom Cruise,” Hutchins says without hesitation. “Tom’s fantastic because when he’s there, he looks at everybody and gives everybody what they need. He will look at every lens. He smiles. He’s giving a performance and he knows it. He’ll joke back [with the photographers].”
Actress Reese Witherspoon also comes off well. “She usually wears nice color and wears it well and walks it well,” Hutchins says.
Samuel L. Jackson “has his own style,” Edwards adds. “But he doesn’t like photographers or anyone else to yell at him. … If any photographer yells out to him, he’ll say, ‘You must be new.’”
The Hollywood Red Carpet School, which launched last summer, costs $35 per person. Private lessons cost a bit more. The first classes were held at the Secret Rose Theatre in North Hollywood but more recently at the Shari Shaw Acting Studio in Studio City. Visit hollywoodredcarpetschool.com.
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