The opening scene in director Kevin Mazur's new documentary, $ellebrity, which shows at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 17 at the Cedar Lee Theatre, paints a good picture of what it's like to be a celebrity. On her way to dinner, pop singer/actress Jessica Simpson emerges from a black SUV and a crowd of rabid photographers greets her. The flashes are blinding and the throng is so dense, she can barely walk. With a camera positioned up above Simpson, Mazur gives the viewer a good sense of just how difficult it must be to fight through the pack of photographers and paparazzi.
"Well, yeah, that shot happened to work out pretty well," admits Mazur, a veteran photojournalist who has befriended many of the celebrities included in the film. "After that opening scene, we then cut to a segment in which Jennifer Aniston talks about what she goes through and it works out great with that scene. Jessica Simpson is just so mobbed in walking ten feet. What you don't see is that those photographers knock down ten feet of shrubbery and Simpson never even made into the restaurant. She turned around and went back to her vehicle."
Mazur has certainly been in position to witness the rise of celebrity culture. He got his start as a ticket scalper and started sneaking his way into concerts in the 80s. First, he took photos from his seat, but gradually worked his way up to become a staff photographer at Rolling Stone magazine. Now, he runs a high-profile wire image service that specializes in celebrity portraits. After he was interviewed by CNN for its 2008 documentary Chasing Angelina — Paparazzi & Celebrity Obsession, he realized he wanted to make his own film about celebrity culture.
"[Chasing Angelina] was more about publicity spin and didn't get that deep into the business," he says. "I wanted to make my film into an intelligent discussion about a society obsessed with gossip and fame. I wanted to follow the photo from the moment it is taken in and until it goes into magazines and then to websites."
Mazur interviews a variety of celebrities who document their trials and tribulations with tabloid reporters and photographers. Singers Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez, for example, discuss the lengths they went to in order to keep their wedding a secret. They wouldn't even hire a contractor to put together a stage for fear he would leak information about the nuptials. And still, word got out and helicopters hovered while they exchanged vows. Anthony even jokes that they were so loud, he couldn't even hear if Lopez said yes.
"I asked a lot of people to be in the film and fortunately these people did agree," says Marzur. "Marc was one of the people who told me I should make this documentary. Celebrities love the film. I just ran into singer Katy Perry the other day and she was asking me for a copy of the film."
The movie also makes the point that the publicists know that it's overkill, but they want photographers lined up on the red carpet shooting the stars because it makes their clients look important. For Mazur, they're part of the problem, too.
"What we talk about in the film is that at the red carpet for these award shows, many publicists want the press there to make it look it more glamorous," he says. "If you talk to other publicists, they'll tell you they don't need all these guys. But it makes it better for TV. That's why I want people to understand what's going on. It's like when I saw [the documentary] Food Inc. Now, I think twice before I eat. You should think twice before you pick up a tabloid magazine."