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Surviving the Red Carpet Playboy Style

Las Vegas [vegasblog.latimes.com]- On October 7 I learned about Perez Hilton for the first time when he tried to walk over me at a red carpet opening for the Playboy Club at the Palms. That night was one of the most crowded red carpets I’ve ever worked(and, I’ve been to Los Angeles three times to cover the Grammy Awards). The red carpet for Playboy Club was like entering the fray in the Middle East; every inch of ground was sacred and contested space between photojournalists, newspapers, radio and television crews. We all had deadlines; we all had editors waiting for our work; we were all in each others way. So, I didn’t particularly care who “he” was when photographer Sarah Gerke told me: “We’re in his way.” My only thought was that “he” was also in my way. He turned out to be a tubby man with hair an unnatural shade of blond. He was striding, rudely, attempting to push his large frame right through me without so much as an “excuse me.” This, of course, was Perez Hilton (Gerke was shocked I’d never heard of him before. Live and learn.)

I am smaller and shorter than Hilton, but I’ve spent two decades going to general admission rock concerts and so I knew what to do; I immediately glided a little to one side just to cut the jerk off. He paused in a moment of surprise after I failed to yield and then huffily walked around us before continuing to shove more pliant folks out of the way on his new path. Amazingly, a publicist was following behind in Hilton’s wake honing a series of ever more obsequious apologies to him. I do not know why she was apologizing to him.

This is a good moment to look at red carpet reporting. As with most Vegas red carpets the chaos had a careful plan. Little pieces of paper taped at the end of the carpet by the publicity firm tell each of us where to stand based on a mix of importance of the media outlet, relationships between the publicity firm and the reporter (yeah, it’s Vegas, always helps to know someone), and the coverage requirements for the night. When a red carpet works perfectly I am walked to my station by the publicist who then makes sure each celebrity is brought over to be interviewed.

The advantage to being there is that red carpets offer an assembly line of interviews with a wide variety of celebrities. Whereas days can be spent working to arrange an interview with a single celebrity, dozens can walk past on a red carpet. There is a quality issue, too. Though brief and shallow, on red carpets, there are chances to interview someone like Bono, who, I would usually be unable to get near my digital tape recorder. Also, you get a large archive of short interviews that often have retroactive usefulness. I interviewed Christina Aguilera on a red carpet (back in the olden days of audio micro cassette recorders) when she was so unknown that my notes described her: “Christina-A. look up last name. called new Britney by publicist.” More than once I’ve read about someone in the newspaper only to be reminded by Gerke that I recently interviewed the person on a red carpet. The major downside of even the best red carpet though is the questions tend to be dumb and the answers dumber and even if you get something good and interesting in an interview, every other person with a microphone gets the same answer you have. It is even common to offer to let another reporter ask the questions and simply leach those answers. That is actually considered a courteous thing to do by some. FYI: I have never agreed to that.

Of course, when red carpets don’t go as planned, which is usually the case, they are a gigantic waste of time. For example, the night of the Playboy Club opening I was placed with the television reporters. This was a group of bulky men with huge cameras accompanied by slight women in tight tops and short skirts. When someone started down the red carpet worth interviewing the cameramen would elbow me back against the far wall as the women reporters slipped under the press rope and conducted their interviews on the red carpet. This prevented anyone walking the red carpet from seeing any inch of me behind the cameramen. I didn’t blame the cameramen; they had a job to do and I was totally in their way. Of course, in their way is where the publicist put me. So, I told one of the out-of-town publicists who looked to be sort-of in charge that I would not be able to get any interviews from this position. Her suggestion was that I wave my LA Times credential up and down to attract notice.

I started thinking about leaving. That is my secret weapon. I never make a scene. I leave and write nothing about an event. It might have been a mistake that night. Then again it might not have been a mistake. I’d been promised I would be allowed up into the club to explore and mix with the celebrities. That promise came from Playboy people, but then Palms people told me the Playboy people told them I would not be allowed up. It switched back and forth like that a few times. Gerke still believes that if I had been more persistent we would have been allowed up. She is probably right. The final straw was shortly after seeing one of my colleagues go up, an out of town publicist came over to me and blatantly lied saying no press were going upstairs. Of course, she added, if I waited and interviewed some executives (not Hugh Hefner, the boring kind) she “might” be able to get me up in awhile. But, like I said, when I don’t like how an assignment is going I turn passive aggressive and simply leave. I left.

We all have different ways of behaving when we don’t like how our coverage is going at an event. So, to circle back, I don’t blame Perez Hilton for making a stink to get the coverage he needed. If I need to get into an event or access to someone at it, I can be among the more aggressive reporters in Las Vegas. NEED is the key. The beautiful thing about covering Las Vegas is almost nothing NEEDS to be covered. If one event won’t grant the access you want for a story there are half a dozen competitors who will. They all know it, too, at least on the local level. For example, the same evening as the Playboy red carpet there was a major charity concert red carpet sponsored by tennis star Andre Agassi. And, if all that wasn’t enough, there were celebrity interview opportunities at Nicky Hilton’s birthday party at Pure. (Many of the same celebrities made more than one of those red carpets that night.) That is one of the best things about covering Las Vegas; there is just so much that is always going on here that nothing is essential to cover.

Honestly, did any of you even notice there was nothing on the Buffet from the Playboy Club opening back in October? I didn’t think so.

FYI: for future reference: my favorite spot is at the very end of the red carpet right before the entrance to an event. Being the last one people talk to gets you better interviews and a better chance at exclusivity because everyone else in the press is already looking back wondering who is coming down the red carpet next.
 

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