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Monday, March 12, 2012

The "Twilight" Challenge

November 2009

I finally received the call I was waiting for. Angelique had called from the theater and wanted to know if I was still interested in covering an event for them. The upcoming event was to take place the weekend of the release of Twilight: New Moon. The theater was going to have Ashley Greene and Kellan Lutz come in for a meet-and-greet, autographs and fan photos. Not being a Twilight fan, I really had no idea who these two were. My fifteen year old daughter told me that they were part of the "Cullen vampire family" and that they were considered hot commodities right now. Angelique also told me that the two would be broken up between their two theaters: Hollywood Palms in Naperville; and Hollywood Blvd. in Woodridge. I was also told I would be covering the event at Blvd. and there would be another photographer covering the event at Hollywood Palms. The group that provided the best service would become the preferred event photographer.

I was a little intimidated by what I had heard about my competition. They had multiple photographers and multiple print stations. But then, I started to really break it down. I was only going to have one subject. Why would I need another photographer? As for my printing, I had invested heavily in a commercial thermal printer that averaged eight seconds a print. How much faster could we print?  Originally, the game plan was we would be working Saturday and Sunday with Kellan. However, there was a last minute change up and were asked if we could cover Friday and that we would have Ashley. Kellan was not flying in until Saturday.  I was happy with that because it afforded me the opportunity, unlike my competition, to work with both of them. My only concern was that, when I purchased the paper and ribbon, I did not count on the fact that we would be working that Friday and I hoped that we would have enough to last the weekend. Being a special order product meant you couldn't just waltz into your nearest Best Buy or Wolf Camera to get it. 

Friday

We arrived at the theater in the afternoon. A long line had formed that wound through the stanchion maze, out the door and down the sidewalk as far as the eye could see.  There was security, police and an excitement level from the fans that was something I hadn't felt since I had been to a rock concert. I thought “I hope I know what I am getting myself into.” Then I shook it off. I had a plan and it was just a matter of acting on it. I was shooting and my nephew, Tom, who is a computer wizard (literally), handled the printing and distribution of the photos. The goal was be efficient and make the guests feel as though we were paying them as much attention as the stars. After meeting the theater staff and security, it was time to gear up.

© 2012 Tinseltown Photo all rights reserved
As I stood waiting by Ashley's soon-to-be table, I could hear the buzz on the staff radio. “Ms. Green has arrived! Ms. Greene has arrived!” I took a look down the corridor and saw the large group of security and police officers in a huddle coming toward me. In the middle, I could see the top of a person’s brunette head of hair. As they rounded the corner, the huddle broke and Ashley emerged. The place went nuts. Standing between Ashley and the fans, I could feel the vibration of hundreds of teenage girls screaming at once. I went over to Ashley and introduced myself and then it was time to get to work. For the next four hours, we worked like an assembly line. Shoot, shoot, print. Shoot, shoot, print. We were cranking them out. Printing was going like clockwork.

© 2012 Tinseltown Photo all rights reserved

© 2012 Tinseltown Photo all rights reserved




Tom was so efficient, half the time he looked at me like “I’m waiting.” Customers were getting their photos within minutes.  On occasion we would take a break and, at that point, Ashley told me that she was fighting the flu and not feeling well. I could see she was getting worn down, but she was going to finish her set. After we shot the main fan photos, we went to the museum in the theater where there was a private party and Ashley posed for more photos. 

© 2012 Tinseltown Photo all rights reserved
After finishing up, the huddle formed again and she was whisked out the door to a waiting car that took off. We made it. We survived without any problems. I was feeling pretty good about it. Cheri and Ted, the owners of the theater, invited us to dinner and gave us the behind the scenes tour of the theater. The place was amazing. I had never seen anything like it and, at that moment, I knew I stumbled upon something special. After dinner, we were invited to see any movie in the theater but we decided to call it a night knowing that we had a big day ahead of us.

Saturday

Today would be our longest yet. We would be shooting from 2 p.m. until 10 p.m. We would take breaks when Kellan wanted a break. When we arrived, I saw an even longer line than the night before. The line was out the door and one hundred yards down the sidewalk. The female to male ratio was about 50:1; all of them giggling, and jumping up and down with excitement. After we set up, I took my place and every thirty seconds I was asked “Is he here yet?” I would just smile and say, “You’ll know when he is here.”

© 2012 Tinseltown Photo all rights reserved

© 2012 Tinseltown Photo all rights reserved

Finally the time had come. Kellan had arrived. I thought the screams from the night before were loud, but the decibel of today’s screams would have drowned those screams out. All you could audibly hear was “Oh my God, it’s him, it’s him!” Some screamed, some just stood there with tears welling up in their eyes. 

© 2012 Tinseltown Photo all rights reserved

Kellan had come with a small entourage, including Ryan Rottman, an actor from some show on Nickelodeon. They were all young guys about Kellan's age. One was a roommate and I believe one was a childhood friend from North Dakota. A table and chair was set up for him but, as soon as he walked up, the chair was removed. I think he knew what was coming. After we started, it was click, click, hug. Click, click hug. Everyone wanted a hug and Kellan was obliging them.

© 2012 Tinseltown Photo all rights reserved
Then came his first mistake. A young girl, probably seven years old, approached him to get her photograph taken. Kellan decided it would be cute to get a photo of him picking her up and holding her in his arms. Bad idea. The next thing you knew, another one wanted to be picked up, and then another. As this was happening, they were also getting progressively older and larger. Not that Kellan isn't in great shape or anything, but I think after the twentieth time or so, he realized he opened a can of worms. After he got back from a break, he told me that he would not be picking anyone else up and asked me to help preemptively divert people from this request. I told him "No sweat."

© 2012 Tinseltown Photo all rights reserved

© 2012 Tinseltown Photo all rights reserved
Things were running smoothly. I had been keeping an eye on my watch and, on average, a guest waited about six minutes from the time his or her photo was taken until it was in his or her hands. Ted’s wife, Cheri, approached me and asked if there was any way we could speed it up. I told her we were running about as fast as we could. She seemed disappointed. About twenty minutes later, she came back by and said we were doing fine. I guess in the interim, she had contacted the other theater. Apparently, the reason our competitors were using a five person team consisting of multiple photographers and print stations was because they were printing on ink jet printers. The customers over there were waiting up to ninety minutes to get their prints. We were now the golden boys. We finally finished the evening, shooting well over one thousand photos. Everything was perfect with one small exception - supplies. Not anticipating that we would be shooting Ashley on Friday and then the volume of prints we printed on Saturday meant we would run out of paper if we had the same amount of people on Sunday.  I explained my situation to the theater management and was told, although they understood my predicament, I needed to figure something out. I had to come up with a contingency plan.


Sunday

We were set to begin shooting at 2 p.m. and continue until 7 p.m. Possibly not having enough paper, I broke and stopped by Best Buy on my way to the theater. They didn't have exactly what I needed, but close enough to get me by.  Their consumer-quality printer took about a minute to print a photo, which was almost ten times what our current printer was capable of. I ended up buying four of them...

When we arrived, the line was the same as Saturday. Kellan showed up and we started the same routine. I kept looking over at the printer, waiting for it to run out of ribbon. Around 5:30 p.m., it happened. Tom looked over and said, “We’re out.”  It was time to go to plan B. We had all of the printers printing at full capacity, but our wait time went from six minutes to twenty-five. It was still less than our competition, but much longer than I wanted our customers to wait. We kept pressing on and finally, at 6:30 p.m., the line was inside the door. Twenty minutes later, there was no line and we were done.  After some small talk and photos with the theater staff and Kellan, I was officially finished with my first true celebrity event. I asked Cheri how she thought we did and she put her hand on my cheek, gave me a gentle pat, and said, "You guys did just fine." I asked if there were any more events coming up and she replied casually, “Yeah, Tony Curtis will be here in December. Are you doing anything?” I knew at that moment we were in.

© 2012 Tinseltown Photo all rights reserved

Munchkins on the way to work


September 2009
I was on my way to work on a Friday. I took the same route every day. It was 7:15 a.m. and I was traveling down 75th Street in Woodridge, Illinois. Sitting in a strip mall parking lot was a giant, green, hot air balloon. The balloon said "Celebrating the 70th Anniversary of the Wizard of Oz." 

© 2012 Tinseltown Photo all rights reserved
© 2012 Tinseltown Photo all rights reserved

Being that my sister is a huge fan, I decided to stop and get some shots of the balloon. I always keep my camera with me.

© 2012 Tinseltown Photo all rights reserved
After I pulled into the empty parking lot, I noticed WGN News was out covering some type of story. As I got closer, I noticed three “little people” standing off to the side. As I zoomed in with my camera, I noticed they looked kind of familiar.

© 2012 Tinseltown Photo all rights reserved
A few moments later, I noticed a young lady walking by who had been talking with them. I rolled down my window and sheepishly asked if they were “Munchkins.” She said yes, they were, and that they were there to promote the HD release of the film and that the film was screening there tonight. At that point, I realized I was in the parking lot of Hollywood Blvd. Cinema. She said Hollywood Blvd Cinema had hosted an annual Wizard of Oz Festival for many years and, as part of those festivities, they always had the surviving actors from the movie host the screenings and meet the public. She then asked if I wanted to meet them….. How could I resist? As we were walking over to them, I introduced myself to her and Angelique, the public relations guru, explained that these were three of the last five remaining munchkins. She also told me of how the theater's owner, Ted Bulthup, was very close to them and was responsible for getting the Munchkins their star on the Hollywood "Walk of Fame."

Karl Slover, Margaret Pellegrini & Jerry Maren
© 2012 Tinseltown Photo all rights reserved

Angelique said, “Thom this is Karl Slover. Karl played the First Trumpeter, Munchkin soldier and one of the singers who led Judy Garland to 'Follow the Yellow Brick Road.' This is Margaret Pellegrini. Margaret played the Sleepy Head in the bird's nest, and was also one of the gals who wore a flower pot hat. This is Jerry Maren. Jerry was a member of the Lollipop Guild trio, who will always be remembered as the munchkin who presented the enormous lollipop to Judy Garland as she was welcomed to Munchkinland.”  I could not believe they were standing in front of me.

© 2012 Tinseltown Photo all rights reserved

The only thing I could think of was that my sister was going to freak. We took a few photos and made a little small talk and I was then on my way.

While I continued to work, I was still trying to process what had just happened. I just met the Munchkins here, in Woodridge? Later on that day, I emailed one of my photos to the local newspaper that ultimately ended up using it for their story.


A few days later, I contacted Angelique and sent her a link to the newspaper. She appreciated me going out of my way to get some extra press for the theater. During our conversation, I asked if they had a photographer to cover their events.  She said, “No we don’t. We did try at one point, but it never seemed to work out.”  I told her that if they had any events coming up, I would love a chance to show them what I could do. She said “Let me see, maybe there is something we could do in the future.”  In a million years, I  never would have dreamed where this would lead...