Red carpet review

February 24, 2009

Another Oscar week has come and gone, and Reuters News Pictures was there on the red carpet covering the biggest night in Hollywood. Staff Photographer Mario Anzuoni talks about how he approaches the mayhem on the busiest red carpet in the world, and shares his coverage plan, with Sam Mircovich, Editor in Charge, Global Entertainment Pictures

Sam Mircovich – Mario, Lets start with your work history, and how you got into shooting entertainment.

Mario Anzuoni – I started as a contract photographer for “Il Mattino”, in Naples Italy, where I covered hard news and features. Part of my daily beat was to cover mob killings, and I remember one time I arrived at a crime scene where the mother showed up before the police. She just pulled up a chair over her son’s body and started praying over her son. It was a touching photo.  Another time I snuck into one of the biggest cemeteries in Naples on a tip that it was poorly maintained, and I found open coffins and exposed remains, because of the neglect. I was purely a news photographer and had never covered entertainment before.

SM – That’s quite a leap, from hard news coverage to entertainment, how did it happen?

MA – Well, I applied to become a staff photographer in Los Angeles for one of the biggest Italian photo agencies, La Presse. I got the job the same day I applied and was on my way to California. When I arrived in Los Angeles, I discovered I was the only person in the bureau, and I had to quickly develop managerial skills and set up their office. I had to learn how to credential and develop contacts, basically start from scratch. It was quite a challenge. I worked for them for three years.

SM – And then you got hired by the Splash Agency, notorious for their paparazzi work. How did that sit with you?




Mario on the red carpet by Steve Granitz

MA – I had never done pap work, and it has never appealed to me. Of course there is a place for that in general entertainment coverage, but by that time I was comfortable with event photography and felt I was doing a good job in that area. They agreed with my desire to remain in that field, and I got hired the same day I applied.

SM – That is rare, they obviously recognized your talent

MA – Well, that is a nice thing to say, I think maybe it was because of the relationships I had built with publicists and their trust in me. The New York Post allowed me to credential myself for events, which added legitimacy. My outtakes were then syndicated by Splash.

SM – And then you arrived at Reuters based on a recommendation by senior staff photographer Robert Galbraith.

MA – Yes, in 2005, when I interviewed with you and Gary Hershorn during Oscar week. I had known Bob at entertainment events he had covered and he put the good word in for me. It was the next logical step for my career.

SM – So let’s talk about your approach for covering the Oscars last weekend. It is a crazy night, and the red carpet is crammed with photographers from competing agencies. What is your mindset when you shoot the carpet?

MA – There are many approaches to the red carpet coverage, but the only one that fits for me is to bring a documentary style to the event and, as you tell everyone before it starts, be aware of the entire scene, not just what happens in front of you. I can honestly say that I never felt I was able to be as creative before I came to Reuters.

SM – Why is that?

MA – Each photographer there knows they need the bread and butter photo, the full length showing the beautiful dresses, and head shots. And the majority of photographers there do that and only that. They are so focused on it they miss many beautiful pictures that happen 10 feet to their left or right. You can’t dismiss that approach, because many are very successful at it and they get a lot of play in the magazines. But I never really felt I need to shoot what the magazines think they want; my goal is to shoot pictures that tell the story and are creative.

SM – The Oscars are the most elaborate and expensive fashion show of the year, though some would not admit it, so there is truth to getting the easy picture.

MA – Right, and my position on the red carpet was the deadline position, the first group of photographers, so of course I know we need the bread and butter picture. But I don’t need 40 images of a star standing in front of me; just a dozen or so. That freedom allows me to look around for other opportunities while everyone else is snapping away.

SM – How do you let your creativity shine through in such a frenzy?

MA – I think the key is to not panic and not to shoot in a panic. Cover your basic picture and observe. The last hour of the Oscars red carpet is very intense; you can feel the electricity in the air. You are at the epicentre of a celebrity earthquake and you can easily get swallowed up in the event if you are not centered and allowing creativity to flow.

SM – I must say that the deadline position this year was very clean.

MA – Yes, the Academy put up a backdrop with their branding on it and it made a huge difference. The red carpet is so crowded; it was nice to not have to worry about people walking into the background, causing distractions. It was a huge improvement, very well staged, very tasteful. The Academy should be commended for recognizing that the first picture is important and the changes reflected it.

SM – Let’s talk about your lens choices. You had two cameras, one with a 24-70 zoom, and one with a 80-200 telephoto zoom.

MA – I actually used four cameras.

SM – That’s interesting because when you sent me two cards at the end of the night the messenger said you had one extra camera. You are so busted! The reader should know that we have 2 cameras in each position wired to a fiber network, so the images zip right out of the camera and into our editing stations. I did not expect any cards from you that evening.

MA – We discussed it, don’t you remember?

SM – No, but it was a busy week for me and I could have forgotten. I am getting old you know. So I am glad you trusted your instincts.

MA – The third camera had an 85mm f1.2 on it and then I had an extra wide angle, 16mm. I used that to show the huge crowd on the carpet and whenever a celebrity came close enough to me.

SM – A lot of photographers make that mistake when using a wide angle, by not placing their subject in the foreground. If you don’t the picture looks too general view and the viewer has to search for the photographer intent.

MA – Well, sometimes that IS the photographer’s intent, but not mine. It goes back to the documentary approach. I had some images of Brad and Angelina being interviewed by a local TV personality. I actually had to lean behind the photographer next to me, Steve Granitz, to get the shot, and he was cool about it.

SM- They weren’t annoyed with you?

MA – I wanted to show the entire scene and make a good picture of them. Brad is an amateur photographer and saw I was shooting without a flash, so I was trying to be the fly on the wall, and they were not bothered. In the end photographers called to them and Angelina turned my way.

SM – The other thing that is striking is the exposure and light. It is dramatic in that the shadows hold little detail and the TV lights are exposed just right. It really makes the photo stand out.

MA – The color temperature setting in the camera is very important and 90% of the time I am setting it manually. But in this case, the automatic color temperature setting was closest to reality. It was a mixed light source, with gloomy skies and hot lights and strobes from other photographers. It really helped that it was overcast, which gave a nice base exposure with even lighting.

SM – I wanted to touch briefly on the telephoto work, and getting a clean image. You had one picture of Josh Brolin blowing a kiss, and numerous clean head shots and moments.

MA – I had already shot the basics on Josh and Diane Lane and was just waiting for something to happen. Anticipating the moment is a basic part of photojournalism, and this is one example. This shot wouldn’t have worked as well as a wide angle, and I made a deliberate effort to shoot a tight photo of him doing something, anything out of the ordinary. If he had not done this, I still would have several nice head shots, but using the right lens and being ready will pay off if you have the patience.

SM – Also you have a nice picture of Sean and Robin Penn holding hands and smiling. I think them holding hands really makes the photo and he seems to be enjoying himself.

MA – It’s funny, because Sean Penn smiles but people don’t often see it. This was shot looking down toward the tent where they enter, and they weren’t really in position yet to make the head to toe photo. Again, watching the entire scene pays off. I am really happy with that photo.

SM – So lets change gears and talk briefly on where event photography is going. There are the agency photographers that shoot the bread and butter, and then a handful of photographers trying to do something different. Clearly, magazines use both but the majority are the full length dresses. Is there room on the red carpet for both types of photographers, or will one have to change to suit the tastes of the clients.

MA – Remember that we are no longer just considering the magazine/newspaper user as the end client. Web sites such as MSNBC run slide shows each week filled with more spontaneous and artistic celebrity images. So yes, there is room for both types of photographer. I don’t curtail my style to any one client, and my job is not done because I fulfilled their expectations. My job is to shoot captivating images and to have as much fun as possible.

8 comments

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I have to say working with Mario all these years make worth coming out and shooting.
He’s one of the best in the business!!!

Grand Marnier

Great stuff Mario! Came here via Mr. Week’s blog, and have to say that click was worth it! the shots are fantastic, and I enjoyed reading the interview as well!

Thanks for seeing the whole scene!

Got here through Chris Weeks’ blog and I’m happy I did. I’ve been trying so hard to get into the entertainment photography business as well, but never really knew how. You shed a little light on how to start things. Amazing photos btw.

Cheers from Toasty Manila.

Really interesting. It’s a little battle plan.

yeaaaa mario!

Excuse me! (with one finger in the air) is how the polite Italian asks for images and he gets em’. Mario is one of the few photographers that can be standing next to you and make an image completely different from everyone else. Props to Sam for the story. Great job!

Love Ya Sneaky!

Mario is such a nice Italian boy, I know his momma is proud and he’s one helluva a shooter. Way to go Mario, keep up the good work!! And Sam, YES, you are old!!!

Mario, this interview has taught me much more than you can imagine. Confidence and composure on big assignments is one area that has been lacking in me. Now i know, i have not to panic.Get the basic shots early enough and look out for what many eyes will miss out.Thanks Mario.