Hollywood royals

July 20, 2011

Britain’s Prince William and his wife Catherine the Duchess of Cambridge wrapped up their eleven day tour with a stopover in the Los Angeles area. Even though I deal with celebrity coverage on a daily basis and plan major award show coverage for Reuters, when I saw the pool assignment from the British consulate for their trip, it was an uh-oh moment for me.

In Los Angeles, the big 6 photo agency/media companies (LA Times, Reuters, AP, Getty, AFP and EPA) regularly pool images from celebrity trials and other high profile news events where it is not possible for all to cover. We have developed a friendly system that works for all. Half expecting this event to be business as usual, the official pooling plan became a web of complexity we as a group hadn’t dealt with before.

I am an obsessive planner. If I can’t get all the details in order way before the event, I get edgy. In the weeks before the event, information was scarce, the credentialing process difficult, and the unknown loomed larger by the day. Questions like, how many feet from riser to stage? How will we deliver the pool? What are our responsibilities to the UK WPA pool? All went unanswered. In the end I had to learn to relax and not sweat the details and let things play out on their own, because that’s the way this event will operate. Acceptance of what I can’t control became my mantra.

That’s not to say we couldn’t be as prepared as possible. You just have to plan for the unknown. Which included coordinating pool distribution from ourselves and new contributors that were not part of our regular rotation. When the pooling assignments came out the day the royal couple landed, we got together on a conference call to figure out how to produce the event. Reuters senior photographer Mike Blake came up with the idea of using Dropbox.com as a quick way to deliver the images with equality. It worked perfectly.

The call ended and just like that, the Canadian Air Force plane was rolling up on the tarmac at LAX. Reuters photographer Danny Moloshok was on the riser, and made a nice telephoto pic of the royals with the Canadian CG, Gov Jerry Brown. One pool down and 7 more to go. Reuters was not shooting pool on any of the Day One adventures, but plenty of unilateral and pool pictures arrived. Our remote editing software Paneikon allows us to get to the wire faster than the competition. By 7pm, I was waiting for pool pictures from the reception, where David Beckham was schmoozing with the Prince. He and his wife Victoria would have their fourth child days later. Mike Blake, who helped edit the Canadian leg of the trip, jumped on board to help Friday through the weekend. Los Angeles photographer Fred Prouser also helped crank out the images to our Singapore desk for the trip when he wasn’t shooting.

Day two began with a short helicopter ride for the royals to Santa Barbara. Our photographers had to make the long drive from Los Angeles to Carpinteria, about 84 miles from downtown LA. As so much was decided at last minute, our team of Alex Gallardo, Phil McCarten and Gus Ruelas were on site extra early to be ready. Having never covered polo before, my main concern was our team was on the prince in case he took a spill.

How would I explain missing the picture if the presumed future king of England broke his neck in sunny California? Not sure I want to think about it. But it all went well, William survived his dangerous mission and in the end was the only member of the winning team to receive a kiss from the Duchess of Cambridge.

Meanwhile, the BAFTA event that evening was heating up. As the Royals boarded their helicopter for the ride back into town, our photographers Mario Anzuoni and Fred Prouser were stationed on the red carpet, snapping the early arrival of the celebrities. I encouraged Fred to drop his flash and just use available light, and the setting sun allowed him to produce some interesting images of shadows and golden light. Mario was staked out at the head of the carpet and brought his own eye to the event. Finally, near 8pm, the royals appeared from a black SUV and walked the carpet.

It took less than 15 second for them to pass by the hoard of photographers, and it was over. Now to wait for the pool pictures, again.

Sunday the couple toured the Inner City Arts campus near Los Angeles Skid Row. It is a very rough area, but royal fans gathered across the street to welcome the royals. I found the contrast of the brightly colored flags against the dilapidated building striking. Alex Gallardo was inside shooting two pool positions. In the first opportunity, the royals went to a painting class and sat down with the children to paint. The Duchess painted what looked like the Logo for Target stores, but eventually it became a large snail. The Prince’s painting was much more constrained, as he focused on a small area of geometric shapes and contrasting color. I am sure psychologists will be analyzing these images for years.

The royals also took part in a ceramics class, and watched a dance performance. I must say this visit was the one they truly seemed to enjoy, and their ability to connect to the children showed in the images. They looked like any other couple enjoying the creativity and wonder of the children around them.

The last stop before leaving Los Angeles was at Sony Studios where the Prince spoke to the Mission Serve veterans group, a charitable group that supports veterans. Photographers Danny Moloshok, David McNew Phil McCarten were in position, along with Mario again in a pool position. William made a crack about his brother, got a laugh, everyone applauded, and the couple moved to fill care packages, stuffing teddy bears and other items into boxes for families of military personnel. They stopped to chat with volunteers, seemed at ease, and after saying their goodbyes, headed to the airport for home.

Like that, they were gone.

All that was left was to go through the hundreds of pool images, which continued into the evening. It was time for another cup of coffee.

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