Angry Birds at Sundance
By Jim Urquhart
I am not a star stalker nor am I a paparazzi. I am just a screaming photojournalist and the Angry Birds Champion of the World!
I was recently given the opportunity to work with Reuters’ photojournalists Lucas Jackson and Mario Anzuoni as part of the photo team covering the Sundance Film Festival. This was my second year covering the event, which is more like a triathlon in terms of photo work. The days can be long, you have to use different photographic skill sets and there’s a bit of competition for pictures.
It is the one assignment a year like it for me. I mainly cover breaking news, features and sports. I know nothing about celebrity or entertainment news. But for some reason this doesn’t deter the editors from throwing me in to it. Luckily Mario and Lucas know what they are doing.
To overcome my lack of knowledge for the beat I have developed a very simple two part plan. First make features and art when I am out on my own and try to justify my pay that way. Secondly, watch for where all the other photographers are, chase them when they get excited about something, shoot who they are shooting and ask who it was after the action has subsided.
But maybe my lack of knowledge of the beat is what really works for me. Trent Nelson, a very respected and knowledgeable photojournalist I have worked with many times once discussed how his lack of sports knowledge and not being a fan of sports may actually make him a better shooter of sports since he has nothing to cheer for. Instead he observes and makes art. He watches the scene unfold around him and makes sports beautiful by tuning out the noise.
However, one man’s art can easily be translated as everyone’s trash. Luckily I am still getting assignments, so maybe it was the former for me.
Endurance is another part of covering Sundance. You cover several movie premiers a day and you have to secure your place in some of the press lines a couple hours ahead of the celebrities and artist to arrive.
This is where I excelled at dominating the world of Angry Birds on my iPhone. For me, I need something to kill time while I wait. As of writing this, I not only beat every level of every version of the game but I have achieved a three star top score on all the levels. By the second to last day I was checking my phone every 30 minutes while standing in line waiting to see if there was a new update with more boards of green pigs to destroy. For the record, my birds of choice are the exploding bomb bird and the new orange inflating bird.
The screaming part was new to me – it was more like a kid yelling for attention, which actually is not unlike me at all. On the press lines you have several other photographers and you are angling for the celebrity to look at your camera. When you are only 5’6″ on a good day, it is easy to get lost in the glare of flash bulbs. I listened to what all the other photographers were yelling to get attention and took notes. “Now one here in the center,” or “how about one for the big guy in the back?”
I am not used to interacting with my subjects in this way but it is the one time of year I have to. As time went by I got more assertive and a bit louder but it was still hard for me to distinguish myself from the rest of the pack of cameras. That’s not good. By the end of my run I had come up with my own way of getting the attention I needed. With actress Melissa Leo I yelled, “right here with the most sexy photographer.” It worked, she looked at me and I had a frame. When in a scrum trying to get the attention of actor David Duchovny I belted out, “now right here, one for the children” he paused and looked amused or annoyed.
On my last scrum I had to go all out because I quickly found myself standing on the far left outside of the pack. I pulled all my new acquired sayings out including; “Right here for Mr. Sexy,” and my favorite, “now right here, one for the good photographer.” When I yelled that last one, I got the shot but also got the glare of several other photographers.
Thankfully it was my last one and I scurried out the door with the pics I needed.