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Short, but Eerily Prescient

'Shooters,' a 22-minute film about paparazzi excesses, includes pursuing photographers--and a car crash.

September 11, 1997|ROBERT W. WELKOS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Roaring along a snow-lined mountain highway in a speeding car, the paparazzi are chasing another vehicle they believe contains their prized prey: a celebrity and his mistress.

As the photographers swerve around bends in the road, the driver fantasizes out loud about how he will spend all the money he will make from selling his shots to the tabloids.

Then something horrible happens. The two cars begin to skid. Brakes screech. Wheels lock. And, the photographers scream as their car slams into a snowbank. Sitting in stunned silence, they slowly realize that the car they were pursuing has crashed. Its horn blares in the distance.

*

Seconds later, standing atop an embankment, one of the photographers tries to come to grips with his emotions while the other--a Frenchman who is a professional at stalking stars--kisses his camera and descends on the wreckage to click off pictures of the dead.

Director David Gambino had no idea when he made "Shooters" that one day his 22-minute film would contain eerie parallels to the recent traffic accident in Paris that claimed the lives of Princess Diana; her boyfriend, Dodi Fayed; and their driver. French authorities are investigating the paparazzi who chased the princess' car to determine if they contributed to the accident.

"In a way," Gambino said, "it's like we predicted it was happening."

Gambino, 25, and his fiancee, Lori Rosene, 34, of Woodland Hills, wrote the script two years ago after the increasing controversy over how far the paparazzi will go to snap photos of celebrities.

"Everything was becoming like 'Hard Copy,' " Gambino recalled. "We began debating the issue and asking, 'What is going on now?' It seemed to be an escalating issue."

After watching an episode of "Geraldo," during which host Geraldo Rivera interviewed several members of the paparazzi, Gambino said he met with one of the photographers and learned firsthand some of the tactics they use when pursuing a celebrity.

Using family savings and credit cards, Gambino assembled his production on a minuscule budget, with the cast and crew donating their time and talents. The two principle actors were hired through an ad that appeared in a local casting publication.

The film was shot in 10 days over "four or five months," Gambino said, with much of the footage taken around a mountain near Frazier Park.

As the film unfolds, a photographer named Peter Cambria (Tom Chick) is opening a gallery of his work, but is depressed because he isn't making much money at that form of photography. A childhood friend, now a lawyer, attends the opening with one of his clients, who happens to be the editor of a tabloid, and the lawyer suggests that Cambria talk to the editor about an assignment.

Cambria is disgusted with the idea of working for the tabloids. "I'm a photographer," he says. "I don't go around taking Polaroids of Betty Ford Clinic flunkies and UFOs."

But Cambria, who one moment wonders if his girlfriend is cheating on him and the next immerses himself in Anthony Robbins' motivational tapes, soon finds himself staking out the mountain retreat of an unnamed celebrity who is supposedly there with his mistress. As Cambria waits in his car, he is unexpectedly joined by a French photographer named Ron (Phillippe Bergeron), who is also on the hunt.

Ron is such a seasoned member of the paparazzi that he proudly displays a scar under his shirt. "Sean Penn's pinky ring," he confides.

*

Ron's instincts are so honed that he can even determine if a mistress is inside merely by sniffing a cheese wrapper tossed in the trash. A man staying alone, Ron says, prefers pretzel sticks. Women like Gorgonzola cheese.

While Peter repeatedly questions the ethics of what they're doing, Ron breaks into the cabin. But once inside, he discovers that the celebrity has outfoxed them. He then sees a car speeding away.

"There has been a lot of discussion of how these guys [paparazzi] are crossing the line--trespassing in backyards, breaking into houses," Gambino said. The director said he wanted to "create a worst-case scenario."

Gambino plans to enter the film at the Sundance Film Festival.

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