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Hollywood's Other Walk of Fame

For the studios, it's not a movie happening without a red strip of carpet, glitz and lots of yelling


The movie star is expected any minute. A thicket of bright lights, boom mikes and TV cameras are sprouting in front of the theater in Beverly Hills. Autograph seekers are poised to strike. A city police officer in a wide-brimmed hat paces the sidewalk, his mustache twitching as he surveys the scene. "Three, two, one," a TV reporter counts down to her cameraman. "Thanks, Debbie! I'm here on the red carpet .... "

Suddenly, several men in suits rush an arriving limousine as if there's a life-threatening emergency. Chatty reporters hush and crane toward the action. A limo door opens, the storm of shouts and flashbulbs erupts. "To your right! Tom! To your right!" Tom Hanks has arrived.

It's Hollywood's ubiquitous red carpet, the carefully executed promenade that precedes every awards show, gala affair and movie premiere, in this case, "The Road to Perdition." Studios can spend millions of dollars for this one-night-only fanfare, an event that some consider an expensive exercise in celebrity worship that ultimately does little to boost box-office revenues. But others in the industry say the red carpet is as vital as the movie itself. It's Hollywood's security blanket, they say, a reassuring tradition for an industry consumed by anxiety.

For celebrities, though, the red carpet can be surreal. "It's like being on acid," says Hanks, as microphones are thrust into his face. "The first time ... you feel as though the attention is somehow warranted and everyone has a true, genuine fascination with what you have to say."

And now?

"It's something to be survived. It's just a goofy, more fun way of getting into the theater. None of it matters."

With that, he is off to the next reporter, who drills him on what he got for his birthday.

Photo Ops

Celebrities attend premieres primarily to get their pictures taken. Those images, according to their publicists, communicate an actor's relevancy to the world. "You want to be in people's mind-set," said Stan Rosenfield, publicist to Robert De Niro, Will Smith and George Clooney. "You want people to know you are part of the dynamics of the evening." Those who refuse to pose for photographers, such as Britney Spears at the recent opening of her New York restaurant, are roundly booed.

Photographers on the red carpet can be a rowdy bunch. "They yell

These attempts at joviality are motivated by money. One photo can earn thousands of dollars and sell for many years, like the one of Tom Cruise and Frank Sinatra taken at the Beverly Hilton in the mid-1980s or another of Madonna posing in her "Evita" garb at the film's 1996 premiere in Los Angeles, Granitz said. "The life of a photograph is a lot longer than a sound bite," he said.

Reporters are granted positions according to their relationship with the studio and they lord over these tiny squares of space. "Entertainment Tonight" is always first, followed by "Access Hollywood" and E! Entertainment Television. All three are often elevated above the rest of the crowd on special platforms while scores of local and foreign television crews fight below them over camera positions. "There's a pecking order," Rosenfield said. "The further down on the red carpet, the less dominant."

Reporters pass the time waiting for celebrities by exchanging gossip and catty remarks, sometimes within earshot of the actors. At the June premiere of "Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys," two female reporters scrutinized 17-year-old actress Jena Malone on the carpet. She wore a skimpy dress held together with safety pins. "She's so young!" one said. "That's why she's wearing that dress," said the other. At the premiere of "The Mexican," two reporters made bets on whether one young male star was stoned.

For the behind-the-scenes film folks, winning the media's attention is often a cruel sport on the carpet. At the premiere of the skateboarding documentary "Dogtown and Z-Boys," a reporter for ESPN's youth-oriented "extreme" sports show passed on speaking with one middle-aged woman involved with the film. "We'd talk to her, but she doesn't fit our demo."

Waste of Time, Money?

The red carpet tradition is a vulgar waste of time and money, say some publicity executives from several major studios. (None of those execs was be willing to be named for this story.) Studios devote entire departments to the planning of movie premieres, yet the events contribute virtually nothing to the overall revenues of a picture, they claim. The invited media outlets rarely have the same demographic that a film is targeting. "If you never had another movie premiere again, you wouldn't see the grosses on a single movie affected," one executive said.

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