Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart at Comic-Con International 2012… (Kevin Winter / Getty Images )
At first, the paparazzo didn't recognize the middle-aged man who slipped discreetly into Kristen Stewart's Mini Cooper. All he knew was that the guy wasn't her boyfriend, Robert Pattinson.
But as Stewart and her passenger approached Pacific View Trail, it quickly became clear that they were more than friends when the pair started pawing each other like teenagers in the"Twilight"star's car.
The photographer started snapping images and called his agency, FameFlyNet Pictures, to request backup. Soon, three additional shutterbugs were also trailing the couple.
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But it wasn't until the photographers uploaded their photos back at the office that they realized just what a sensational scoop they had uncovered. After pulling up some pictures from the premiere of"Snow White and the Huntsman,"it became clear that Stewart's makeout buddy was Rupert Sanders, 41, who had directed the 22-year-old in the adaptation of the fairy tale.
"That was when we realized, 'Oh, my God, she's not just cheating on Rob — this guy is married and has kids,'" recalled Scott Cosman, the owner of FameFlyNet. "It was pretty scandalous, and it had so many different angles to it."
Countless stars have committed such indiscretions over the years, but the Stewart-Sanders scandal seized the attention of the public and Hollywood particularly strongly last week for a number of reasons: the unambiguous photographic evidence (which quickly landed in Us Weekly); the brazen nature of the lapse, given Stewart's heretofore strongly guarded, cautious public persona; the rapid and pained public apologies by both parties; and the questions the tryst cast over not one but two films — the upcoming "Twilight" finale and plans for a "Snow White" sequel.
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Stewart has been a tabloid staple since the "Twilight" vampire film series skyrocketed her and Pattinson to fame in 2008. She's long been followed by paparazzi and for years has taken pains to guard her private life — rarely even acknowledging her four-year relationship with Pattinson.
But once the photos surfaced Tuesday, both the actress and the director issued public apologies within hours. It was not just the speed of Stewart's statement that was notable but also its intensely heartfelt, personal nature: "I love him, I love him, I'm so sorry."
The apologies elicited both empathy and cynicism, with skeptics calling them a calculated public relations effort to minimize any career ramifications. In November, the final entry in the "Twilight" series ("Breaking Dawn — Part 2") will hit theaters, and both Stewart and Pattinson will have to promote it worldwide.
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While the tryst seems likely to make those duties awkward, perhaps more concerning for Stewart are the questions that now arise over Universal Pictures' planned "Snow White" sequel. "Snow White" has taken in more than $380 million worldwide, and a sequel would help to cement Stewart's status outside the "Twilight" franchise. (For Sanders, the stakes are also high: "Snow White" was his feature debut as a director.)
Even FameFlyNet knew what an effect the Stewart-Sanders shots could have and as such decided not to shop the pictures to multiple outlets. Agency owner Cosman said the move was in part to make sure that the secret wouldn't get out before the story broke and because he knew Us Weekly had "a big budget and would pay a premium amount" for the shots.
He declined to say how much his company received for the images, and the magazine would not say whether it paid the agency. But Melanie Bromley, a former West Coast bureau chief for Us Weekly, estimated that the publication likely spent about $250,000 for the images.
Dina Sansing, Us Weekly's entertainment director, said the magazine had no qualms about publishing the images of the affair because "they were taken legally in a public place."
"There was no question when we saw those pictures that this was going to be one of the biggest stories of the year — if not the biggest," Sansing added. "And I'm not sure the 'Twilight' fans would have believed the news without the undeniable photographic evidence."
According to Bromley, Us Weekly likely informed Stewart's and Sanders' publicists about the impending story on July 23, before it was posted online the next day.
"Usually, you go to the reps and they'll say, 'If you don't run those pictures, I'll give you this scoop instead,'" said Bromley, now a senior correspondent for E!. "But in this case, there was nothing the reps could barter."
Given how rabid the "Twilight" fan base is, it seems unlikely that any romantic fallout between Stewart and Pattinson would greatly affect box office receipts for the final movie come Thanksgiving. But the future of the "Snow White" sequel could be a bit more uncertain. Even though the movie is meant to center on the Huntsman character, Snow White will likely be a character and Sanders is on the studio's list of potential directors.
Us Weekly's Samsing, though, doesn't believe her magazine's story will greatly harm Stewart's acting endeavors.
"Listen, I don't think this is the best week ever for Kristen, but at the end of the day, she's talented and has a ton of fans," she said. "I think the fact that there wasn't a lot of posturing on her part can only help her."