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"$ellebrity" explores paparazzi influence in fame game

By Zorianna Kit

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - As one of the entertainment industry's most sought-after photographers, Kevin Mazur is training his lens on fellow photographers who traffic in the high-stakes game of capturing images of Hollywood stars as they go about their everyday lives.

Mazur, a Rolling Stone magazine staffer who has shot bands including U2 and Bon Jovi and also is the co-founder of photo agency WireImage, makes his directorial debut with "$ellebrity," which opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday.

He spoke to Reuters about the documentary, the rise of the paparazzi in Hollywood and how the nature of fame has changed.

Q: You chose a subject you were familiar with for your first outing as a filmmaker. What point did you want to get across?

A: "I wanted to create a roundtable discussion about our culture's obsession with celebrity. We wanted to give the audience a behind-the-scenes look at celebrity gossip, tabloids and fame. We go from the moment a photograph is taken all the way through to the billion-dollar industry that produces the images you see on the glossy magazines."

Q: You used your relationship with celebrities like Jennifer Aniston, Salma Hayek and Sarah Jessica Parker to appear in the film. Did you have specific topics in mind for each of them?

A: "I wanted to talk about children issues with Sarah Jessica Parker because I knew what she went through every day, leaving her house to bring her son to school. Her kid shouldn't be exposed to (the paparazzi frenzy). That's a big issue for me as a father and a parent. I don't care if you're a celebrity, the child should not be photographed. I also wanted to talk to Salma Hayek because she lives in France, and you can't photograph children in France. And Jennifer Aniston is constantly in the tabloids, so I wanted to talk to her."

Q: Do you think legitimate photographers like yourself are seen more negatively because of the antics of paparazzi?

A: "No. There's still the hard-core press photographers and professional photographers. But now with technology, it makes it easier for ordinary people to pick up a camera, stand outside a celebrity's home or a place they're eating at, snap pictures and give it to an agency. The big thing now are cell phones, and we talk about that in the film. Ordinary people are now becoming paparazzi."

Q: Do you sympathize with celebrities or photographers?

A: "Celebrities. We talk to a lot of celebrities and they understand it's part of the business. Some of the paparazzi are good guys, but some are so aggressive, they like to get into the celebrity's face and start a confrontation."

Q: Criminal charges filed against a photographer who pursued pop star Justin Bieber at high speed on a Los Angeles freeway last summer were thrown of court in November. Thoughts on that?

A: "It's a double-edged sword. You're treading on the First Amendment (of the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing freedom of speech). The same law that protects the paparazzi also protects the celebrities who can perform and do whatever they want on stage."

Q: Didn't Princess Diana's death in 1997 (from injuries sustained in a car crash while being chased by paparazzi) change the way paparazzi conducted themselves?

A: "After Princess Diana, everything died down a little and the paparazzi started behaving. But then magazines like Us, People and OK! started competing for photos, and the paparazzi craze got out of control again. More photo agencies were popping up here in the United States and a lot of photographers were leaving Europe to move here."

Q: How has the profession evolved since you first started?

A: "I've been doing this for 30 years and it has changed for the worse. I think it has a lot do with technology. Back in the day you had to wait to get a magazine and see the pictures. The Internet brought it all into overdrive and sped things up to everybody's demands of getting their celebrity information quicker. There's Twitter, Instagram. Everything is instant and pretty much live right now."

Q: What new information can celebrity know-it-all's get from watching your documentary?

A: "I don't think a lot of people out there know where all these images come from. I wanted to take the viewer through the whole process, show them the difference between photographers and how the images get out there. It's a roller coaster ride about celebrity. When you walk away from the film, you'll think twice when you pick up a magazine and say, 'Where did that photo really come from?'"

(Reporting By Zorianna Kit, editing by Piya Sinha-Roy and Will Dunham)

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