January 23, 2010

Krinsky at Sundance: 1/23 - 'Teenage Paparazzo'

What happens when an actor who becomes famous for playing a movie star on a hit TV series decides to make a documentary about a pint-sized paparazzi photographer? You get Teenage Paparazzo, Adrian Grenier's thoughtful, entertaining exploration of celebrity and culture.

When Grenier meets 14 year-old "pap"  Austin Visschedyk, instead of telling him to go smash his camera, the actor befriends him, hoping to learn more about the symbiotic relationship between celebs and the media who anoint them. Now, the idea of a 14 year-old stalking Paris and Britney may seem ridiculous, but Austin is deadly serious about his work. He knows his camera equipment inside and out, has earned the respect of the other paps and has no hesitation about risking his life chasing down limos to get that lucrative money shot.

Adrian Grenier, director of Teenage Paparazzo

As Grenier immerses himself in Austin's world, which includes support from his mother Jane for his late night stalker-azzi activities "as long as he doesn't do drugs," Grenier begins to understand the motivations that drive those who supply the photos for US Weekly and OK! Magazine. For some it's the adrenaline rush of getting the shot; for others it's about putting food on the table. Some just like breaking the rules. There's camaraderie between the photographers, as they communicate by cell and text to alert one another of the latest whereabouts of Lindsey and Nicole. Doormen, parking attendants and security personnel form an unofficial support team, tipping off Austin as to when a star might be sneaking out of the building.

In addition to accompanying Austin on his nightly stakeouts, Grenier visits media professors, anthropologists and tabloid publishers to explore America's fascination with celebrities from a different angle (pun intended). One of the professors suggests that as we move from the era of the small town where people gossiped about the town drunk, to the era of the Internet, celebrities are the people we now have in common. Ultimately, it's the exchange that we have about them with one another that is much more important than the specific celebrity we gossip about.

Grenier and Austin Visschedyk

During the course of filming Teenage Paparazzo, Austin himself becomes a bit of a celebrity. He's offered a reality show, and featured in a number of news stories as the "wunderkind pap." The more attention he receives, the less cooperative he becomes about shooting the documentary. In a bizarre twist, Grenier realizes that he and his subject's roles have reversed. Usually, Grenier is the famous one trying to avoid the cameras; now, he must convince Austin to let him keep filming so he can finish the project.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Grenier, an ardent documentary fan, to talk about his film and his work. Keep you eye out for a Doc Shot later this week.