First peek at the new HBO documentary Teenage Paparazzo
Diablo chats with director Adrian Grenier and Danville-based producer John Loar about their celebrity-saturated think piece
This weekend, I had a chance to head into San Francisco’s Sundance Kabuki Cinemas for an early look at the new documentary film Teenage Paparazzo, then chat with the film’s director, Adrian Grenier.
To the uninformed, Grenier is the impossibly good looking lead actor on the hit HBO series, Entourage. On the show, he plays Vincent Chase, one of Hollywood’s hottest stars. Having become a celeb by playing one on TV, Grenier the filmmaker wanted to make a documentary about the media and public’s fascination with celebrity, told through the seedy filter of tabloid magazines, TV shows, and websites.
Grenier certainly found the perfect subject for his film: 14-year-old Austin Visschedyk, a precocious Los Angeles home schooler who chases Paris Hilton, Lindsey Lohan, and Britney Spears around town, then sells his snaps to Us magazine, TMZ, etc.
Grenier, 34, first encountered Visschedyk when the teen paparazzo blinded him with shots coming out of LAX. Greneir spent three years making the film, two years following Visschedyk and other paparazzi. The moppet-haired Visschedyk (think Justin Bieber with a digital camera, a skateboard, and an amoral and insatiable appetite for exploitation) zips around Hollywood at 3 a.m. on school nights chasing Lindsey and Paris in and out of nightclubs and drive-thrus.
“We were editing and shooting for two years, but I didn’t know how the film would end,” Grenier told me, over egg rolls and pork buns at the Empress of China restaurant last Sunday. “So we showed Austin and his mom a rough cut of the film, and let them think about took a year to edit, then went back to check in with Austin again, to see where he was at.”
Meanwhile, Grenier also interviews a range of today’s A-list actors (Matt Damon), tabloid stars (Paris Hilton, Lindsey Lohan), and media professors to look at the larger meanings and reasonings behind this thirst for celebrity scoop. The result is a highly entertaining and enlightening film—it’s closer to a Nick Broomfield fly-on-the-wall muckraker than a Ken Burns history lesson. I asked Grenier what documentaries he reviewed while making Teenage Paparazzo.
“The documentaries that influenced this film were Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man and Orson Welles’ F For Fake,” Grenier said, quickly adding that he was not comparing his film to those masterpieces in quality, just that the filmmaker’s approach was helpful in his creative process. “In Grizzly Man, Herzog makes amazing use of this existing footage that Tim Treadwell had shot,” he explained. “The was Herzog could sift through that footage and bring context to it was just exceptional.”
In the case of Welles’ brilliant F For Fake, a semi-documentary about hoaxes and art forgeries, Grenier saw a similarity in the way the media exploits celebrities, and how some celebs revel in even the most negative publicity. (Actor Alec Baldwin clearly states that being in tabloids is good for a Hollywood career these days, then offers a a fascinating deconstruction of the Warner Brother media platforms which promoted him on their Warner Bros. TV shows to promote the Warner Bros. pic The Departed, while dragging him through the mud over his infamous phone call tirade to his daughter via Warner’s tabloid arms).
Grenier even stages a few celebrity stunts, like an outing with Paris Hilton to see how the media will respond. (TMZ reported a love connection, immediately.) “I did try to blur lines or reality whenever possible,” Grenier told me. “If there was a line there, I blurred it.”
This comment made me reflect on a scene in which Grenier explains the myth of Narcissus to Paris Hilton, who asks “Is that a true story?” there’s a twinkle in her eye that suggests she knows that she’s got the perfect dumb blonde response. Or,maybe not.
Even with all the Hollywood connections and locations that the film has, there is an East Bay tie-in. One of the producers on Teenage Paparazzo is John Loar, a Danville resident who is working on a number of interesting films, including the Tony La Russa film based on Buzz Bissinger’s bestseller Three Nights in August as well as a Sugar Ray Leonard biopic.
I asked Loar how he involved with Teenage Paparazzo. “I happened to come across Adrian and (filmmaker) Matthew Cooke who were already working on the project. I really liked the concept, and it was a good opportunity to partner with someone who has access to people to make that film,” said Loar. “We premiered the movie at Sundance in January and it was very well-received. It’s been a satisfying project to be a part of.”
Loar, who is working on two more documentary projects with Grenier and Cooke, had a different take on the movie than the film’s director.
“There are really two films going on here,” Loar says. “Adrian is more caught up on this story about social media and celebrity identity and narcissism—which is very interesting. But as a parent, I saw something different, about this young teen running his parent’s life. We have become such helicopter parents, taking our kids to the important stops in there life, without taking a step back and asking if that’s the right way to live.”
Loar continued, “I was also fascinated by the business model that has been created in Hollywood, by the tabloids and the paparazzi. Celebrities and paparazzi are everywhere, and they generate this huge amount of business in a very concentrated area. And just a few hours north here in Danville, that doesn’t exist. When Adrian goes out in L.A., he is always followed around. But, I’ve had Adrian to my house in Danville and we’ve gone out to eat in town. Around here, no one cares.”
Teenage Paparazzo airs on HBO on September 27, at 9 p.m. Highly recommended.