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As We See It

Red-carpet blues

The star-studded event in Las Vegas isn’t what it used to be

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Illustration: Colleen Wang

A few years ago, Lindsay, Britney and Paris were regulars on the red carpets at Las Vegas nightclubs. This packed the clubs and also created a boom for freelance writers and photographers. National media would regularly pay local press to gather quotes and photos from top names in music, movies, sports and celebrity culture as they worked a Vegas red carpet.

According to two photographers who competed and banked during the boom years, the golden period began in 2005 (with the opening of Tao, the year after Pure) and ended early last year (around when the IRS visited Pure). One of the photographers has now opened a studio due in part to the drop-off in paid red-carpet assignments; the other barely goes to those events anymore. “I don’t want to be mean,” one of them says, “but now it is lesser celebrities and lesser media. The big nationals are not interested in the names now coming to Vegas.”

Nowadays, a celebrity host is more likely to be a Playboy centerfold from a few years back, a porn star or a loser from a middling reality show. Not only do they need last names, they also need an explanation of their fame. And so the press release for a recent Saturday event at Prive noted repeatedly that host was “actress Teri Polo, star of Meet The Fockers”; that movie came out in 2004.

Why the shift away from household names? According to two nightclub insiders, appearance fees given to stars have been cut significantly. The six-figure payments possible in 2006 have fallen to the low end of the five-figure range. “All the clubs still go all-out for a New Year’s Eve,” one insider says, “but not for just a regular weeknight anymore. It isn’t worth the money.”

Oddly, as the nightclub insiders and local press confirm, there are now more red carpets each week and more press covering those events than ever. The reason, says a freelancer for a national entertainment weekly who has almost stopped covering red carpets, is that now anyone with a website can get a press pass. “We have a lot of what I would call fake red carpets.” If the stars are not that famous, the teeming press hordes have fattened with bloggers, new-media reporters and freelancers hoping to sell a photo or quote.

“I knew exactly when to quit the red carpets,” says one of the photographers. “It happened the night I went to an event and the credentialed photographer next to me was using a cell-phone camera.”

To many in the press, what started as the media using the Vegas clubs for celebrity material quickly twisted into the clubs using the media to attract patrons. A reporter who recently quit covering red carpets offers this logic: “The clubs have us stand there for hours to make the tourists think something important is happening at the club to get them to go inside. We get nothing we can sell to publications. We became props for the clubs.”

“The nationals never cared about the nightclubs or the events I was at,” says one freelancer who’s given up red carpets. “It would always be that they had a question to ask Lindsay, and I would be on the carpet just to ask it. But now the red carpets are not Lady Gaga, they are Mini Lady Gaga.”

Still, there are moments when the scene can mean a freelance windfall. A photographer who still goes to red carpets notes: “One of my colleagues recently got a few thousand dollars for a shot of Jessica Simpson. It was the first photo of her with a new haircut, and there was eye contact with camera. But when you have a million people shooting on these little red carpets, then the market becomes saturated, and that is what is packing the carpets with these glorified amateurs and killing my business.”

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Richard Abowitz

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