The other side of the red carpet: A peek inside the madness

I took my first (and possibly only) dive into red carpet photography at the Tribeca Film Festival's screening of "The Circle," a movie based on Dave Egger's prescient novel. The experience was as weird and fascinating as I suspected.

Sarah Tew
1 of 28 Sarah Tew/CNET

Shooting for CNET takes me to interesting places. This time it was The Tribeca Film Festival, for the opening of "The Circle," a film based on the very tech-industry-themed and touching dystopian novel of the same name by McSweeney's own Dave Eggers. I read this book when it came out, and it was excellent.

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As I approached the theatre I thought, "gee, maybe I'll get to go in and see it after shooting the red carpet arrivals." Not so. This line filled up and my photographer badge was apparently a red flag in and of itself. I guess they want to stop paparazzi from getting shots inside the screenings.

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I arrived a little late but was able to "register" with the on-site coordinator just in the nick of time. It seemed video crews and photographers were more or less all there early to jockey for a good position in line.

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Here's our coordinator giving the bad news to a badgeless hopeful. We needed to pick up our Tribeca Film Festival credentials prior to arriving at a different location. We then had to request special access to this particular red carpet event by email.

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First they called in the reporters who were doing interviews for print or online. Our ace reporter Joan Solsman was in attendance, and was ticketed to see the film after the entrances on the red carpet were over.

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Then they let broadcast crews in to set up in a series of pens reserved for video interviews to be recorded from. Here is the pen of video guys next to the spot I ultimately got at the very end of the scrum of photographers. It appears they brought apple boxes to sit on because it's going to be a while before anything happens.

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Hmm, guess I forgot my ladder. Who knew? Finally photographers were brought in -- first the "A" group, photographers who I presume shoot for elite agencies or outlets that cover these events on the regular, and then the rest of us. There was a lot of hustle and some shouting about order in the line to a few of us who weren't quite with the program yet.

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Once the still photographers were all lined up on the perimeter of the long red carpet, leaning on a metal barrier and up on ladders in a second row, this woman walked slowly past us all so we could get a shot of the names and faces of the celebrities we were about to capture.

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Then what appeared to be a bunch of publicists were walked along the path of the red carpet. They seemed to be getting the lay of the land.

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Finally, our first arrival: His name is Ellar Coltrane, and apparently he's in the movie. Good thing I got a shot of that cheat sheet!

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Yeah, a ladder is a good idea here. Behind the pen for us media goons you can see the ticketed public in another pen, hopelessly trying to get pictures of the stars over the mass of photographers.

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Looks like some of these photographers quickly upload some of their favorite shots with their phones. Neat trick, seeing as speed could mean the difference between selling a photograph or not.

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Here's the director, James Pondsolt. He also co-wrote the screenplay with the author of the book it's based on. Unfortunately Dave Eggars didn't appear to be in attendance -- or at least he didn't walk the red carpet.

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Shooting these was tough because there were so many flashes going off simultaneously, but I nailed a nice laugh from Mamoudou Athie, another member of the cast.

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It was clear from the shouting behind me that Emma Watson had just shown up. A chorus of "Emma! Emma! To your left! Over here!" made it clear that this was the main event. And I thought Tom Hanks was a big deal.

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Emma's publicist briskly walked her past me and my pathetic position in front of the backgroundless doors here, as of course nobody wants to be photographed against this.

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That is some blue steel right there, and after at least 2 minutes of nonstop direct flash in the face. Very professional.

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I could not bring myself to utter any commands to her, but the fellow to my right got her to flash an "Over the Shoulder" in our direction.

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Next up was Karen Gillan sporting a red and black outfit -- you'll just have to check TMZ if you really want to know its origin.

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If you hadn't guessed, the photographers and video teams at these things appear to be heavily male. There were definitely a handful of women sprinkled throughout, but we were the minority.

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After another bit of waiting we were treated to a glimse of America's favorite friendly guy, Tom Hanks. Photographers go bonkers all over again, jumping up on ladders and all shouting at him to look at them.

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I know his job is to look at everyone so they can get shots, but I can't help but think he's glancing at me and wondering what my deal is. I've clearly never done this before and am not yelling at him or shooting more than a few frames off.

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It amazes me what natural smiles they can muster in the face of so many flashes.

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The fans are going nuts for Tom. One woman kept yelling "I love you Tom! I love you!" and when that didn't get his attention she began loudly noting that she would flash him if he looked over. This got a glare from his wife, and seemingly not an iota of attention from Tom. The photographers in the scrum tried to encourage her for a few moments, but it became clear there would be no flashing, and they turned their attention back to the red carpet.

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After passing the still photographers, the celebrities stop and do video interviews with broadcast crews like E! Entertainment Television and the like.

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This woman was not on the cheat sheet I had photographed, and I honestly have no idea who she is. She was clearly famous on some level though, as the photographers were shouting at her to look their way. Side note: It seems that fancy pantsuits are a thing these days.

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And just like that it was over. Photographers I'd heard muttering about where they'd meet for dinner packed up their gear and got out of there in a flash. I presume the idea was to dine down the street and be back in time for the "exits," which I had heard some of them say can be better than the entrances. Even better, apparently, is to catch celebrities leaving an after party for one of these things. Then you might catch one stumbling out drunk.

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What a world. Seriously though, I think you should read "The Circle."

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