Blood on the carpet

2014-06-23 10:00

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Fresh from his latest battle with the hype machine, Thinus Ferreira has had it with SA’s badly managed red carpets, which treat the media like wild beasts and celebs like cattle

It all looks so elegant, playful and glamorous out there under the lights on the red carpet.

But next time you’re watching the celebrities swanning in, spare a thought for those engaged in a vicious battle being waged on the other side of a thin red line you never see.

Once you’ve survived a few red carpet media scrums, you’ll know why they chose red for the carpet. It’s to hide the blood that’s spilt.

There at the intersection of celebrity access, the new catwalk and the theatre of exposure, the red carpet is where the hype machine and the media converge to do battle.

Don’t be fooled by the idle banter delivered in perfect sound bites and the fashion-forward (or faux pas) poses. Behind it rages a war in which your adversaries are more relentless than the Borg and the fakes are more lethal than the Terminator.

For well over a decade, the South African industrial celeb culture complex has continued to ramp itself up, mimicking its American counterpart with a rapid rise in award shows and VIP events.

Over the years, I’ve had a frontline view – not just of how the coverage has changed but how much bloodier the battle has become for access to A-listers walking the carpet.

The thing is that just because we’re copying America doesn’t mean we’re doing it right.

The situation is worsened by bitchy and ill-equipped publicists, as well as ­newsrooms that dispatch uninformed reporters to a war zone they’re not ­properly equipped to deal with.

For me, the recent MTV Africa Music Awards (Mamas) red carpet in Durban was another perfect storm of everything going oh so wrong.

Very few of the local red carpets I’ve covered have properly demarcated spaces for accredited press. Unlike in America, South African media – reporters and cameramen – are simply thrown behind the metal fence like feral creatures in need of SPCA rescue.

Because there are no assigned spaces for different media, the collective pack mentality kicks in – the hyena hive of trampling, pushing and screaming at the slightest sniff or sight of a Bonang or a Sophie. The celebrities hate it, the publicists hate it and the media hate it.

As the stars walk the carpet, everyone wants that how-you-feeling or who-you-wearing sound bite, the to-camera wave or wink. But in South Africa there’s too little time, too many media people and too few publicists who know how to stay out of shot while directing stars ­slowly along the carpet.

Instead they herd them along like glittering beasts. It’s organised chaos and it’s getting worse.

It’s taught one a thing or two, though. The cleverer reporter knows that when the stars quickly appear and walk too briskly, you don’t call a Khloe by name. You call her publicist. It’s her ­publicist who will bring her to you (and who will hover like a hawk telling you to “wrap up” five seconds after your 20 seconds began).

Most celebrities are really just puppies at doggie training school. They want to please; they follow commands. Sadly, South Africa lacks PR people who walk with celebrities, who announce and give the proper spelling of their names.

Why don’t our organisers tell celebrities exactly where to stand (right in the middle of the red carpet halfway between the press fence and backdrop screen)?

The result is photographers yelling: “Come here my sweetheart! A bit back. A bit forward! That’s it. Smile my darling. Smile!”

And you just try to get a clean shot without another camera or Dictaphone or notebook or cellphone bombing your frame.

It’s a war. And every war needs rules of engagement – even that red carpet one and its brisk walk of fame.

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