Interview: Adrian Grenier: From A 'Teenage Paparazzo,' A Lesson About Fame Adrian Grenier's documentary grew out of a chance meeting with a teenage celebrity photographer; as Grenier set out to understand the culture that drives an insatiable industry, that 13-year-old shutterbug learned what it was like being on the other side of the lens.
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From A 'Teenage Paparazzo,' A Lesson About Fame

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From A 'Teenage Paparazzo,' A Lesson About Fame

From A 'Teenage Paparazzo,' A Lesson About Fame

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Sometimes the actor Adrian Grenier feels like he's in a hall of mirrors. Grenier plays a fictional celebrity, Vince, on the TV show "Entourage." Paparazzi track Vince's every move. And when Adrian Grenier leaves the set, real-life paparazzi follow him home.

Now, Grenier has turned the camera around, directing a documentary about tabloid culture. It's called "Teenage Paparazzo."

(Soundbite of movie, "Teenage Paparazzo")

(Soundbite of people yelling)

Mr. ADRIAN GRENIER (Actor): You know, the work paparazzi comes from the Italian word for a mosquito?

Mr. AUSTIN VISSCHEDYK (Photographer): So, we're kind of like antagonizing you, just kind of biting at your skin?

SHAPIRO: That young voice belongs to a teenager named Austin.

Grenier began the documentary after a chance meeting with him.

Mr. GRENIER: He was just this little innocent kid who approached me for a picture. And at first I obliged, thinking he was a fan. But when he pulled out a camera probably twice the size of his head, and what they call sprayed me with about 30 flash shots, I realized - quickly - that he was not just a fan, but something maybe more sinister.

SHAPIRO: That encounter prompted Grenier to try to make sense of this world of celebrity worship.

Mr. GRENIER: It allowed me to see that something was off. That, now that tabloid obsession and celebrity culture had trickled down to our kids, I knew that it'd gone too far and I had to investigate more.

SHAPIRO: We also see in Austin this craving for celebrity that, I think, you identify with, and in the film, the point is made that, to some extent, everybody identifies with.

Mr. GRENIER: Yeah. You know, I mean, I'm on "Entourage." It's what we indulge and promote. I think in a lot of ways, celebrities represent the American dream. They have financial fluidity and options at their disposal. It's no wonder that the kids, especially when they see it promoted, that celebrity is this desirable, attainable thing, of course they're going to go for it.

SHAPIRO: When I talk to people about this film, the one thing that I always mention is a study that you talk about of middle schoolers that asked what their dream profession would be. Tell me about what this story found.

Mr. GRENIER: Yeah, that came from Jake Halpern who wrote a book called "Fame Junkies." And he talks about a study that basically asked middle school students and high school students whether they'd rather be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, a president of a college, a Navy Seal, or an assistantant to a celebrity.

(Soundbite of movie, "Teenage Paparazzo")

Mr. JAKE HALPERN (Author, "Fame Junkies"): Not a celebrity, like, the personal assistant - the person carrying the bag, that sort of thing. Forty-two percent have picked the celebrity's personal assistant. That was twice as much as president of Harvard or Yale, three times as much as the U.S. senator, and four times as much as the CEO of a Fortune 500 company.

It is not just that, like, young American teens are desperate to become famous, but they put such a premium on fame that they're willing to give us some of the most coveted positions in America just to be the bag-carrier to the celebrity.

Mr. GRENIER: You know, for a long time in our culture, there was an emphasis put on working hard, contributing to your society, and now it's not about that anymore. It's about the bling and how quickly you can get it without working.

SHAPIRO: Well, describe how the system works. I mean, when a crowd of paparazzi surround a celebrity, who's using whom?

Mr. GRENIER: I think it's a dance. It's a collaboration of sorts.

SHAPIRO: Let's listen to a cut from the film. This is the comedian Lewis Black talking about the role of paparazzi towards celebrities.

(Soundbite of movie, "Teenage Paparazzo")

Mr. LEWIS BLACK (Comedian): I've never understood people, you know, who got into this and then can't deal with that. You know, I'm sorry, that's part of it. You've asked for it. Why'd you hire the PR person? You're the one who, in a sense, has created the magnet.

SHAPIRO: Is that true? Do you agree with him?

Mr. GRENIER: Oh, absolutely, yeah. Especially being performers, that's what we do. We put on shows and want people to watch. So, it is ironic to, you know, suddenly expect people to stop watching.

SHAPIRO: There's a moment in the film where Matt Damon talks about his story and how each person in the tabloids has a story. Let's listen to this clip.

(Soundbite of movie, "Teenage Paparazzo")

Mr. MATT DAMON (Actor): You know, my story is kind of a boring one. It's a he's married and he's got kids and that's it. And as long as I don't do anything to kind of update that story, there's not, you know, all they do is they'll grab a picture every once in a while and kind of update the file. Yep, still married, still happy, still boring.

Mr. GRENIER: Good advice.

SHAPIRO: So, Adrian, what's your story? And do you try to manage it the way Matt does?

Mr. GRENIER: Well, you know, I remember what I was making this film, I was spending a lot of time with Paris Hilton, and I was in the tabs a lot, because, obviously, she gets a lot of gossip about her. So, you know, I was sort of, by association, pulled into that whole world of hers.

And I was getting calls from my manager, saying, what are you doing? Can you please go home? Stay home. That was her advice to me. Because when you go out, and you have fun, basically you're performing for these tabloid outlets and the paparazzi. And when you perform and create this story, they're chuffed - they get excited, they capture it, and they put it out.

SHAPIRO: You know, at the beginning of the film, you say I don't know what I think about this whole paparazzi thing in general. Do you now?

Mr. GRENIER: I do more. I think anybody who's famous has to deal with their fame in their own way, and I dealt with it by making a film about a kid who's looking out into the world of celebrity obsession. And this was my way of reconciling this fame experience, and also trying to take responsibility. And I think anytime you spend time to find empathy for another group, there's a great sense of empowerment in that.

SHAPIRO: That's actor Adrian Grenier. His documentary, "Teenage Paparazzo," debuts tonight on HBO.

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