Make it snappy

No time to eat for photographer George Pimentel. The celebrities await

Rebecca Eckler
National Post

Thursday, September 16, 2004

George Pimentel is meeting me for breakfast at the Hotel Intercontinental at 9 a.m. Or so I thought.

At 9:02, as I'm waiting in the lobby, I get a call on my cell.

"I'm sorry I'm late. I'll be there in a minute," he says.

At 9:03, as promised, he arrives.

"I'm sorry I'm late. There's no excuse for being late," he says.

I tell him to chill: It's only three minutes. I can handle a man being three minutes late, especially a man who was working until 4 a.m. the night before.

"I have no time to eat," he says. Is he kidding? I'm quite hungry.

"Seriously? We could grab eggs or a coffee," I tell him. "Or a bran muffin?"

"No time to eat. No time to eat," he repeats. So we grab a couple of seats at the back of the lobby. I chew on my pen.

Pimentel is one of Canada's few professional paparazzi. (Let's face it: There aren't too many waiting in the bushes outside Peter Mansbridge's house or trailing Cynthia Dale to get that first picture of their child.)

During the festival, you'll see Pimentel hard at work everywhere celebrities are, on every red carpet. His photos end up, he says, "every week" in Us Weekly, Entertainment Weekly, the Hollywood Reporter and In Touch magazine.

"I don't care if my name is on the photo, as long as my name is on the cheque," he says. Paparazzi can make thousands of dollars per photo: US$50,000 for an exclusive shot of a star is not unheard of these days.

For the film festival, Pimentel is also taking shots for Flare magazine (notorious editor Suzanne Boyd "found him," he says, in the early '90s) as well as Maclean's. Pimentel is also the Canadian photographer for WireImage, the largest celebrity photograph agency in the world. He was the exclusive photographer for the InStyle party the other night. Without a doubt, the dude has connections.

Pimentel has a photographer's huge ego -- sort of an occupational hazard, you could say. He's wearing a white T-shirt, blue jeans and a big watch.

"I don't get bruised," he says, when I ask if it's ever dangerous among all the other newspaper photographers and camerapeople. "Other people get bruised."

Celebrities know his face, and, more importantly, like seeing him. At Cannes, when there were 800 photographers on the red carpet, he says Brad Pitt came up to shake his hand. There's an art to what he does.

"Every photographer can be an annoying pest," he says, a point I've often made to my parents. "But it's all about getting that one shot. People want to read about celebrities and see their pictures like never before. They're so fascinated by it."

He is, too, and he always has been. Pimentel's father was a wedding photographer and there was family pressure to keep the business going. He was shooting weddings when he was 16 years old.

In 1993, he snuck onto a red carpet for the first time, at an event attended by Robert De Niro. "No one could get a clean picture," he says. All the photographers were led inside, but Pimentel didn't have a pass and was left outside. It was his lucky break, as the actor soon wandered back out. "I was the only one there, so I got the shot."

Once he'd had his first taste, he made a point of trying to go where the photo opportunities were, at the Oscars and the after-parties. "I wanted to be around celebrity at its highest level."

Still, he could only take so much of Los Angeles, and is back in Canada after three months there this year.

"Every night it was the same thing. Oh, there's Paris Hilton again!"

While the art of the shot is clearly important, the sneaking around part is even more so. Pimentel knows all the back entrances of every venue in Toronto. That's where he'll hang around waiting, when there's "no photogs allowed." It's how he got a recent shot of Penelope Cruz.

He says he won't ever go onto a celebrity's private property, but once they're on the street, they're public.

"I understand the celebrity game," he says. "It's a job for them. If they're eating, I won't take a picture and I'll never hide in the bushes. It's about knowing how to handle them."

He's mostly fascinated by how celebs operate.

"I used to get starstruck. I loved seeing them for five seconds. It was such a rush. But now it's a job. After 15 minutes, you realize they are just human. It's better to know them for five seconds," he laughs.

He has no qualms about what he does. "I don't feel sorry for someone who makes US$20-million a picture. That's the price they pay."

During the film festival, he says, "they're here, it's a film festival, they're used to it."

Still, he's not altogether thrilled about the end result of all the pictures of the famous and nearly famous.

"I do think it's a bit sad now that I have kids. It's scary realizing your kid could get picked on at school if they're not wearing the same clothes as Hilary Duff."

People, he says, want to judge celebrities all the time. "They are human. They are allowed to get pissed off."

Speaking of getting pissed off at paparazzi, once, while following Sean Penn -- who will always be remembered for punching a photographer when he was with Madonna -- into the Sutton Place Hotel, they ended up in the same compartment in the revolving door.

"We were body to body in the same turnstile. It was so embarrassing. But when we got out, I asked for the photo and got it."

Rod Stewart's people once threw Pimentel out on the street at an art gallery in Toronto. "Security is not allowed to touch me. I threatened the gallery owner that my lawyer will get in touch with her and the only way to make it up to me was to get Rod Stewart to come out. He did. I got the shot. Then I said I wanted him with his band."

Will he see the movie Paparazzi, which features a beleaguered actor fighting back against abusive photographers?

"I'll wait until it comes out on DVD to rent it," he says, as he rushes off to his next job.

In at least one way, the proximity to celebrities has affected him. As he darts off, I want to yell out, "Eat something, man! Eat!"

© National Post 2004