Justin King is at the ready to lift his camera and capture photos of actors who, until two years ago, were all but unknown. He’s not in New York or L.A., and there’s no red carpet to be found. He’s at Vancouver International Airport, and is just one of several photographers there for one specific reason. “The humans are leaving,” the 28-year-old explains.
Welcome to the world of Twilight, where terms like “the vampires,” “the Wolf Pack,” “the humans,” and “the Big Three” have become a part of the everyday lexicon of gossip rags, fan sites, and the entertainment industry in general – all thanks to ‘TwiHards,’ the ever-growing number of obsessive fans who have catapulted Stephanie Meyer, a first-time author and a Mormon, to the tops of numerous bestseller lists, and launched a movie franchise that’s driven a giant stake into Vancouver’s place on the celebrity stargazer’s map.
For the uninitiated, the Twilight books and movies concern Bella Swan, a bookish 17-year-old loner who moves to the Pacific Northwest and falls in love with vampire Edward Cullen. The push-pull of their tortured love affair — complete with a second love interest for Bella in the form of man-werewolf Jacob — sustain the four-book arc. They’ve become both kid-tested and mom-approved, thanks in part to Edward’s characterization as a chaste knight in glistening armour.
After Twilight exploded onto the big screen, making instant celebrities out of Kristen Stewart (Bella), Robert Pattinson (Edward), and Taylor Lautner (Jacob), all eyes turned to Vancouver, where it was announced the movie’s sequels would be filmed back-to-back. The Twilight Saga: New Moon is set to be released November 20, while The Twilight Saga: Eclipse is currently in production. Everyone, it seems — from fans to entrepreneurs to paparazzi — is eager to get a piece of the action.
The global frenzy for photos of even the most minor cast members has ushered in Vancouver’s first truly big wave of L.A.-based paparazzi — photographers who make a living staking out and documenting Twilight’s every turn. The above-mentioned Justin King, camped out at the airport hoping to get a few shots of the third-tier actors who portray Bella’s human friends, is one of roughly 12 paparazzi shooting the Twilight cast every day, and the only one not temporarily relocated from L.A. He’s a Vancouverite, and got his start getting autographs from the Twilight cast. But when he saw that photos were fetching a bigger buck, he acquired some professional equipment and started shooting for the L.A.-based agency Punked Images.
“It’s 14-, 16-hour days,” King says. “I get up and have to be there for the [actors’ limo] pickups at the hotel, for their daily goings-on, and then be back for drop off. Sometimes I follow them out to the sets, or I might stake out the hotels on their off days, just ‘cause the cast, not including the Big Three, all know me by name. I’ve established a rapport, so if I see them shopping or out walking, I just go over and I get shots there. They give me good shots: a smile, a wave, or a peace sign.”
To people familiar with Vancouver’s long-standing reputation as Hollywood North, the obsessive attention from fans and paparazzi may be a boon to the economy, but it’s not entirely flattering. The TwiHards (and another, perhaps more obsessive subset, the TwiMoms) have helped bolster Vancouver’s tourism business by flocking here in droves, just to get a glimpse of anything Twilight-related. Elaine “Lainey” Lui, who pens the blog LaineyGossip.com and interviews celebrities for TV entertainment show eTalk, calls the trend “embarrassing.”
“I’ve never seen fans this crazy and shameless,” Lui says. “They have redefined ‘loser.’ I’ve seen it get really psychotic, like for Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, and that’s crazy, too. But this... I guess the Twilight thing is just so widespread, and I find that it’s misunderstood. People seem to think that it’s only teenagers? Oh, no. It’s, like, 40- and 50-year-olds, mothers. I have my issues with what the significance of Twilight popularity is in terms of a social study. In worshipping a man like Edward Cullen, and by idolizing a relationship which is based on a girl giving up everything for a boy, and attaching her life’s identity and value — it illustrates the regression of the female movement.”
Sarah Crauder, a production assistant who worked on the original Twilight film in Oregon, saw first-hand that women, young and old, were eager to jump in on the fantasy. “Girls were obsessed with this book and would have done anything to be connected to it,” she recalls. “They could have made the movie with sock puppets and it would have made the same amount of money. Just slap Twilight on something and they’re going to buy it.”
Crauder recalls fielding letters and e-mails before casting had been finalized, from fans pleading to be cast as Bella. “It’s so dependent on you seeing yourself as the heroine. If you don’t identify as Bella, the whole book falls apart.”
Those fans are also reaching out to Lui, via any form necessary. She estimates that she gets about a dozen e-mails every week from fans around the world who tell her they’re coming to Vancouver for Twilight. “On Twitter it’s a lot more,” she adds. “It’s been great for Vancouver financially, and public-relations-wise it’s been incredible. People are flying in from all over the world — Brazil, Germany, Australia — just to stalk these celebrities, and obviously Vancouver’s reaping the reward from that. But the downside of it is that it’s over this franchise.”
Erin Cebula, an entertainment reporter for Global Television and Entertainment Tonight Canada, says it’s not dissimilar to another famous series and its relationship to its home city.
“New York was such a central character in Sex and the City, and Vancouver could play a similar role in the Twilight franchise,” Cebula suggests. “Twilight tours are happening now: You can visit the locations, even where the stars go and have lunch. And, of course, the same kind of tours happen in New York with Sex and the City. Even in Tofino, they were running some tours after New Moon was shot on the beaches. From a tourism perspective, it can be beneficial to people who are quick on the draw.”
The Twilight fervour has kick-started King’s career as a photographer, and benefited plenty of Vancouver hot-spots like the restaurants Glowbal and Chambar, where the cast hangs out and fans linger in the hope of catching a glimpse.
A chance encounter with Pattinson even helped boost a fledgling local indie singer-songwriter’s career. Earlier this year, the singularly-named Adaline, who had just released her debut CD, Famous for Fire, took to her Twitter account and mentioned she’d hugged Pattinson and had a conversation with him at a bar. The “tweet” got picked up by a Twilight fan site, which linked to her MySpace page, generating international publicity and over 75,000 plays of her music in just a few weeks.
“The Twilight fans are really like no other,” Adaline says. “‘Passionate’ is probably the best word to describe them. I’ve received thousands of messages of support from Twilight fans who are now fans of my music as well. It mainly created a greater awareness of my music, which is needed as an independent artist. In today’s music business, artists really need these kinds of breaks, so I’m grateful.”
But not every person who’s interacted with Twilight has benefited. A woman who agreed to speak with WE only on condition of anonymity had, up until last week, been operating a tour business taking fans to various Twilight locations, and pointing out other popular filming spots in Vancouver. Despite having the appropriate permits, last week she received a cease-and-desist order from Summit Entertainment, the studio behind the Twilight franchise, threatening legal action for copyright infringement. “It’s serious, and I’m scared,” she says. “They could take everything from me, and I have kids I need to support.”
She’s not permitted to offer any numbers about her own business, but said that she knew of at least a few hundred people who were arriving from all over the world to check out Twilight locations. “The average person would come for a week, stay in a five-star a hotel, and eat three meals a day, and this was a destination to see if they could meet the cast,” she says. “It’s not like a cruise ship number, but I would say people would spend several hundred dollars. I was doing a service for Tourism BC, because there’s no one out there marketing B.C. to the fans. New Moon and Eclipse could do for us what Brokeback Mountain did for Alberta.”
So far it already has. As Cebula notes, the casting for Twilight’s supporting characters prominently features local actors, particularly those in the aboriginal community. And Lui, despite her dislike for the Twilight franchise, is optimistic about the end result.
“Whatever brings the fans to Vancouver, they can appreciate it for what it really is,” she says. “How beautiful the city is, not just Twilight.” ￼