When I first started graphing seven years ago I’d hear rumors of film shoots around Boston but I could never track them down. Fleets of equipment trucks, trailers of film stars, cameras and bright lights hiding in plain sight. I would piece together slivers of intel from other collectors and the local gossip rags but I was always a step behind. That is, until I found OLV.
A comprehensive and meticulously updated website for film location and celebrity sightings, OLV is a must-read for autograph collectors around the country. I had the pleasure of interviewing its founder, Christine Bord, who offers insight into the evolution of the site and shares tips for meeting the celebrity at the top of your A-list.
Autograph University: Several of my celebrity encounters have been informed by your posts on OLV. Mark Wahlberg, Tom Cruise and Jeff Bridges come to mind. It’s an excellent resource for graphers and one of my 9 Websites Every Collector Should Bookmark. For those not familiar with your story, fill us in on why you started OLV and how it’s evolved.
Christine Bord: I originally started OLV in the fall of 2006 for a web design class I was taking in graduate school. For our final project we had to come up with an original idea for a website and then create it from scratch, making it aesthetically pleasing and informative. The idea for the site was something I had been thinking about for a long time. I had a friend I traveled with a lot at the time and while she enjoyed touring museums and seeing a city’s cultural landmarks, all I wanted to do was see celebrities, or at least see where celebrities had been (i.e., filming locations, local hang outs). I was constantly searching for this kind of information and, back then, it was very difficult to find, especially compared to the stuff she was interested in. So, knowing there was a need for this type of information, I kept the site going after the class ended. I would only update it every few days and would primarily focus on past filming locations (there are still a few cool road trips on the site that I created around themes like “the best horror movies” or “the best john Hughes’ movies”).
Within six months I started receiving emails from people trying to find current filming locations and I would put calls out on OLV asking people to share any relevant info (remember this was pre-Facebook/Twitter) and slowly this format became the foundation for today’s OLV. Around the same time I had my first big “break”. My boyfriend and I found some filming location information for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in Connecticut. We drove out there from our house in Upstate NY on a whim and it turned out to be a major score. We got great pics of Harrison Ford, Shia LaBeouf, and Steven Spielberg. As soon as I posted the photos on OLV they went viral and were picked up by several fan/entertainment websites. This was when I knew I had something. I quit my day job the following summer to pursue the site full time. That was five years ago and, as they say, the rest is history.
AU: When I hear your story—and as another person trying to build a community focused around celebrity encounters—I think about what Autograph University as a full-time gig would mean in my life. Since my son was born a year ago I’ve actually scaled back my graphing dramatically to spend time with him. As I was going through the withdrawal process I stopped following a number of Twitter accounts and sites for nearly a year (I’m off the wagon!). It had become an addiction and I needed to reduce the temptation. I can only imagine how difficult it would be tracking all the celebrity activity around me without going out every day (kind of like a recovering alcoholic working as a bartender). How do you balance star gazing and your management of OLV with other commitments and interests (e.g., family, friends, travel)?
CB: Well, it’s interesting you bring that up because honestly, and I think this is true for most people, when something becomes your job and you are no longer doing it for fun but because you have to do it to make a living, the excitement wears off a bit. Or, I guess it is actually replaced with a new kind of excitement. I’m a pretty driven person and I get just as excited when OLV hits a milestone I’ve been working toward (like the 45,000 Twitter followers I just reached last week!) as I do meeting someone I’m a fan of. That’s not to say I don’t still have the occasional awesome celeb encounter. Recently my boyfriend and I met Bryan Cranston in NYC which was a thrill since we are both huge Breaking Bad fans. And, my Twitter followers are probably sick of hearing this, but I really do love living vicariously through OLV readers. Every time someone sends me a great pic and I know they waited a long time for it or one of a celeb that’s a bit under the radar, my heart races just the same as if I were there myself!
AU: I’m sure your readers are happy to hear you’re focused first on their success. I can relate to that feeling. If I spend three hours writing a post and get an email from someone about how it’s helped them it’s almost always more fulfilling than spending the same amount of time tracking down an autograph for my own collection. Funny you mention Bryan Cranston—this week he’s been rehearsing at Harvard for a new play—knowing he’s in the area has been driving this Breaking Bad fan a little mad!
Which celeb encounter(s) stands out for you personally? Take us through the process from acquiring the information through the interaction itself. Also, are you an autograph collector? Get pictures with?
CB: I don’t collect autographs but do take photos (which always seem to come out terribly for some reason, I must not be good under pressure). There are three celeb encounters that stand out for me personally.
The first was back in 2001. The original 90210 had just ended and Luke Perry was starring in The Rocky Horror Show on Broadway. The whole idea of Dylan McKay in Rocky Horror still makes me squee! So, I dragged one of my girlfriends down to NYC to check it out and after the show we kinda lingered and tried to figure out which way he might exit. After a little while we noticed some crew-types coming in and out of a side door so we decided to hang around there. Sure enough, after about 45 minutes, Luke came out alone and we stopped him. I took a picture with him and he was really sweet and then he walked off, no car, no driver, no entourage, he just seemed very cool and normal. Of course, we followed him (keeping a safe “I’m not a total stalker” distance) and saw him duck into a bar about two blocks away.
The next was in 2006. My boyfriend is a huge U2 fan and we’ve traveled all over the world to see them, including Hawaii. We got to the arena at 6:00 a.m. to guarantee us a spot near the stage and it ended up really paying off because—and we didn’t know it at the time—but the show attracted a lot of celebs who were all escorted up front (right near us) as U2 took the stage! The entire cast of Lost (literally), Jeremy Piven (who I took a pic with), and a few others were all there. It was the best chance celeb encounter ever!
The third was just a couple of years ago at New York Comic Con. We went down because the cast of Fringe was there and though I like the show, I am one of those typical Team Pacey Dawson’s Creek fangirls. So we were waiting in line for the panel and all of a sudden Joshua Jackson walks by with a couple of handlers (again a totally random chance encounter) so I ditched my place in line and followed. When I caught up to him I asked him for a photo and his handler shooed me away before he could say anything. She was very mean and I was left with only a sad, blurry photo of Joshua Jackson. In the meantime I’ve also seen Michelle Williams and Katie Holmes and they’ve both ignored me as well so it’s kinda turned into a joke/personal mission. If I can just see James Van Der Beek in person and have him ignore me I can have the distinction of having been rudely ignored by all four members of the main cast of Dawson’s Creek! I always say it’s good to have a goal, and that’s mine!
AU: Last year you published OLV’s Field Guide to Celebrity Sighting: New York City which I highly recommend. Even though I’m based in Boston, I found it an interesting read and an excellent resource which sparked pages of notes and ideas. While the book is focused on NYC it’s simple for readers to apply the lessons toward tracking celebrity activity in their area. City-specific advice aside, what are your top celebrity tracking tips for our readers?
CB: My number one tip is to be patient. I have a lot of fans contact me and want to know the exact time they should arrive at a movie set to meet a celeb but, unfortunately, it doesn’t really work like that. In just about any scenario, whether you’re waiting at a movie premiere, book signing or movie set there is some wait time involved. The best thing to do is get there as early as you can and stay for as long as you can. Yes, it can get boring and you might not see anyone at all, but if you do, it is so worth it!
AU: I’m fascinated by the psychology behind autograph collecting. We live in a celebrity-obsessed culture and many collectors and OLV readers (myself included) operate at one extreme in this spectrum. We invest a tremendous amount of time in getting signatures or meeting celebrities and it becomes a sort of addiction. Jake Halpern had an interesting take in his book “Fame Junkies” in which he theorized that the desire to become famous and the practice of seeking proximity to celebs was a way to seek validation and fill a self-esteem gap. This really resonated with me and made me think about what truly motivates me to collect (and by extension, why I created Autograph University). What are your thoughts on why there is such demand for information that allows people to track down the famous faces they connect with on screen in contrast to society’s general underappreciation for vocations such as teaching and medicine?
CB: Interesting you bring this up because this something I’ve studied quite a bit myself (and I’ve just added “Fame Junkies” to my Must List). A lot of the material I’ve read seems to indicate we are hardwired to a) be social and b) pay close attention to those at the top. Apparently, our ancestors would study what those with the highest place in the group were doing to either try to emulate their success or get in their good graces—it was a basic survival technique. So, some speculate that the need to follow the lives of the rich and famous is how that primal need manifests itself in us today. Which makes sense to me because I think everyone to some extent is interested in the lives of celebrities, sports stars and politicians (even if they think they are too cool, or smart, or old, or whatever to admit it).
As to why some people are more interested in celebrities, and therefore more interested in meeting them, than others I think it does sometimes fill in a gap for people. I think it can be a distraction from life changes, like divorce or illness, and as far as distractions go I think it’s actually much healthier than some of the alternatives.
In my case, I am particularly drawn to TV stars because I think when you follow these characters week in and week out you form a kind of relationship with them. There is something comforting about it. I’m not sure if I mentioned this but I graduated from high school two years after the kids on the original Beverly Hills 90210. I didn’t have the best high school experience so escaping into the world of West Bev every week kind of filled in the gaps for me (as I’m sure it did for many teens in the 90s). Today, I couldn’t tell you any of the birthdays of my actual classmates but I know Donna Martin was born on Christmas Day. So, in terms of why we choose to follow (both figuratively and literally) celebrities, I think the obvious answer is that their characters are in our homes with us on a weekly or sometimes daily basis, we know the details of their fictional and real lives (I also happen to know that Tori Spelling’ birthday is May 16!) and we rarely have that connection with physicians or teachers, or anyone outside of our close circle of family and friends really.
AU: With OLV’s help you can track down where celebrities are filming but when it comes to making the approach for an autograph you’re on your own. The first time I visited a set in Boston—for a movie called Locked In starring Eliza Dushku—I had no idea where to stand and I self-consciously milled about in the shadows for over an hour until they took a break. When Ted was filming I parked myself off to the side until a PA approached me and asked me to move out of the shot. What are your tips for engaging a celebrity for a signature or photo once you’re on location?
CB: I think the best thing to do if you’re on a movie set is to stay out of the way, be polite, and be ready to wait. If you’re just trying to meet someone and aren’t as concerned with seeing what scene they are shooting, I think it’s a good idea to wait near their trailers (usually the trailers will be labeled with the actor’s name or their character’s name). They will sometimes be more receptive to stopping for a minute if they are done shooting and headed back to their trailer. Of course, this is where common sense prevails. If you stay calm and politely ask for a photo or autograph as they pass by they will usually oblige.
Christine’s book, OLV’s Field Guide to Celebrity Sighting: New York City, is available now. I highly recommend you pick up a copy.