Paying for 15 minutes of fame in LA
In Los Angeles -- the land of paparazzi, dazzling dental work and endless glitz -- it turns out that you, too, can be hot enough to draw a crowd. For a price, of course.
Crowds on Demand is the brainchild of a young entrepreneur who came up with a novel idea for giving everyday people a taste of fame, even if it is brief and bogus.
The Oscars are coming up on Sunday, but you don't need to win an Academy Award to have a following.
But why would anyone fork over several thousand dollars for artificial adulation?
"They do it for popularity, or they want to impress somebody," said company founder Adam Swart.
In Los Angeles or back in equally image-conscious New York City, Crowds on Demand arranges "fans" for tourists seeking fun or companies that need, say, clusters of people to promote something.
"Tourists love it because they're getting a fun experience here. When you visit LA, what is more of an authentic LA experience than to be treated like a celebrity?" said Swart, who is just 21 and studies political science at the University of California, Los Angeles.
"And best of all, our guys won't follow you home."
His bread and butter are little known actors trying to get ahead in Tinseltown.
Swart says that since he founded his company in October -- it is already turning a profit, he notes -- he has worked with supporting-role types, or TV actors, or movie scene extras.
"For example, we had one event where they were going to lunch with, I guess it was an important agent, and they wanted to appear that they were more important than they were," he explained.
"So, as they were leaving the restaurant, having fans there makes you seem more important and that increases your status in the relationship," said the impresario.
The company hires anywhere from five to 100 actors to play the role of fans.
On his website, Swart advertises simulated airport arrival welcomes for $4,999 and rallies for $9,999.
In November, for instance, an online advertising company called Virurl ponied up for a fake demo against traditional ad formats.
"We needed this service because it would have been a nightmare to recruit 100 actors and execute compensation and release agreements," said Virurl CEO Francisco Diaz-Mitoma.
"We saw immediate benefits of press, potential partners and advertisers. We ended up being covered by dozens of media sources," he added.
In a demonstration arranged for this AFP article, Swart hired a few actors and had them follow Jack Minor, a guy utterly unknown to the general public, as he walked along posh Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.
"Let's say you're the duke of Lancastershire," Swart told Minor. And off he went.
As Minor, also an actor, strolled past the window displays of Cartier, Hugo Boss, Valentino and Yves Saint Laurent, his fake fans stayed in hot pursuit and the paparazzi-for-hire kept his video camera rolling.
One lady who walked by commiserated, saying, "It's so terrible to be a star, poor boy."
Minor had not walked a block when cars started slowing down, a bus full of excited tourists stopped and the crowd had grown to 20 people, all in a lather and chattering as to who this man might be after snapping pictures of him -- a total impostor.
Swart told them it was a VIP from England.
"I love to hear people speculate," Swart said.
A bit further on, outside the Hermes store, several passersby stopped and asked Minor for his autograph. A cop told another rubber-necker he thought Minor was a soccer player.
"I told you, nothing attracts a crowd like a crowd," Swart said.
"That's the whole idea of celebrity. What really defines fame? It's all about what others think."