The cherry on top of “Nerd Prom” Thursday night was the obnoxious male guest who showed up to E St. Cinema film debut in a limo.
“Either I’m having a flashback fever dream or Tareq Salahi just got out of a limo at the premiere of [Patrick Gavin’s Nerd Prom],” said CNN’s Matt Dornic on Twitter.
It wasn’t a dream.
Nor was Tareq, who provided quotes in promos for the film, with Michaele Salahi, the Barbie blonde he wore on his arm when he sneaked into a White House state dinner in 2009. The couple split after the fame of their party crashing days waned.
This time he had a new female in tow.
“Rolled in with some Botoxed to hell girlfriend,” an attendee told The Mirror. “Vanity on the license plate on limo read ‘US CONG.'”
What a perfectly putrid visual for “Nerd Prom,” a new documentary by ex-Politico reporter Patrick Gavin that takes a swipe at a weekend many look forward to each year. The premiere turned out a slew of This Towners Thursday night in downtown Washington. Many faces in the crowd were also in the film. There was The Daily Banter’s White House correspondent Tommy Christopher, former ABC News White House radio correspondent Ann Compton, UrbanDaddy editor Jeff Dufour, Hollywood on the Potomac‘s Janet Donovan, Microsoft’s Lee Brenner, RealClearPolitics’ Carl Cannon, BrightRoll ad exec Kenny Day and WSJ‘s Byron Tau.
The premise of the film is how repugnant the White House Correspondents’ Dinner has become over the decades. The coziness between the administration and reporters. The over extravagance. The loss of focus — White House correspondents are not a priority, if they ever were.
It’s not the film Gavin set out to make — he originally intended it to be more of a portrait. But as he waded into the story and confronted his own access issues, the vanity and self-celebritization, he took a sharply critical turn against Washington’s biggest, glitziest event of the year.
“As I started doing interviews, I just kind of realized the things the week was supposed to be about weren’t holding up,” he explained to the audience after the movie.
Christopher, a breakout star in the film, plays a central role. Gavin purposely stands him in front of the Washington Hilton, where the dinner is held, with his signature top hat, shoddy suit and a gigantic sign that reads: “Come meet a White House correspondent.”
Granted, he looks somewhat crazy and maybe homeless.
In the film, swarms of White House Correspondents’ Dinner guests fly right on by with no interest whatsoever in meeting him.
“I look like I smell good, right?” he asks the camera.
Off-screen, Christopher was pleased.
“I loved the film, it was not at all what I expected. From the bit we shot together, I envisioned a two-hour Tom Brokaw rant against the dinner, but Patrick made a very entertaining film that made important points about journalism,” Christopher told The Mirror when asked about the fil and his role in it. “As for my part in the film, Patrick made my very small contribution much more memorable than I expected it to be, and I was gratified by how well it played with the audience at the screening. It’s nice to finally be in a movie where I’m not the villain!”
At last year’s dinner, Christopher secured a ticket, but was cryptic on how or through who. “The only people who don’t want to go to the dinner are the ones who don’t get in,” he told The Daily Caller at a pre-dinner cocktail party.
After the final film credits rolled, Gavin sat for a 30-minute Q & A with lefty radio host Bill Press, who has attended about a zillion White House Correspondents’ Dinners.
Press said when he attended the dinner, he always brought U.S. senators.
“I’ve been in Washington so long and am as guilty as anyone in this room,” he said of partaking in what can be weeklong festivities leading up to the actual dinner. On taking politicians as guests as opposed to Hollywood starlets like Kim Kardashian, he said, “I guess I take this dinner too damn seriously,”
Press said he attended a New Yorker party one year. It’s a notoriously hard, if not impossible, ticket to obtain as it’s specifically designed to be off the record. He tried to bring a cameraman, which wasn’t easy until Press told gatekeepers that he was his husband.
They strolled right in.
A woman from the “Nerd Prom” audience piped up. “I am not a journalist,” she says. “I am not a Washington insider.”
Press asked pointedly, “How did you get in here tonight?”
(Insider-y journos laughed.)
Gavin defended his characterization of how dumbed down the reporting at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner typically is. Questions usually include “Who are you wearing?” and “Are you looking forward to meeting Justin Bieber?”
“Well, I don’t think the film criticizes silly reporting,” he said. “I make fun of myself.”
That he does. And Hollywood stars. And publicists who wouldn’t let him anywhere near their parties.
At one of the more embarrassing gotcha moments in the film, Gavin asks stars like TV’s Glee Matthew Morrison to name his or her favorite White House correspondent. Not a single star can name an actual correspondent. One points to FNC’s Greta Van Susteren. Another says MSNBC’s Chris Matthews. Still another says FNC’s Bill O’Reilly. None of whom are White House correspondents.
Capitol File Magazine probably comes off the worst, but then again they are among the few news outlets that gave Gavin access. They let him in to film an editorial meeting in which they discuss just who will get invited to their White House Correspondents’ party. In jaw-dropping reality, the catty sounding women talk about who’s done something for them and who hasn’t. And no, there will be no plus one’s on invites.
U.S. News & World Report‘s Nikki Schwab bravely puts herself under the camera’s glare by subjecting herself to interviews while a hairdresser mounts her hair into an undo. The hairstyle is never actually completed, leaving the look in a spectacularly stagnancy of disarray.
Staple cameos dotted throughout the film include former Politico reporter Anne Schroeder Mullins, White House Chronicle’s Llewellyn King, American Urban Radio White House correspondent April Ryan and TV One’s Roland Martin.
In the Q&A, Gavin stressed that he really isn’t opposed to the dinner. He just doesn’t want it to be Washington’s signature event. He’d like it knocked down a rung or five.
He goes into excruciating detail about the trouble he had gaining access to the dinner and its parties in the making of his film. After he left Politico, he says, his access instantly dried up. Within 24 hours, few publicists would give him the time of day or let him into their parties.
This included the White House Correspondents’ Association, which has to be seething right now at how badly it comes off in the film. “I was disappointed that the association wouldn’t let me into the dinner as the first person to make a documentary about it,” Gavin told moviegoers. “I completely get that it’s a critical take. This is not a rosy scenario. I’m not going to lie about that. I tried to make sure it was fair.”
Gavin takes a whack at the association itself, documenting that a lot of the money that comes in goes to the executive director. He wonders repeatedly why they don’t just ask people and news outlets for donations.
“The town’s priorities are out of whack,” said Gavin. “I actually don’t have a problem with the dinner or if people don’t want me to be at their parties. That’s up to them.”
At one point, Press asks incredulously, “What’s wrong with letting your hair down and having a good time?” he asks.
Gavin replies, “Zero.”
But he just doesn’t want this being Washington’s Super Bowl.
Among the specifics on how Gavin thinks the WHCD needs to change:
* Remove the red carpets.
* “I think one topic — press freedoms — they should make a bigger stink about it,” he says. “Grill them a little beat.” (He’s referring to the association criticizing the president for lack of press access.)
* Mention who donated to the association and who did not.
Gavin said he largely wants his film to be a love letter to journalists. “It’s not sexy to support journalists,” said Gavin, who covered the media beat for several years, including a four-year stint at FishbowlDC. “We haven’t exactly endeared ourselves to people.”
Quotables/Notables: Patrick Gavin, leading a small gaggle of moviegoers in the direction of the wrong theater: “Don’t follow me, I’m the director.” A woman on her way out: “I didn’t like the ending.” A woman who works at the State Dept. (a “chatting hen” as a journo described her) remarked, “What kind of world is he living in?” He, of course, meaning Gavin.
What was left on the cutting room floor: Gavin says a female reporter bragged that she ate Zach Galifianakis‘ beef jerky. (We’ll go ahead and assume she meant actual cuisine.)
Spotted in the crowd…
Ex-Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), IJR‘s Benny Johnson, NBC’s Olivia Petersen, Bullfight strategies and syndicated columnist Karl Frisch, radio host Bill Press, Politico‘s Daniel Lippman, WaPo‘s Perry Bacon, NRSC’s Brad Dayspring and wife, CNN’s Lauren Pretapas, C-SPAN Communications Director Howard Mortman and Jeremy Art, TWT‘s Joe Curl, Yahoo! News‘ Garance Franke-Ruta, Christina Sevilla, public liaison at office of the U.S. Trade Representative, CNN political director David Chalian, Daily Caller‘s Christopher Bedford, CNN’s Matt Dornic, Politico‘s Alex Isenstadt, CNN’s Erin McPike and Washington Examiner‘s Eddie Scarry.