The Audubon Society’s Guide to Celebrity Watching

Park City, Utah, is a beautiful, pristine land that brims with wildlife during all the seasons of the year. But it is only during the Sundance Film Festival that it is home to Earth’s rarest, most valuable creatures: celebrities.

Not many celebrities are indigenous to Utah. The air is too thin, the liquor too inaccessible. They prefer to live in the more fertile climes of California. The few celebrities that are native to the Beehive State tend to be lesser sub-species, like Wilford Brimley. And the types rarely mix: If Wilford Brimley were to try to join a pack of Hollywood celebrities, they would tear his ample, walrusy flesh from his bones.

But once a year, California celebrities converge on Park City like elephants returning to their ancestral burial grounds. And that is when you, the novice celebrity-spotter, can see them up close, in all their splendor, grooming their feathers, preening for observers, or smoking cigarettes.

The best place for a celebrity sighting is at a screening of a movie in which that celebrity appears. Most celebrities love nothing more than to see themselves — in a mirror if that’s all that’s available, but ideally, projected onto a 30-foot screen. In general, if the film’s stars are in town, they’ll be at the public showings. This is particularly true during the first weekend of the festival, and at the first showing of the movie. By mid-week, and by the third or fourth screening, they’ve begun to lose interest even in themselves and have wandered off in search of alcohol.

Main Street is also a fine spot for celebrity-watching, though most of the time it is clogged not with celebrities, but with people who are looking for celebrities. Still, actual celebrities do wander its sidewalks during the festival.

How do you know a celebrity when you see one? First of all, be aware that all celebrities are short. Take your own height, then subtract nine inches. That is how tall celebrities are. If you see a man who is taller than 6 feet, or a woman above 5 foot 4, that person is not a celebrity.

Most Sundance-goers wear their passes on lanyards around their necks. Celebrities do not. Anyone wearing such an item is not a celebrity. Ignore such people. They can do you no good.

What should you do if you come in contact with an actual celebrity? You’ve probably heard the adage that “they’re as scared of you as you are of them.” But that theory is usually applied to bears, not celebrities. It’s not true of celebrities, and it’s probably not true of bears, either. Celebrities are not frightened of you in the least. They are insecure and emotionally needy, but they have those itches scratched by their entourages and by “Entertainment Tonight” reporters, not by the likes of you.

Celebrities are in a tough spot at Sundance. They want to relax and have a good time and lick the sweat off Harvey Weinstein’s feet, but they’re also aware that by roaming the streets of Park City in late January, they are practically begging to be harassed by star-struck moviegoers. It’s not like you’ve barged into their houses and demanded autographs, in other words.

That said, don’t ask for autographs. It’s silly and provincial. Instead, if you find yourself in close proximity to a celebrity you recognize, and if you have sincere things to say to him or her, do so casually and without making a fuss. “Hey, I really liked you in ‘Road House'” would be a perfectly appropriate thing to say to Patrick Swayze, assuming you actually did like him in “Road House.” “HOLY CRAP, IT’S PATRICK SWAYZE!!! YOU ARE SO AWESOME!!!” would be wholly inappropriate.

What if you can identify a celebrity but can’t remember what you’ve seen him in? Say nothing. Under no circumstances should you say, “Hey, you’re Sam Elliott, right? What do I recognize you from?” It would make Sam Elliott feel awkward, especially since he was in “Road House,” too, and he saw the way you fawned over Patrick Swayze.

By the same token, do not say, “Hey, I know you! I’ve seen you in stuff! What’s your name again?” It makes you look foolish, it makes the celebrity feel foolish, and it brings shame and degradation upon the whole Sundance community.

Above all, don’t point and gawk and stare. Be cool, you know? Act like you’ve been somewhere. Sundance is a laidback sort of place. Mingle with the celebrities as if they were ordinary animals, not the holy, blameless creatures we know them to be.

This was published a day earlier in one of Salt Lake City Weekly's special Sundance editions. I was a correspondent for that paper during the festival, and we published a few pre-written pieces like this along with the daily content.

City Weekly was also printing abbreviated versions of my daily Sundance diaries, calling them "Snide Remarks" for the name-recognition factor. Meanwhile, this column, which I consider a true "Snide Remarks," was called something else. ("Gawk of Fame." Arts editor Scott Renshaw has always been better at coming up with clever titles than I am.)