Shoot to thrill: Inside the world of paparazzi

Saturday January 5 2013



In showbiz, celebrities are the currency and the mega international stars, who are some of the most sought after personalities are a prized possession. Millions are obsessed by them and their pictures circulate far and wide.

Welcome to the world of Paparazzi. A celebrities’ life is their business. A picture is worth a thousand words but in this business, it is a multi-billion dollar industry that depends exclusively on the hawk-eyed and blunt behaviour of the people celebrities love to hate.

They are relentless in their pursuit of their targets and their pictures, mostly unflattering, fetch millions from gossip magazines that splash the pictures on their covers.

Fans love to see their stars look “ordinary” without make up and doing daily chores like shopping, walking their dogs, hanging out with family and yes, even eating. The magazines of course make millions but for the celebrities, the target of the mega zoom lenses, it is a bitter-sweet relationship.

A celebrities worth can be told by the number of cameras that come out whenever they leave their houses. The whole A-List celebrities rank is based on how much a particular celebrity’s picture is in demand.

Also, the more a celebrity is seen in magazines, the higher the demand to have them in movies, endorsing products and releasing music. It shows the fans know them and they draw attention. It’s a typical catch-22 situation.

Stars like Beyonce, Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, Angelina Jolie, Halle Berry, Kanye West, David Beckham, Kim Kardashian are some of the most sought after by the paparazzi and a picture can easily sell a magazine and that means more money for the cameraman as he can make thousands of dollars off one picture.

The more scandalous or unflattering the picture is, the higher it sells for. If one can get a picture of Beyonce without make up and chowing down on food like a commoner, or her kissing another man that is not her husband rap mogul, Jay-Z, then the paparazzi can afford to take a vacation to St Barts. Pictures of newborns are also a prized commodity.

They will go to any lengths for that one picture and it doesn’t always end well. Many are still stunned by the death of a 29-year-old photographer who was hit by a car and killed on Tuesday as he crossed the road after snapping pictures of teen sensation Justin Bieber’s new white Ferrari.

Police in Los Angeles said the 18-year-old Canadian-born heart throb was not in the luxury sports car when it was pulled over for speeding on New Year’s Day and the unidentified photographer was hit by an oncoming vehicle.

“While I was not present nor directly involved with this tragic accident, my thoughts and prayers are with the family of the victim,” said Bieber in a statement relayed to several US showbiz websites.

The death of the camera man has reignited the debate in Hollywood on whether the paparazzi need to be reined in and several celebrities took to social media to blast the people who were labelled as “the last of the real hunters” in the movie Paparazzi wanted tougher laws.

Actor and singer Miley Cyrus slammed paparazzi after the death calling them “dangerous” and saying such an incident “was bound to happen.”

“Hope this paparazzi/JB accident brings on some changes in ‘13,” the singer/actress tweeted Tuesday night. “Paparazzi are dangerous! Wasn’t Princess Di enough of a wake up call?!”

The death of Princess Diana on 31 August 1997 was blamed on paparazzi who were in hot pursuit of her and boyfriend Dodi Fayed.

One of the most famous of paparazzi’s, Ron Galella is best known for hounding Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis from New York to the Greek Isles for years, a situation that culminated in a 1973 restraining order banning him from coming within 125 feet (38 metres) of the former first lady.

After that, Galella still would don disguises, hideaway in trees and taxis and even violate his restraining order in order get another image of Jackie O.

They use many tactics to get that one photo that nobody else will or can and like Galella, they can follow one star abroad.

When Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt travelled to Namibia for the birth of their daughter, they literally closed down the country for the period she was there largely to keep away the paparazzi who wanted to have the first pictures of their daughter Shiloh.

Think it’s not a big deal? The first picture of Shiloh was sold to People magazine for a staggering $4.1 million (Sh340 million) but no paparazzi benefited from this as the Jolie and Pitt were the ones who provided the pictures.

Time magazine’s Style & Design special issue in 2005 ran a story, “Shooting Star”, in which Mel Bouzad, one of the top paparazzi in Los Angeles at the time, claimed to have made $150,000 for a picture of Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez in Georgia after their breakup.

It does not matter who you are, if you are a major public figure, the paparazzi will get you.

The Duchess of Cambridge was recently snapped topless as she sunbathed in September at Chateau d’Autet, a holiday retreat in Provence in a move that sparked outrage in Britain.

Prince William, according to the Daily Mail, called for the photographer responsible to be jailed – a possibility which is technically possible thanks to France’s strict privacy laws.

Daily Mail said Laurence Pieau, the woman editor of French Closer, a gossip magazine, hired a freelance photographer to watch the couple during their holiday at Chateau d’Autet, but refused to name the person.

Mrs Pieau accused William and Kate of over-reacting to the pictures, saying: ‘I can imagine that these photographs displease them, but once again these photographs are not degrading, they are joyous - they are in love, she is very pretty.’

Under French law, photographers are viewed as journalistic contacts and are accordingly protected from identification.

According to the Independent, the term “paparazzo” was popularised in Federico Fellini’s 1960 masterpiece La Dolce Vita. Fellini had remembered a school friend whose fidgety movements and constant energy had earned him the nickname “paparazzo” (“mosquito”), and the character of Signore Paparazzo, a news photographer, was born.

They charter choppers to fly over celebrity weddings, they stake out their houses for days just to get them leave their door and even pretend to be hotel workers to gain access to their rooms.

With a picture promising to sell millions, they can afford to pull all the stops to get their star and even with the death of one of their own, it does not seem like this will stop anytime soon.

So profitable is the paparazzi business that the world’s richest man, Bill Gates’ Corbis photo agency bought the world’s top paparazzi agency, Splash News.

According to abc news, the agency employs roughly 1,000 photographers across the world and operates an extensive network of paid informants. Kevin Smith, one of its founders says they have “tipsters” in hotels, restaurants, theatres, hospitals and airports, including about 100 doormen, bartenders and chauffeurs in Los Angeles alone.

Among other things, Splash News uses this network of tipsters to keep track of who is flying when and where, and it closely monitors publicly accessible police reports.

“Hardly anything happens in this city without our finding out about it,” says Smith, who claims he could find almost anyone within a day. For this knowledge, he depends primarily on his photo reporters, a close-knit group that refers to itself as the CIA, or “Celebrity Intelligence Agency.”