"So You Want to Be a Paparazzo?"
by Dan Kapelovitz
I'm sitting shotgun in a white Ford Bronco equipped with tinted windows
and more than $20,000 of camera equipment. Manning the wheel is Jason
Kirk, one of approximately 70 full-time paparazzi working in Hollywood.
After receiving a photojournalism degree, Kirk shot for a Palm
Springs-area newspaper and then Online USA (which has since become part of Getty Images). A few years ago, the lensman decided to strike out on his own as a freelance paparazzo. "It's hit and miss," says Kirk, who can work entire days without making a penny, "but it's better money."
Our first destination is the Osbournes' Beverly Hills home to see if any
of the reality-TV superstars are hanging outside, or better yet, on
their way somewhere exciting. Unfortunately, Ozzy, his wife and their
spawn are nowhere to be found.
Paparazzi often work in pairs or in groups. Today Kirk is working with a
fellow photographer; they'll split whatever money they make evenly,
regardless of who actually shoots the pictures. Teaming up reduces the
risk of a total waste of a day since one of them is bound to come up with something. Two or more paparazzi can also follow a celebrity less conspicuously by switching off the "lead car," closest to the subject, and multiple photographers allow for multiple camera angles.
After scoping the Osbourne's residence, we cruise over to Brad Pitt's new home, where the city has recently installed a phalanx of NO PARKING ANY TIME signs on his stretch of the street, a not-so-subtle rebuke to the paparazzi who would ordinarily be embedded curbside.
We are forced to park around the corner behind two other paparazzi who
are already waiting for Pitt. From our position, we can't even see the
movie star's house, but when the other photographers take off, the chase
will be on. Kirk tells me that he's seen up to seven photographers chase
a celebrity at the same time. In fact, yesterday, that's exactly how
many paparazzi waited for Pitt's to come out. He never did.
As we wait for Mr. Pitt to emerge from his not-so-humble abode, Kirk
gives me the ins and outs of the business: "You never know how much a
picture is going to sell for until it actually sells. Sometimes you'll
get $40,000 for pictures; you're like, 'Those pictures are crap.' "
When People magazine and US Weekly want the same photo, a bidding war
ensues, and the price skyrockets. "Usually People will outbid US," says
Kirk. "People has a little bit deeper pockets. I've seen pictures that
would sell for $5,000, and People and US will just get a hair up their
ass, and they will sell for $30,000." Sometimes a magazine will buy
pictures just to prevent another publication from running them.
Kirk estimates that the average yearly salary of an independent
paparazzo is $100,000 to $150,000. But if a photographer can snap the ultimate picture, he can make that much in a single day. The now-famous shot of Cameron Diaz and Justin Timberlake kissing on a surfboard in Hawaii earned the photographers involved approximately $200,000.
"I get two or three good hits every year," says Kirk. "I haven't had any
big hits in the last couple months."
Kirk's last "good hit" was a picture of Jennifer Lopez climbing out of a
car. He was shooting eight-frames-per-second and didn't realize until
after he developed his slides, that he had hit the tabloid Jackpot: a
shot up J. Lo's skirt, revealing her pantyhose-covered crotch. The
picture was worth more than a thousand words; it earned Kirk tens of
thousands of dollars.
Kirk's biggest payday, however, came during the filming of The Mexican,
starring Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts. Kirk and his partner spent a few
days in the middle of a Nevada desert, shooting behind-the-scenes
action. They got great pictures the first few days they were there; so,
no longer caring if they were caught, they grew more bold. "We were
about 100 yards from the set, and they finally saw us. They thought we
got pictures of Brad Pitt taking a piss, where you could see his cock;
so they sent a security guy after us. He was like, 'We can take your
film; you're trespassing.' We called the cops, who came over and said
they can't take our film. We weren't trespassing; we were in the middle
of nowhere. So we're driving away--we're four or five miles from the
set, on this two-lane highway--and coming at us is a big Chevy truck.
They ran us off the road and blocked our car in. They had their guns drawn. They pulled us out of the car, handcuffed us and tried to take our stuff. I was trying to call the cops, and they took my phone out of my hands. A passerby driving down the road sees what's happening and tells the cops that someone's getting robbed. The cops come down. And it turns out that the guys chasing us were security from the movie. The cops ended up arresting the security guys for burglary with a deadly weapon and false imprisonment with a deadly weapon. We ended up suing Dreamworks and the production company. We had a pretty good settlement," explains Kirk as we continue to lie in wait for Brad. (Maybe we'll luck out, and his bodyguard will beat us up.)
Pitt still hasn't left his house--that bastard. Doesn't he realize that
he's wasting so many people's valuable time? Kirk's partner arrives, and
we decide to try our luck elsewhere. We follow Kirk's buddy to Madonna's
new house, located on Sunset Blvd. They marvel at
what a choice spot for their work this will be; while waiting to follow
Madonna, they can scope out other celebrities driving up and
down the boulevard. In addition to being like a human star map who knows where hundreds of celebrities reside, Kirk has memorized the makes, models, colors and even the last three digits of the license-plate numbers of many celebrity-owned vehicles.
Madonna's not home, so we cruise past the Ivy just for fun. My guide
doesn't usually to go to the overpriced eatery since there is always at
least one paparazzo out front, preventing him from obtaining exclusive
shots. Plus, celebrities at the Ivy are easy pickings. "If a celebrity
wants their picture taken, they go to the Ivy," says Kirk. (They
definitely don't go there for the food.)
Next, we drive to Fred Segal's on Melrose to sniff out celeb action
and to get some coffee. According to Kirk, an employee here used to call him whenever someone famous arrived. The tipster has since been fired and was pretty useless anyway since he'd call numerous paparazzi at the same time, each of whom would give him $20.
We order drinks and pastries and sit at a table outside, keening
our eyes for celebrity subject matter. I go to the restroom, and when I
return, Kirk is sitting in his vehicle, waving me over. He has placed a
metallic reflector along the inside of the windows.
Kirk's extremely long-lensed camera is aimed toward the rear passenger window. Actor Michael Rapaport has arrived with his kid and a friend. Pictures of Rapaport by himself are pretty worthless (unless he was currently involved in, say, a domestic dispute), but really good, clean pictures of him and his child might fetch up to $1,500. We are in perfect position. We can see out, but Rapaport can't see in. Kirk calls one of his partners, a French photographer who, though he has never heard of Rapaport, agrees to meet us in the parking lot. Kirk snaps a number of pictures of the actor feeding and holding his kid.
They leave, and we follow. "You always follow the celebrity," says Kirk.
"They might go to a park or something." Plus, Kirk is hoping to find out
where Rapaport lives. If a magazine is interested in these photos, it
might want more.
Rapaport, child and his friend climb into a black Lincoln Navigator.
We--Kirk and me in one car, and his French partner in another--follow
him to a house in Beverly Hills. A woman walks up to the car, and they all talk for awhile before Rapaport drives off. He goes over the Hollywood Hills into the San Fernando Valley, where he parks in front of and walks into a Baby's World. Less than a minute later (and without having purchased anything), he gets back into his car and speeds off. He heads back into Hollywood, basically driving in a huge circle. "Zis guy is pissing me off," says the French photographer over the Nextel phone.
The paparazzi take turns following the Navigator more closely, trying to remain incognito while darting in and out of traffic. Rapaport makes a sudden U-turn in the middle of the street. We dangerously follow suit, just missing the oncoming cars.
"Am I going to lose my life over a two-bit actor like Michael Rapaport?"
I ask myself as we narrowly avoid another string of collisions. Rapaport
eventually goes back in the same direction he was in before the U-turn drama. Is he lost? Is he trying to lose us? Or is he just a moron? It's unclear. Perhaps it's all of the above.
The Rapster's buddy hops out of the SUV to look at seat covers. We get a call from another one of Kirk's accomplices who informs us that he knows where Rap-o lives. Since we now know that we can find his house any time we want, and because it's all the way in bu-fu Malibu, we decide it's a waste of time to keep following the seemingly confused thespian. (If it were Britney Spears, that would be another story.) Kirk drops me off and heads home, hoping that the Rapaport-feeds-his-kid pix will make today's outing worthwhile. (It turns out they didn't sell. "They were great pictures," says Kirk. "But they were of Michael Rapaport.")
The next day, Kirk calls and tells me that right after he dropped me
off, an amazing thing happened: He drove to his apartment, and someone
was parked in his driveway, blocking his way. He couldn't see inside the
car because the windows were heavily tinted. He honked the horn, and a
window lowered, revealing an apologetic Kelly Osbourne in the driver
seat. Kirk couldn't believe his luck. She backed out of the driveway,
and Kirk called his partners. They followed Kelly and snapped some shots
of her antique-furniture shopping. (These pictures sold.)
This just goes to show that you never know where celebrities might lurk.
Instead of following a Rapaport all over town, Kirk could have just hung
out in front of his house and waited for an Osbourne.
(This article first appeared in the January 2005 issue of Men's Edge Magazine)
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