A few weeks back Sandra Bullock emerged from her home only to be swarmed by cameras and questions during what seemed to be one of the most difficult points in her life.
I, for one, will take responsibility for this episode.
Why? Because without my viewing the pictures strewn across the TV, internet, and magazines, these photographers would not be there. (Yes, I'll admit it - at times I do isolate with TMZ and a pint of Ben and Jerry's.)
When I hear the word "Paparazzi," I often envision a multi-headed hydra stampeding A-list celebrities on Sunset Blvd who are just trying to have a meal in peace. However, if I want someone to blame for these camera-wielding individuals, I need to look in the mirror.
Who are these Paparazzi photographers that you see lingering in front of the Ivy on Robertson? According to Owen Beiny, Director of Operations for World Entertainment News Network (WENN), a leading celebrity news and picture agency, there are two types of paparazzi. The classic paparazzi are career photographers; they know the industry and everyone in it. They know whose face will bring in mega bucks and whose will be left on the cutting room floor. The best ones don't even need to get out of their cars to catch their shot.
Then there are what Beiny terms the "pooparazzi" - everyone else with a camera and an email server looking to make a quick buck for capturing Heidi Montag after her 25th plastic surgery. These types of photogs tend to be more aggressive and don't follow the paparazzi codes. "The major difference between the paparazzi and the 'pooparazzi' is that the 'pooparazzi' make a mess and create a scene. Because they use short lenses and not long lenses they need to stand right in front of the celebrity. It makes a mess for everyone including the paparazzi, the bystanders, the celebrity and the police," says Beiny.
And these days, the number of "pooparazzi" is growing exponentially. Any tourist on Rodeo can get a great photo and send it in. Hell, if I just had my iPhone with me at the gym yesterday, I could have gotten a great shot of a young starlet-who-shall-remain-nameless half passed out on the StairClimber.
We are all familiar with the stars' laments over this ever-growing business. But at least their bank accounts aren't suffering. "I have seen a 50% drop from 2008 to what I am making now," says Giles Harrison, one of the most notable and reliable freelance photographers for Splash News. Thanks to the ubiquitous nature of the internet, images sometimes only sell for pennies. Ten years ago, a photographer could get $10,000 for an exclusive set of pictures. But now, mass production has flattened the demand.
"Say you sell it (picture) to US Weekly," Harrison explains, "if someone else sells it to a daily British Newspaper, the whole world sees the pictures before it goes to print. They aren't paying that money for exclusives anymore." Gary Morgan, CEO of Splash News, the largest global provider of paparazzi footage and content, agrees that "a lot of photographers used to make their money from exclusives but now it tends to be more of a volume game. It is high volume and low price point. People tend to buy these photos in bulk so the industry is supporting more and more photographers."
Both men agreed that this rise in photographer competition is causing photographers to be more aggressive with their subjects. But consider the symbiotic relationship between the photographer and photographee. "People don't realize exactly how intertwined the publicists are with magazines and the magazines with photographers," says Harrison. "Those are the backroom deals that exist in order for celebrities to make money. The Heidis (Montag) of the world routinely strike deals with the (photography) agencies and if they don't their publicists do in order to give them (the celebrity) plausible deniability."
In fact, according to Morgan, Harrison, and Beiny, there are hundreds of unwritten rules, agreements, and understandings between legitimate paparazzi and celebrities. In our culture, "celebrity" is created. Hollywood needs to work with publicists, studios and the paparazzi in order to ensure that the star gets exposure. Without publicity, there is no buzz, and consequently, the celebrity's "price" is adversely affected. And just as there is more competition among paparazzi, so is the case among celebrities. Stardom is no longer confined to the likeness of Academy Award winning performances but has extended to shop owners, like the Kardashians; housewives, like Bethenny Frankel; and daughters of talent, such as Nicole Richie. Unlike the "Meryl Streeps" and "Robert Duvalls" of the world, these new flavors of the week need to sit at the Ivy or shop at Kitson on a Saturday with the knowledge that their countenance will be recognized and photographed. Even more surprisingly, some less famous celebs actually cut deals with the paparazzi to get photographed and then split the money received for the photo with the celeb. In other words, celebrities are paparazzi savvy.
"If they don't want to be photographed, the number one place you don't go is the Ivy," says Harrison. "When Tom Cruise started dating Katie Holmes they rode up on a motorcycle together. In the last 4 or 5 years they have been together, I haven't seen them there at all... If you really want to avoid it, there are ways to avoid it. They (celebrities) claim they don't like the paparazzi but you see them out there all the time. There are lots of celebrities that are capable of leading normal lives. You don't see Will Smith in the tabloids because he chooses not to be."
"Paparazzi are really just a cog in the Hollywood PR machine," explains Morgan. "Hollywood needs to put butts in the seats and celebrities want to control their images. They do that in tiny ways like interviews but they can't dictate how they are seen in public. That is where we come in. It is a way a celebrity can gain their control back. A publicist or celebrity will do a deal with the paparazzi to either do a staged shot at the beach or something so it still looks like a real shot. There are other times when they get paid money to give their first shots of something. This is the fastest growing part of the business."
So for those who think that stars and starlets are the hapless victims of vulturous paparazzi, consider who's really in the driver's seat here. I find this argument is akin to blaming McDonald's for serving french fries. If I get fat eating Big Macs and Vanilla Shakes, should I blame the drive through on Ventura Blvd for serving me? It's my choice to consume. Although I can provide valid arguments to pin the blame on the enticing food and advertising industry, at the end of the day, it is my responsibility to shut my mouth. Similarly, the onus is not only on ME to stop buying these celebrities' images, but also on the celebrities themselves to stop participating in the Hollywood Fame Game if they really feel victimized.
So while we are so quick to blame the industry that is simply providing the product that we demand, we must remember that we have the choice to pick it up or not. Morgan concurs, "Paparazzi don't force people to read or look at a picture of a certain celebrity. We are a reactive industry. The public tells the media what they want to see and media companies buy the content. That then directs the paparazzi to photograph certain people. The ultimate driver is the American people." Similarly Beiny said, "If people wanted to see a grapefruit or a pineapple fall out of a tree or see a particular table and chairs, you had better bet that we would fly around the world to get that shot. We don't choose the content, you do."
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