Things You Only Know If You’re A Female Paparazzo
The Debrief: Some celebs take a percentage of the earnings on their pictures, one picture agency used to be a street gang and other things you only if you’re female paparazzo
Jennifer Buhl spent three years making a (pretty handsome) living following around a shirtless Matthew McConaughey and knowing where Pairs Hilton filled up her car as one of the rare female paparazzo. In that time, she's stalked Jennifer Aniston, spoke to Jennifer Love Hewitt about her divorce and was called a ‘fucking bottom feeder’ by random strangers in the street. Here's what she learnt:
It’s one of the most difficult professions for a woman to get into
‘There are next to no women paparazzi out there – I know of maybe six? It doesn’t surprise me at all, because getting into the industry was harder than I ever could have anticipated. I grew up in a middle class family when to college and grad school and I had no idea what being a paparazzi was like. (Honestly, it's more of a street mentality and culture than anything else. A prominent picture agency working today used to actually be a street gang, which kind of sums it up. There’s hardly any Americans – I’d say 20% are British, French and Australian, 70% are Latino and only 2% are American.) I'd never considered as a profession before I got into it. I'd done a bit of photogrpahy and journalism work, but the idea never crossed my mind until the blacked-out SUVs pulled up outside the place where I was working as a waitress and Paris Hilton got out of one of them, followed by a tonne of paparazzi. I got speaking to one of them and he told me how much he was making – suddenly, it seemed like the best thing I could be doing with my life at that time. I just started doing it.
The other (male) paparazzi, who quite often look like thugs, were very nasty to me for a long time
I think people find it appealing because you don’t need any particular job training and it’s an opportunity to make some relatively easy money. but it's hard for women because it's just 500 guys hanging out on the street in LA and things can get very physical and there’s definitely a lot of shoving and trying to block people’s cars. The other (male) paparazzi, who quite often look like thugs, were very nasty to me for a long time and would tell me they were going to fuck me up on a regular basis. I had to wonder, what did they mean by that? Were they going to follow me home? I mean, they’re really good at following! It was terrifying. But after a few months, I proved myself and they realised I wasn’t going anywhere, so they just left me alone.’
It’s not as well paid as you think
‘When I was a paparazzi five years ago, I making about $10-15K a month (£5,930-£8,895). That might seem like a lot of money, but you’re a contract, freelance worker so you have to pay all your taxes and expenses, which are really high. My equipment cost $40,000 (£23,796), your petrol is really expensive and just generally Beverly Hills is an expensive place to work. Still, the recession has really affected how much paparazzi get paid and rates have been slashed, I’d probably only earn half of what I was earner before if I was working today. There’s a flood of free pictures on the market now, which really dragged the cost of pictures down. Our biggest competitors at the moment are actually the celebrities themselves – they Tweet and upload Instagram pictures of themselves, which magazines can use without having to spend any money.
The celeb you can count on as your ‘cash cow’ changes all the time. When I was working, the big earners were Paris Hilton and Matthew McConaughey – mainly because he always had his shirt off – but any celebrity in a bathing suit will sell really well. Right now, Kim Kardashian is probably the highest earner because there’s international interest in what she’s doing, even if it’s just grabbing a coffee. But things can change quickly – Miley Cyrus, for example, has over-saturated herself and there are too many pictures of her on the market, so she’s becoming less of a good earner.’
Britney and Lindsay made 60% of the revenue from photographs of them that were sold through picture agencies so they would phone us and let us know where they were going to be
A lot of the celebs are in on the act
‘You might not think so from some of the stories you read, but it’s definitely a two-way street between paparazzi and celebrities. When I was working, Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan made a percentage of the revenue from photographs of them that were sold through picture agencies so they would phone us and let us know where they were going to be. Some were less obvious – Paris, for example, would make money from being photographed in certain outfits, so she would go out looking for us holding a certain bag to the designer would send her a cheque.'
There’s no reason to feel sorry for the celebs – they can hide from us if they want
'I laugh when people like Lorde say she’s harassed by the paparazzi, because it’s so easy to stop yourself getting followed. You rarely see pictures of people like George Clooney or Jennifer Garner because they’ve figured it out. They should make it their policy to, what we call, ‘cover,’ which is when you cover your face when paparazzi are around. Do that four or five times, and we’re probably not going to follow you any more because you’re not giving us the shot and we’re not going to get paid. You can also stay out of the really trendy neighbourhoods and restaurants. If you don’t want to get photographed, don’t go to that tiny two square mile radius in Beverly Hills and West Hollywood where all the paps hang out – it’s simple really.’
The celebrities rarely give paparazzi grief – it’s the public you need to worry about
'A lot of people in LA believe they owe something to celebrities because lots of people are connected to ‘the business’ in some way. It’s people in the street who are nastiest to us – I’ve been called a bottom feeder more times than I care to remember – and they often get in the way of shooting. I was once shooting Heidi and Spencer, who worked with my agency and made 40% on their photos. They phoned me and told where they were going to be and, when I arrived, there was this woman who got in the way of every shot. It was hilarious, because Spencer and Heidi kept moving to get away from this lady and let me have the photograph and she thought she was helping them out when we were all just trying to do our jobs.'
Everyone’s got a line you won’t cross
'When I first got into it, I got a bit of backlash from my friends, none of whom are involved in acting or the tabloid world, and they didn’t really understand why I wanted to do the job. I remember saying I have never compromised my ethics in any business before and I’m not going to start now. And I don’t think it did – I was never in a situation where I compromised my ethics for the job. If I got a shot of somebody with their underwear off, I wouldn’t sell it and some other paparazzi probably would. For me, it’s all about the situation. If a celebrity really seemed like they’d had enough of me being there, then most of the time I would leave. I once saw Jennifer Love Hewitt and she’d just broken up with her fiancé and I just backed off because I totally get it. I told her I was sorry to hear her news and I hoped she was ok and I left. I totally got it – paparazzi are people too.
'I gave it up mainly because I was tired of LA life and wanted a change of pace – plus I now have a child. But I still shoot maybe once or twice a year if a celebrity ever crosses my path, which is not that often once you get out of Beverly Hills!'
Pictures: Jennifer Buhl
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