MADELEINE BRAND, host:
This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.
Celebrities--we're on a first-name basis: Brad and Angelina, Tom and Katie, Britney and What's-his-name. We yearn for each fresh detail of their lives, and every week magazines like Us Weekly and People are happy to oblige. They're stuffed with stories and, more importantly, pictures of our favorite stars.
Mr. FRANK GRIFFIN (Bauer-Griffin): There's a shot of Mary Kate Olsen with Stavros Niarchos III being shot in the south of France. I think these were the first pictures, and it probably made 2 or 3,000.
BRAND: That's Frank Griffin, co-owner of Bauer-Griffin, one of the biggest celebrity photo agencies. In other words, he's a paparazzo, one of those guys--and they're almost all guys--who hunt down celebrities for those candid shots.
Mr. GRIFFIN: The kick is almost prehistoric. You go out, you hunt the mammoth, you get mammoth sandwiches at the end of the week. If you don't have any game, you starve. You go out and you take a nice photograph of Tom Cruise on the motorbike with Katie Holmes and you get Tom Cruise sandwiches at the end of the week.
BRAND: And if they're exclusive, those sandwiches can bring in tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of dollars. Paparazzi are among the highest-paid photographers, but the downside is they're pretty much universally despised, more so these days. The paparazzi are in the news now for being too aggressive with celebrities.
(Soundbite of entertainment programming)
Ms. LINDSAY LOHAN: It just got a little out of hand. I'm thankful that it wasn't with my brother and sister in the car.
Unidentified Woman #1: Lindsay Lohan's life-threatening encounter with the paparazzi, when an overanxious photographer slammed into her $180,000 Mercedes last week.
Ms. LOHAN: I mean, my car is wrecked, but you know. I'm flattered that people care that much about me that they must get that picture.
BRAND: It may have gotten more aggressive on the streets of LA recently, but confrontations between stars and photographers are nothing new. They go back to the very beginnings of the paparazzi in post-World War II Italy. American movie companies were doing a lot of shooting in Rome then because it was cheap, and so there were a lot of movie stars hanging around and a lot of unemployed Italian men hanging around. They picked up cameras and started to shoot. Very quickly, says Peter Howe, author of the new book "Paparazzi," these men learned that they could get even more money if there was a confrontation.
Mr. PETER HOWE (Author, "Paparazzi"): So they would work in teams. One photographer would go up to the celebrity and literally let the flash off right in the celebrity's face or in the face of his date. If it was in the face of his date, she would scream and then the celebrity would come 'round punching the photographer, and the other photographer he was working with would take a photograph of the confrontation.
BRAND: Captured in Federico Fellini's iconic movie, "La Dolce Vita."
(Soundbite of "La Dolce Vita")
Unidentified Woman #2: (Foreign language spoken)
Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)
BRAND: It was Fellini who coined the word `paparazzo'; it was the name of one of the characters in "La Dolce Vita," a hungry Italian photographer chasing movie stars, and Fellini just loved the sound of the word, `paparazzo,' thinking it evoked the frenetic energy of his character. Today the word is more of a slur. Paparazzi are vilified, blamed for hounding stars sometimes to death, as was the case with Princess Diana. But author Peter Howe says people who blame the paparazzi for killing Diana were not being entirely honest.
Mr. HOWE: A lot of the people who were most vocal about how awful those photographers were to be chasing her were exactly the same people whose obsession with her had been fueled by seeing the photographs and who had bought magazines with pictures of her in them time and time and time again. So it is a very complex relationship with celebrities themselves who are the subject matter of the material. They will tell you what awful people these are, but they will also use them whenever it's convenient for them and whenever they think they can be of use.
BRAND: But even when the stars don't want to be photographed, the paparazzi show up. They operate like private eyes, paying off all sorts of people for information: law enforcement officials, nurses, valet parkers. One photographer said it's best to go for the celebrity's second cousin--close enough to have information but not close enough to be on the star's payroll.
Paparazzi pride themselves on not doing the PR-arranged junkets and the red carpets.
(Soundbite of traffic)
BRAND: Instead, they cruise around town, hot after the latest tip.
Mr. BEN EVENSTAD (Paparazzo): At the where? You want me to--I'll go. OK. Yeah, goodbye.
BRAND: Ben Evenstad is a 25-year-old paparazzi photographer. He's driving a black Lexus SUV, paid for, he says, not leased. Ben earns somewhere in the six figures; he won't say exactly how much. And he's working on a couple of hot stories at the moment; one involves Demi Moore, but that one's off the record. Today someone phones in a tip that's not exactly earth-shattering.
Mr. EVENSTAD: Mira Sorvino and her kid are at--right near the office. Lucky us.
BRAND: Ben heads to the restaurant where she's having lunch. He gets out and goes inside to check it out. A few minutes later he's back outside.
Mr. EVENSTAD: So it looks like she's there with her kid and a couple friends, but I don't see the husband. But nonetheless, her with the kid--you know, it's a pretty decent shot.
BRAND: So what are you going to do?
Mr. EVENSTAD: You know, the exit's kind of just here on the side, so I'll just get a position across the street with a good visual to the door and just, you know, try to get some shots when she comes out.
BRAND: He pulls into a spot across the street and waits. There's a lot of waiting on these stakeouts. Ben passes the time watching DVDs, listening to talk radio or reading the conservative magazine National Review. He calls himself a vegetarian butcher. He doesn't read the magazines he shoots for. Ben's only concern on this stakeout is that other paparazzi will see his car and smell blood in the water. And sure enough, one of them shows up.
Mr. EVENSTAD: Here we go. (Censored) scumbags. There you go. How you doing? Good luck. Hey, good luck.
BRAND: The guy goes in to case the restaurant. When he comes out, Ben goes over to talk to him. He convinces the other photographer to let him have this one, and so that photographer drives away. We settle in and wait for a few more minutes, and then...
Mr. EVENSTAD: There we go.
(Soundbite of camera clicking)
BRAND: Mira is outside the restaurant holding her baby.
(Soundbite of camera clicking)
BRAND: She soon sees Ben even though he's shooting from inside the SUV and the windows are rolled up. She covers the baby's head and darts back into the restaurant as her friend goes to get the car.
Do you feel kind of bad that she's shielding the baby there? She obviously didn't want the baby's picture taken.
Mr. EVENSTAD: Feel bad? No, I don't. My feeling is she's a celebrity--a, you know, pretty well-known celebrity and, you know, she's out at lunch with her baby. It's, you know, reasonable that on the street when she comes out of the restaurant, she's going to have her picture taken.
BRAND: I sitting here felt a little stab of invading her privacy.
Mr. EVENSTAD: What would you have felt if she would have been like--saw us and then waved and, like, made the baby wave with its little arm? Then what would you have felt?
BRAND: Different, because it's the parent saying it's OK to take a picture of the baby.
Mr. EVENSTAD: Right. So that's what we're down to is did she give permission or not. On a red carpet, Mira Sorvino decides what do I look like? Am I with my kid or my husband or neither? It's her choice how she's going to be presented. When she's on the street and there's a paparazzi photographer, that choice is eliminated.
BRAND: And he says so-called real photojournalists do the same thing.
Mr. EVENSTAD: Open the LA Times, and you're going to see either a starving child or a crying widow. Now did that woman whose husband got killed in a car bomb in Iraq, let's say--did she want to be splashed across the pages of newspapers in the United States? Or what about that starving kid? Does he want to be splashed across looking unhuman? Does he want that?
BRAND: Ben would go on, but Mira has emerged again to scurry into her friend's waiting car. He throws the SUV into drive and pulls up right next to the car.
Mr. EVENSTAD: Mira?
Unidentified Friend: Can't you just leave her alone?
Mr. EVENSTAD: Can she give me a picture?
Unidentified Friend: No, she can't.
Mr. EVENSTAD: OK. Then I can't leave her alone.
Unidentified Friend: OK, I'll call the cops.
Mr. EVENSTAD: Thanks.
Unidentified Friend: I'll call 911...
Mr. EVENSTAD: Want to use my phone? All right. That's enough.
BRAND: The stakeout lasted about an hour. Ben returns to his photo agency and downloads the Mira and baby picture into the computer. It's a nice shot. Mira's smiling slightly, the baby is chubby and cute. The photo is worth between 200 and $500, and Ben's day is done.
Mr. EVENSTAD: It's like an unwritten, unspoken agreement that one makes when they become famous, whether by choice or not. And you can't say, `No, I want out of the agreement now.' It doesn't work that way. The agreement's been made.
BRAND: For Ben's pictures of Mira Sorvino and photos of other celebrities from Peter Howe's book, "Paparazzi"--we know you want to see them--go to our Web site, npr.org.
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BRAND: DAY TO DAY returns in a moment. I'm Madeleine Brand.