Editorial: Paying The Price Of Shooting Stars - Publication: LA Weekly February 2010
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It’s a familiar story, one constantly affecting the icons  Angelinos have come to love, hate and ignore -  tortured celebrities complaining of persecution at the hands of  the paparazzi, those legions of marauding parasites causing chaos on the streets as  they brazenly profit from candid images of actor/actress X going about their off screen business.

 But this dated cliché does beg correction. Just like the latest tabloid cover “scoop,” beckoning from any one of several magazines and or websites occupying this  dangerously oversaturated niche.

Let’s put the money issue first - Paparazzi (or papps as they are known in the biz) were once lured by the promise of big dollars, hence the risk and ensuing lawless behavior. From running lights and driving at breakneck speed to tailgating a celebrities through to hiring helicopters for an “aerial,” a boat for a beach shot, or flying to an exotic resort and renting a neighboring hotel room – all in the name of getting a shot that once promised hundreds of thousands of dollars.

 And while the global hunger for celebrity culture will always see a demand for content (both in print and online) the prices offered for celebrity photographs has plummeted drastically in the last three years largely due to the recession and a glut of photographers.

Various sources at pic agencies and magazines say images that once sold for $1500 ( equating to half of quarter a page in a magazine ) now sell for as little as $150. So without the incentive, photo agencies aren’t investing big on obtaining shots, magazines are reusing old pics and generally earnings are way down.

 Meanwhile, in yet another trademark Hollywood smack of irony, the first week of January saw several full page stories about new paparazzi laws reverberate  nationally having first germinated in the  LA Times. These new laws (or amendments to existing laws, i.e.  Assembly Bill 524, effective from Friday (01Jan10),) championed by celebrity Jennifer Aniston were being hailed as a harbinger of change, “restricting the paparazzi in 2010 and beyond.” or so claims Democrat and Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, who  told The Times, Aniston's activism was instrumental in the  new laws , with the actress' horror stories prompting her to fast track the legislation.

When images of  The former Friend topless sunbathing in her backyard emerged in 2006, poor Jen was apparently so incensed she had to act,  schmoozing with every political figure on her Blackberry to bring justice to this town.  Aniston commented after the passing of the legislation, "There have to be some boundaries. When you have children in the car and the photographers are rushing you, it's just absolutely out of control."It's become a public safety issue. Somebody's going to die if we don't do something."

Speaker Karen Bass said she wrote the bill after Aniston and a group of celebrities she assembled helped her to understand just how bad the Los Angeles paparazzi problem had become.

So other than giving our Jen some additional press how effective is the law and will it have any real effect on the wayward papp photographers of LA?

UK photographer Jeff Rainey runs a news agency catering for UK outlets. Having been in LA over six years he’s shot many celebs. .Asked about the new laws,  he feels they are generally “superfluous and insubstantial.”

“There is a point that some photographers need to be controlled, but there’s a fine line between what is newsworthy and what isn’t.  It would be hard to prove what is in breach of these new laws and It would take forever to get through courts.”  Rainey adds, “A few years ago there was another anti paparazzi initiative when they tried to pass laws preventing papps following celebrities. It never happened, how could they prove anything?”

 Former La Monde journalist, Regis Navarre, head of one of LA’s biggest photo agencies,  X17 agrees the new laws have little consequence. “Essentially they relate to something that relates to the whole idea of ‘reasonable expectation of privacy’. We only shoot celebs when they have that, meaning you can’t invade their privacy while they are on their property, though you are protected by the fifth amendment if you shoot them in the street.”

“Legally these laws don’t change anything,” Navarre adds. “Nowadays most shooting is done in the street  and with photographers literally following celebrities to get shots, there is little candid photography.”

 Ultimately,” says Navarre, “these are simply amendments to laws originally passed in 2000. The amended laws are simply scare tactics, purely a silent threat. On what grounds can you sue someone for simply taking a photograph? Maybe if you trespass on their property, but  what will determine whether a celebrity can in fact sue will be hard to prove.The real issue he says relates to issues such as traffic laws.”

Navarre says the laws are particularly ineffective as the whole dynamic of celebrity photography has changed. “the era of candid and covert photography has gone. Nowadays with companies such as Time Warner financed TMZ employing hundreds of people to follow celebs everywhere, there are fewer and fewer exclusives and calculated photographs.”

David Jones is a UK born photographer in LA for the last ten years. Keen to escape the stigma of being known as a papp, he opts for an assumed name for this story. Another victim of the world recession he recently made the switch back to freelance, while a year ago he had his own pic agency commanding a six figure salary.

“I got into this for the money, though the gold rush is over,” he says “The volume of photographers, the internet and the recession has brought the asking price of photographs down and really makes it far less lucrative.”

“The new laws come at an odd time, with less financial incentive, photographers are far less likely to go to great extents to obtain snaps. I don’t think these laws will affect me or any other photographers in any way, things really aren’t any more lawless than they once were, in fact it’s probably the reverse.”

Jones agrees the era of candid snaps are gone. “Once an agency would invest in a hotel or whatever to ensure a shot, they can’t afford to do that now. Now with people from TMZ in celebs faces 24/7 the era of candid  and calculated photography is gone. The new laws are really quite pointless.”

 

Written by Craig Stephens

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