I confronted a few members of the paparazzi and asked them stupid questions while a photographer shoved his camera in their faces.
Photos By Steven Perilloux
Paparazzi—they’re just like us! They get annoyed by invasive assholes too.
I think we can all agree that paparazzi are some of the lowest forms of life on planet Earth. Yet society tolerates the profession because it enables our base desires of nosiness and voyeurism without the risk of feeling like an asshole. The ever-growing business of invading public persons’ privacy—and the seemingly insatiable appetite for such garbage—proves that more than ever, people are looking for glimpses into lives that seem more interesting than their own.
As a guy who variously works in a mailroom, does stand-up, writes articles, and resets people’s credit ratings on the side, I have been involved in my share of very shady things. Were the paparazzi any worse than me? Were they just trying to get by? To find out, I had to confront a few members of the profession and ask them stupid questions while a photographer shoved his camera in their faces.
Before setting out on my stalkerazzi mission, I needed some expert advice on locations, protocol, etc. After asking various contacts, I was put in touch with “Peter”—a professional (and somewhat jaded) paparazzo who agreed to give me all the pertinent details I would need to capture my prey in exchange for his anonymity. I’m unable to get into specifics about who he’s worked for and how active he is, but rest assured that the answers are “all of them” and “very.”
The first thing Peter made clear is that paparazzi refer to themselves as “paps,” but you and I can never call them that. We haven’t “earned it.” When I asked him what that meant, he didn’t have a clear answer, but he was sure I wasn’t allowed to use the term to refer to him or anyone else in the profession. How’s that for some bullshit?
Not once during our hour-long interview did Peter try to convince me that what he was doing was artistic or honorable. He did, however, sell me on the fact that his work is very much in demand by both tabloids and celebrities alike. He claimed that famous people routinely call him to tip him off on where they’re planning to be at a particular time. He also said that there are a select few “freelance photographers,” such as himself, who adhere to a moral code of sorts. For instance, he would never snap someone’s kids, but other creeps have no problem with it. He also said that, with camera in hand, he’s caught celebrities in embarrassing situations and let them off the hook: “Arnold Schwarzenegger is someone I definitely wouldn’t take advantage of.”
At one point, I asked Peter why he decided to become a paparazzo instead of shooting for quality magazines or weddings. He started to tear up and said that his first priority is taking care of his family, and that his chosen line of work is the quickest and easiest way to make decent money. “I could be shooting wedding videos and working for magazines like you guys,” he said, “if you would just fucking hire me!” I felt for the guy, but I wasn’t sure I entirely believed him.
Peter broke down the four categories of paparazzo: minimum-wage droogs with shitty consumer-grade cameras (most likely stolen), decent photographers in need of money, super-creep steely-eyed psychopaths who could probably make it through Navy SEAL training, and the Brazilians. “Whatever you do, be careful of the Brazilians; they are very territorial,” he said while showing me a few YouTube videos of crazy capoeira motherfuckers beating the shit out of one another and huge black bodyguards outside of clubs. He also schooled me on the paparazzi circuit and its respective territories: Beverly Hills (mainly a nail salon and café on Camden Street and a Rite Aid right around the corner), the Westside (Brentwood/Santa Monica/Venice), LA (popular spots include Malibu Country Mart and Craig’s), and LAX. With this information at my disposal, I was ready to start my rampage of invasiveness.
It rained throughout the next day, a Saturday, so my photographer and I tried to wait it out. When it hadn’t stopped raining by early evening, we decided it was still worth checking out a few of the nighttime spots Peter had recommended. An hour in, it felt like being on a stakeout without guns or knowledge of what your target looks like, which is just as anxiously boring as it sounds. We made our rounds, stopping at places like Mr. Chow, King Street, the Ivy, and BOA, but kept coming up empty. This either meant that the rain had managed to keep every celebrity in LA indoors for the night or, as Peter had forewarned, lower-tier photographers were hesitant to go out in bad weather. The only paparazzi who would brave a rainy night would be pros hiding out in cars with blacked-out windows. We wouldn’t be able to spot them unless they were physically surrounding a celeb—they are ninjas, basically, and will hide in dumpsters, wear costumes, and generally be giant creeps in order to avoid detection. The downpour only provided them with more cover. After a few hours without catching one glimpse of even a tourist standing on the sidewalk with a camera, we gave up for the night.
I woke up the next day to unexpectedly sunny skies. The weather report was wrong, thank God. Knowing this would be my last chance to nab one of these bastards before my deadline, I wanted to corroborate Peter’s advice to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. Before meeting with Peter, I had managed to track down the number of an old acquaintance I hadn’t spoken to in 15 years who, I had learned, was now working as a paparazzo. The first couple minutes were awkward, but he was happy to help and gave me a few more tips, most importantly: “Go to the guitar statue at BOA nightclub on Sunset from 8 to 10 PM. Get out of the car and just look for guys in sweatshirts with hoods.”
That night, my photographer and I headed straight for BOA. We drove past the huge ceramic Les Paul outside, and sure enough there were three paparazzi in black hoodies sitting around the base of the guitar with cameras in hand. We parked a block north of Sunset Boulevard and went over our plan, which basically amounted to “get in their faces, ask increasingly personal and judgmental questions, photograph them intrusively, and if we run into any Brazilians, be ready to fight till the death.” As we walked up to BOA’s entrance, I put on my headphones and played “Ride of the Valkyries” while envisioning the opening scene of Apocalypse Now and repeating “Sunset… shit” in my head.
We rounded the corner and I zeroed in on my targets, virtually pouncing on them. I managed to get right up in one guy’s face, hold my iPhone camera in front of him, and let out a panic-induced line of questioning: “Hey, homey! How are you? HOW ARE YOU? Please tell us, what are you wearing right now? Who are you wearing? What does your underwear look like? What do you think about the Kony situation—the guy who got caught jacking off? Do you know who got that coverage? Have you ever felt bad for doing this?”
No matter how hard he tried, Steven wasn’t able to get this paparazzo to admit his life was a complete failure.
At first I was on edge, expecting some sort of altercation, but I was baffled by my first victim’s response. He just stood there with his head down, looking at his phone and doing his best to ignore me. He mumbled a few things that I was unable to make out over my screams, but overall he was a total pussy.
It was time to ratchet things up and make it more personal, so I asked, “Do you like a pinky in the butt during sex? Do you put on cologne when you know Brad Pitt’s going to be around?” This is when he began to walk away, toward his colleagues, who were standing around an SUV. As I followed him, they dispersed and I began tailing another one, telling him, “Sir, I can see it in your eyes, you’re a good person. I can see the good in you. Why are you doing this?” He circled back toward the guitar statue and sat down, making eye contact with me for the first time. “Have you ever been embarrassed?” I asked. He responded by sticking his camera in my face and shooting with full-on flash before standing and walking away again. I followed, saying, “Sir, one question that people want to know: When you’re out here for eight hours and you have to take a dookie, where do you go? Is it true you to go La Salsa up the street to take dookies, without ordering food?”
All three of them were now on their feet, circling the entrance of BOA with their backs to me in an attempt to avoid my tirade. But I kept going, asking, “You guys interview other people. How come I’m not allowed to interview you?” No response. “Does this make you feel weird?” I continued, following one of them to the building next door. He shined a flashlight in my eyes and said, “Get out of my face, bro,” as he literally stepped into the corner of the entrance and stared at the wall. “I’m not in your face,” I replied. “I just have a quick question: Why are you hiding? Why is there so much shame behind what you’re doing? I’m listening to the [Lady Gaga] song ‘Paparazzi’ right now. I’m like you; I just want to get a good story.”
Eventually, he backed out of the corner and walked down the street, but I was relentless: “You don’t like your own medicine, bro. Maybe it’s time to get some therapy and think about this while you’re doing this. You don’t like the way it feels to you, so why would you do that to your fellow man and woman? You’re getting mad at me following you around trying to get a hot scoop, and that’s what you’re doing.”
At this point, a few people were staring, and I started to feel embarrassed for them and myself, so we called it a night and headed back to the car. On the drive back, I thought about how the photographers’ reactions to my harassment bummed me out both ways. I wondered whether I was like that self-righteous robot who hosts To Catch a Predator, which is not a pleasant feeling, and I pondered whether paparazzi are actually detrimental to society and culture or whether I had been exaggerating. But then I thought about the way they cowered from me, reeking of guilt. People don’t react like that unless they’re doing something wrong.
Look out for a short video of Steven getting the goods from Peter and verbally eviscerating this pathetic paparazzi trio appearing sometime soon on VICE.com.