Stalking Britney Spears
The day I took a look at x17 Online, they had pictures of actress Marcia Cross and her twins (Desperate Housewives? Is that who Marcia Cross is? I don't really know, but I think she may be from New England. I seem to have read something about her at some point. In any case, she doesn't look like a cheesy "celeb".
There are pictures of Jessica Alba and Cash Warren. I know I'm completely out of it, but I'm not sure if those two are actors or singers or both. But the name Cash Warren, is that a great name for a gigolo or character in a Danielle Steele novel, or what.
And there was one of Britney having dinner with Mel Gibson.
I went looking at their site after reading an article by David Samuels, "Shooting Britney", that appeared in last month's Atlantic Monthly, which focused on paparazzi through the lens of the recent Britney Spears psycho-drama.
As it happens, the X17 agency is one of the biggest names in the celebrity photo business, a major business that helps feed - and create - our insatiable desire to see stars.
Britney is the current paparazzi "darling" (if that's the right word) - at the time The Atlantic article was written, at the height of Spears-mania - there were 30-45 photographers working the Britney beat on any given night. They're probably still there, given that:
History’s best-publicized celebrity meltdown has helped fuel dozens of television shows, magazines, and Internet sites, the combined value of whose Britney-related product easily exceeds $100 million a year, and helped make Britney Spears the most popular search term on Yahoo once again in 2007, as it has been for six of the past seven years.
I'm not going to get into the 'can't they leave the poor creature alone' argument, or question the decency of someone making a living off of the inappropriate behavior of a clearly troubled young woman, or to decry our celebrity-crazed culture. (I do plenty of culture decrying, but I think that, for the most part, I'll forego it in this post.)
But I am going to say: $100M for Britney-related "product" alone. Wow!
Once you add in a few bucks for shots of the apparently sane and normal Marcia Cross, and a few more for pics of wannabe-something-or-other Cash Warren, this is a pretty darned big business. Who knew?
Well, apparently X17 founder Regis Navarre did. Last year, his agency made a cool $3M off of Britney's driving-with-the-baby-in-her-lap, shaving-her-head, going-to-court last year. Of course, that's only 3 percent Britney market share, so there's definitely room for improvement.
Navarre's business model involves hiring Latin/South American guys who were parking cars or delivering pizzas to work as paparazzi (a.k.a., "shooters" or "paps") - one more job snatched up by those rapacious immigrants!
Most of X17’s paps, who number between 60 and 70, depending on the day and who quits or gets fired, are paid a stipend of $800 to $3,000 a week plus the occasional four- or low-five-figure bonus in exchange for global rights to their images, which Regis owns lock, stock, and barrel.
And that lock stock and barrel can add up. The Britney head-shaved photos were reputedly purchased by one of the TV entertainment rags (or whatever the TV equivalent of a rag is) for a one-night stand for $80K. Stills and videos of Britney attacking the car of one of the pap's with an umbrella have grossed $400K. Of course, it ain't all lucrative Britney work. A lot of the photos - presumably Marcia Cross with her kids - go for a lot less; selling celebrity photos is a volume business.
Interesting side note: Navarre started out as a legit photojournalist, but, once he made his way from Paris to Hollywood, figured out that the gold in the Hollywood hills was in celebrity shots, not in pictures of boring stuff like the Rodney King riots. And, by the way, he met his wife - whose name, not surprisingly, is Brandy - "in Frank Sinatra’s driveway, when they were both covering his funeral."
The work of the paps is supported by an informal cadre of tipsters - parking lot attendants, pizza delivery guys, store clerks - who dime the celebrities, alerting the paps to their whereabouts and antics. Sometimes the tipsters are a bit closer to home. Supposedly the father of Lindsay Lohan - first runner up to Britney for screwed up young celebrity of the year - has let the paps know where Lindsay will be showing up. Gee, thanks Dad, for making me what I am today.
Paparazzi have, of course, been around for a while, and date - at least in my recall to the Jackie Onassis era, when I first heard the term. Not that I read Photoplay or Teen Screen, but I believe that in the olden days, photos of the stars were staged shots, placed by studio PR agents. ("Here's a nice one of Rock Hudson on a date with Miss Kansas," "This is Bing Crosby around the tree, singing White Christmas to his four loving sons," "Don't you love this one of Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello sipping their shared soda through those two shots." Everything was posed, everything was nice, clean and wholesome. No shots of Joan Crawford beating her kids with a hanger. Just "Miss Crawford on the red carpet on Oscar night.")
But Jackie wasn't going to pose for any staged shots once she left the First Lady gives a tour of the White House business behind her. And we did so want to see Jackie, as she went from iconic grieving widow to Mrs. Gold-digger of the Year. (She almost owed us, didn't she? After all that sympathy we gave her, all those tears we shed for her and her kids?)
In any case, the Jackie-era paparazzi look down their noses at Navarre and X17:
He is roundly despised by more traditional Hollywood paparazzi, who accuse him of having destroyed their highly individualistic business by hiring gangs of immigrant kids with digital cameras purchased on credit from Best Buy to do the work of the heroic lone photographers who once lay in wait with telephoto lenses, stalking Jackie O.
Stalking Jackie O, taking zoom-lens pictures of her on Ari's yacht, or eating a baked potato at La Cote Basque in NYC, or looking at an osprey nest on Martha's Vineyard - and whatever else Jackie did to occupy herself, other than work as an editor, raise her kids, dress well, look like a million bucks - seems so quaint and old-fashioned compared to what the public is after these days.
Sure, someone out there wants to see a picture of an actress wheeling her baby around in an eight-hundred dollar jogging stroller. But what we really want to see is her slamming that stroller into the side of a pap's SUV. ("Oh, my god, that poor little baby.")
Yes, it's nice to see good old normal Tom Hanks out to dinner with his good old normal wife Rita Wilson.
But wouldn't we rather see Tom Cruise frothing at the mouth, jumping up and down like a maniac?
The price of bread may be going up, but as long as we have our circus, we're a happy bunch.