Cam­eras are al­ways on standby at LAX

Pa­parazzi reg­u­lars have their rou­tines and blame out­siders for the lat­est in­ci­dent.

Los Angeles Times - - Front Page - Harriet Ryan

The en­trance to the Delta ter­mi­nal where ac­tor Rus­sell Brand was ar­rested re­cently in the lat­est bout of Hollywood ver­sus pa­parazzi had re­gained its gritty anonymity on an af­ter­noon last week. Trav­el­ers rolled bags over the spot where the ac­tor con­fronted a throng of tabloid pho­tog­ra­phers, and a tired-look­ing man stopped there only long enough to stamp out a cig­a­rette.

The swarm of cam­era-wield­ing men who sur­rounded Brand and his fi­ancée, singer Katy Perry, had moved on — there was Lind­say to chase in Santa Mon­ica, Paris in Las Ve­gas — but down the side­walk and around a bend, a small core of pho­tog­ra­phers, the air­port reg­u­lars, per­sisted, their quiet, al­most-in­vis­i­ble work de­pen­dent on tac­tics more cat and mouse than mob scene.

“Just got LeAnn Rimes,” pa­parazzo Ed­win Blanco said as he leaned against a stair­way over­look­ing the drop-off area for Amer­i­can Air­lines first-class pas­sen­gers. Be­low, trav­el­ers climbed out of taxis and lim­ou­sines, obliv­i­ous to

Blanco and three other pa­parazzi nearby whose in­tense eyes and lumpy shoul­der bags were the only in­di­ca­tions of their pro­fes­sion.

“This has been my head­quar­ters, my home,” said Tony Vera, a vet­eran air­port videog­ra­pher who kept his eyes on the car doors and his hands on a black gym bag con­ceal­ing a cam­era. He spot­ted a man in a hat and sun­glasses ex­it­ing a black SUV and paused. “Is that Pete Wentz?” he said. “No. Not him.”

For the small group of pa­parazzi who reg­u­larly work the air­port — pho­tog­ra­phers put the num­ber be­tween four and 15 — the Brand fra­cas is an aber­ra­tion, an in­tru­sion of out­siders into one of the pa­parazzi world’s more or­derly and civ­i­lized realms.

“None of the pho­tog­ra­phers sur­round­ing Rus­sell Brand and Katy Perry were air­port pho­tog­ra­phers,” said Frank Grif­fin, whose agency, Bauer-Grif­fin, has a pho­tog­ra­pher as­signed to LAX. Air­port reg­u­lars “stick to the law. They don’t leave their cars parked in a no-park­ing zone and they don’t try to of­fend the celebrity apart from tak­ing a photo.”

Perry wrote on Twit­ter that Brand was try­ing to pro­tect her from a pho­tog­ra­pher shoot­ing up her skirt, and while the worka­day pa­parazzi at the air­port are skep­ti­cal (“There’s no mar­ket for a shot like that,” one said), they re­gard “gang­bangs” — the least of­fen­sive term they use to de­scribe a crush of pho­tog­ra­phers — as es­sen­tially stupid.

“A lot of guys who are very sea­soned won’t even go to a gang­bang,” said Erik Crown, a for­mer TMZ videog­ra­pher who worked the air­port for a year and a half. When 40 lenses are trained on one sub­ject, no one is go­ing to get paid very much, pho­tog­ra­phers said.

“Ev­ery­one’s try­ing to eat,” said Blanco, a 24-yearold col­lege stu­dent who works for the agency Flynet.

The scrums de­velop when pho­tog­ra­phers out­side the air­port get a tip and share it with col­leagues and com­peti­tors or when a group of pho­tog­ra­phers fol­lows celebri­ties from their homes to the air­port. The mobs are rare. Air­port po­lice Sgt. Belinda Net­tles said of­fi­cers re­spond to calls for crowd con­trol in­volv­ing the pa­parazzi “maybe once a month, twice a month” — not of­ten, con­sid­er­ing that air­port of­fi­cials es­ti­mate about 60 celebri­ties pass through LAX ev­ery day.

To track down fa­mous faces in the enor­mous air­port, the LAX pa­parazzi of­ten rely on tips. Some come from pub­li­cists try­ing to drum up cov­er­age, and some are bought with a $20 bill — or in the case of an Alist tip, a few bills — from limo driv­ers, fel­low pas­sen­gers or air­port work­ers.

“We have a va­ri­ety of sources. Some work for the air­port. Most do not. And you’ve got to re­mem­ber that it’s not al­ways so so­phis­ti­cated. It can be a san­i­ta­tion worker that sees Kate Hud­son” board a flight, said Ben Even­stad, the owner of the agency Na­tional Photo Group, which sta­tions a pho­tog­ra­pher at the air­port ev­ery day.

Asked about the prac­tice of tip­ping off pho­tog­ra­phers, air­port spokes­woman Nancy Cas­tles said air­port em­ploy­ees do not have flight in­for­ma­tion about in­di­vid­u­als and that those who work for air­lines could be vi­o­lat­ing in­ter­na­tional avi­a­tion reg­u­la­tions gov­ern­ing the re­lease of names on pas­sen­ger man­i­fests.

Air­port duty means a smaller, more com­fort­able world for a pho­tog­ra­pher than reg­u­lar pa­parazzi work, which can stretch from Mal­ibu to down­town court­houses. Food and re­strooms are al­ways avail­able, and there are no car chases.

“It’s like go­ing to work in an of­fice. You get the flight sched­ules, you get tips from your bosses. It’s the same ev­ery day,” said for­mer pa­parazzo Jen­nifer Buhl, who worked at the air­port oc­ca­sion­ally and is now writ­ing a mem­oir about her ca­reer.

Crown, the for­mer TMZ shooter, said air­port in­ter­ac­tions with celebri­ties were more pleas­ant than those that in­volved chas­ing them out­side Hollywood restau­rants or on the beach in Mal­ibu. “You get 20 or 30 sec­onds to talk to them, and usu­ally they are friendly and in good spir­its,” he said.

But air­port work pays sig­nif­i­cantly less, pho­tog­ra­phers said. Vera said he cut back on his air­port work af­ter a Novem­ber en­counter with Mike Tyson at LAX that left him bloody. (Au­thor­i­ties de­clined to charge ei­ther man.) He said he found he could make dou­ble the money by sta­tion­ing him­self out­side the homes of tabloid sta­ples such as Lind­say Lo­han and Jesse James.

“The air­port is a great place to work, but you can make a lot more money doorstepping,” Vera said.

Blanco said he makes about $3,000 a month plus com­mis­sions on photo sales.

“It’s less stress­ful [at the air­port], but it is still very stress­ful,” Blanco said as he eyed a black Range Rover pulling up to the curb.

If tips are scarce, pho­tog­ra­phers make their own luck by “fish­ing” — strolling the ter­mi­nal bag­gage claims and en­trances for shots. Air­port pa­parazzi scour crowds less for ac­tual fa­mous peo­ple than for signs that ac­tual fa­mous peo­ple are about to ap­pear. A shiny black Es­calade with tinted win­dows. A mus­cle-bound man with an ear­piece. And, above all, the “star greeter,” hired by movie stu­dios and other com­pa­nies to whisk VIPs through lines. Air­port pho­tog­ra­phers tend to me­morize the greeters’ faces, walks, wardrobes and client lists.

On a re­cent af­ter­noon, Vera, 51, was prowl­ing the Bradley ter­mi­nal when he spot­ted a greeter by the curb.

“He’s the biggest greeter in the air­port. We may have struck gold,” he said.

It had been a so-so day so far. He’d hap­pened upon Helen Hunt over by Amer­i­can Air­lines. “This won’t sell now, but who knows? Maybe some day,” he said of the video of the ac­tress. He had a tip that an “Amer­i­can Idol” judge would be touch­ing down later in the af­ter­noon. But the greeter at the curb sug­gested a mas­sive star.

“My heart starts pounding. It’s the most in­cred­i­ble feel­ing,” he said.

Ten min­utes later, a black SUV pulled up. The greeter opened the door, and Vera gripped the bag hold­ing his cam­era. Out stepped a portly bald man with glasses. Vera’s shoul­ders slumped.

“That’s no­body. Maybe a writer or some­thing. No­body,” he said, crest­fallen.

Bob Cham­ber­lin

WAIT AND WATCH: Joseph Re­ci­nos and Ed­win Blanco work the pa­parazzi beat at L.A. In­ter­na­tional Air­port. They say calm, not chaos, is the norm there.

Bob Cham­ber­lin

WAIT­ING FOR AN AR­RIVAL: Pa­parazzo Joseph Re­ci­nos bides his time af­ter re­ceiv­ing a tip about a celebrity ex­pected to show up soon at the air­port.

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