WATCH | We spent the day chasing stars (not literally) with 25-year industry veteran Giles Harrison.
"There's a group of guys in Los Feliz. They were in the last season of 'The Bachelor.' They're doing some type of shoot. They're in like suits with fancy cigars or something."
Those are the types of phone calls Giles Harrison gets daily from editors at tabloids and pop culture magazines. Harrison is a paparazzo in Los Angeles and has been doing it for the last 25 years.
He's a free agent not uncommon in the industry which means he doesn't work for an agency like Splash News or Pacific Coast News.
An average day for Harrison usually means driving around in his Cadillac Escalade with an eagle eye trained to spot celebrities as they enter shops, drive in their cars or cross the street.
A day in the life
By the time I join him at 10:30 a.m., Harrison has been driving around L.A. for an hour, trying to catch celebrities getting coffee or breakfast.
"This is Brentwood. So I’m hanging around here early in the morning," he says. "And then you move to other parts of the city so you get people who are actually working or shopping."
It's Kirk Douglas' birthday the next day, so Harrison is debating hanging out around his house to catch him when he heads on a walk.
When I get to Kirk Douglas' house, we see another paparazzo parked across the street. Harrison says she used to work for him.
Getting the money shot
Harrison says he's not the type of paparazzo that waits outside of celebrity's homes.
"Driving around has worked out nicely for me."
Because Kirk Douglas' birthday is coming up, he decides that a shot of Douglas walking the day before his birthday could bring a nice check.
We get to the house, wait for an hour, get a picture of a housekeeper opening the door for a florist and leave.
Harrison leaves as what appears to be a crew for a TV news magazine show arrives. Harrison concludes that they're probably producing a TV news package on him to air the following day.
On the next one
After this, Harrison heads to Cuvée, a restaurant where he eats lunch most days. He says this is a good vantage point for celebrities. And it is: He catches Pete Wentz crossing the street.
"I actively work Monday through Friday. Saturday and Sunday, I still work, but I’m running errands, too. [The camera is] always in the car, without fail," he says.
Today, he plans to wrap up around 4:30 p.m., but we have one more stop.
When we arrived to Barney's New York, there were already four other photographers waiting.
Oldie but a goodie
We asked Harrison to rate how successful this day had been on a scale of one to 10. He gave it a 4.
"It's been a slow day."
So we headed to the one place you're almost certain to find celebrities in L.A.: Barney's New York in Beverly Hills.
After waiting for about 15 minutes, Tommy Lee Jones finally came out.
Tommy Lee Jones stepped out of the store for what seemed to be 8 seconds before stepping back inside.
This [picture of Tommy Lee Jones] will probably pay for my parking meter.
—Giles Harrison jokes
The pot of gold
Post-Tommy Lee Jones, it's about 3:30 p.m., spirits are down and Giles is getting ready to drop me off at my car so I can head home, when:
"Asshole!" Harrison yells at a car that's in the way of him and something.
That something is French singer Johnny Hallyday in his Bentley.
So like any good paparazzo, we follow him all the way to a Rolls Royce dealership, where Hallyday is apparently shopping for a car.
"We're gonna close the gate," was one of the first things we heard from an employee at Rolls Royce. "Okay, go ahead," is what Harrison responded. "We're not on your property."
No matter what people think about this, it's journalism. No different than being a sports photographer or lifestyle sections. We are photographers who figured out how to hustle and make a buck.
—George Harrison on misconceptions about paparazzi
Harrison says one of the biggest misconceptions is that he's a "scumbag" because he's a paparazzo.
It's difficult to tell how much money Harrison made that day, not because he wouldn't tell me, but because it's difficult to predict how much publications will pay for the pictures. So I talked to Brett Kaffee, head of sales at Pacific Coast News, which provides "images of news and celebrity stories to media outlets throughout the world."
"Non-exclusive [photos] are worth basically zero," said Kaffee. Now if it's exclusive, meaning no one else has a similar picture, it gets "very tricky," says Kaffee.
Valuing a picture
A picture may be worth a thousand words, but definitely not a thousand dollars. A few things determine the price of a picture:
- who is selling it
- which publication is buying it
"The job of a publication is to get the picture for as little money as possible," says Kaffee. "My job is to get them to spend what it's worth or more. Which is time consuming and takes a very tough gut to stomach potentially a zero-sum."
"I wanted to be a lawyer," says Harrison. "Then I wanted to be in the movie industry. I took a photo course in high school. Had I known in school of the variety of ways you can make money as a photographer, I probably would’ve studied it harder."
Maybe [the publication is] being serious when they say the 'most we will spend is $1,500.' If I demand $2,000 and hold the line, I can lose it all.
—Brett Kaffee, Pacific Coast News
Kaffee says you have to be able to read the people working for the publication you're selling to. "Most places know me. They know they aren't going to get away with saying to me, 'Well nobody cares about Kirk Douglas really.' They get pictures all day using that line."
25 years strong
For his part, Harrison seems to be doing well. He just bought a house in Venice, California, where the median home value is $1,587,400, according to Zillow.
He says his mom has stopped asking him when he's going to get a real job, too.
"She stopped saying that now, once I actually bought a house. She realized, 'Oh, he’s doing something.'"