Whether they're hitting Nicole Kidman on a bike or being hit by Lindsay Lohan's car, paparazzi frequently ambush celebrities, lurking in the shadows to expose their most intimate moments. But what if a paparazzo's services were requested by the subject of their unyielding lenses?
That's exactly what Tania Roberts, founder of Celeb 4 A Day, asked herself in 2007.
“There aren’t supermodels on covers of magazines anymore, they’re all celebrities. You know, if a celebrity drinks this, you should drink it - if a celebrity wears this, you should wear it. And clients say the natural next step is to find out what it actually feels like to be a celebrity,” Roberts said.
Roberts has made her career filling that new niche. Celeb 4 A Day, operating in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco, looks to expand its business of acting as hired paparazzi given its unexpectedly wide appeal among clientele.
“Here in New York we do about two or three bookings per week, sometimes more, and then we usually have almost the same amount in Los Angeles,” Roberts said. “It fluctuates depending on what time of year it is and how people are spending their money. We did see a drop in business about a year and a half ago because of the recession, and now it’s taking off again as I think as people are beginning to spend their money on luxury items.”
Contrary to Celeb 4 A Day’s popularity, many states are now proposing laws to curtail paparazzi’s relentless profession. The dangerous means that many photographers take to get the shot have resulted in fatalities: recently Chris Guerra passed away after chasing after Justin Bieber's car, and, more notably, Princess Diana died after a camera flash sent her driver careening into a cement pillar.
Celebrities including Halle Berry and Jennifer Garner are throwing their weight behind bills meant to define photographing stars and their families as harassment, hoping to limit and penalize paparazzi.
Roberts’ enterprise, although meant to catch its subject off guard, does so for different, more amiable reasons.
“I’d say about 80% of our market are surprises, so it’s actually somebody hiring us as a surprise for someone else,” Roberts said. “Most of the time it’s birthdays or bachelorette parties, but we’ve run the gamut in reasons why people hire us.”
Not all clients are hiring Celeb’s faux-paparazzi for others, though, according to Roberts.
“We had a guy hire us in LA to paparazzi him at Venice Beach at 11 o’clock in the morning to convince his friend that he had slept with Lindsay Lohan the night before,” she said.
Roberts’ business differs from the typical paparazzo in that her hired photographers - none of whom have experience hunting down celebrities - hail their subjects with admiration. But Roberts says that the few paparazzi she has spoken with about her venture find it hysterical.
“I couldn’t do what they do. I take pictures of people running down the street because they tell me to, personally,” she explained. “So yeah, chasing people down and taking pictures of peoples’ kids when they really don’t want them to, I just couldn’t do it myself.”
Charging over $400 for their basic, most popular service (The A-List Package, four photographers following a client for a half hour) definitely places Celeb 4 A Day in the luxury range. But Roberts makes sure to customize each of her bookings and provide as much assistance planning as possible to make it “a once in a lifetime experience.”
“I take them step by step: what is their event, where is going to be, and if they don’t have a venue yet we can help them with that,” Roberts said. “And once that’s all done we actually send them a questionnaire so whoever we are paparazzi-ing for, we know everything about them.”
Roberts described how, in an odd way, they feel very special and are even asked by random people if they can have their picture taken with them as if they were real celebrities.
“A lot of times, our clients will say thirty minutes has been great, but they can’t imagine having this be their whole life,” she said.
And it’s not just Celeb 4 A Day’s clients seeking out paparazzi: celebrities themselves do so themselves, according to Roberts.
“I have met real paparazzi before, and they give you the breakdown that most times it’s someone’s publicist or agent or even the stars themselves letting the paparazzi know where they are for publicity,” Roberts added. “The way they put it to me was, if you don’t want to have your picture taken, you’re not going to have your picture taken.”
But for Celeb 4 A Day, what matters is pleasing the client.
“For us it’s: does the client look happy. I’m sure that’s the exact opposite of what sells in real life, but for us it’s if we’re catching an image of the client being happy, and that is pretty much what we try and do.”
Text by Justin McCallum | Images courtesy Celeb 4 A Day