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Posted date: 1/9/2006

Security firm turns cameras on paparazzi to protect its clients


Los Angeles Business Journal Staff

The hordes of Hollywood paparazzi know all about being relentless, invasive and willing to go to great lengths in pursuit of their quarry.

Now, however, thanks to aggressive new tactics used by local security firms, some paparazzi are beginning to find themselves the hunted rather than the hunters.

Sunset Protective Services, a two-year-old private security firm in Westlake Village, offers to put the brakes on intrusive and potentially dangerous paparazzi practices. Aggressive behavior on the part of the photographers was alleged to have been a factor in recent L.A. auto accidents involving actresses Lindsay Lohan and Scarlett Johansson.

One of the firm’s self-proclaimed specialties – the one that accounts for most of the company’s business and draws celebrity clients – is “paparazzi abatement.” Founding partners John Perry and Dan McCann, two retired Los Angeles County Sheriffs’ Department deputies who formerly rode together, have even trademarked the term.

The idea, Perry said, is to demystify the paparazzi through surveillance: documenting, photographing, identifying and in general scrutinizing the celebrity scrutinizers. McCann and Perry said their belief is that celebrity-hounding photographers are less likely to take liberties, invade personal space or behave in an aggressive manner if their identities are well known to their subjects.

“We turn the camera around on them,” Perry said, “so that they don’t have that cloud of anonymity.”

Shining the light on celebrity photography is becoming lucrative for Sunset. Clients sign contracts with Sunset that specify certain hourly rates for security detail, and specify how many people and how many hours a day they want to employ Sunset’s services. McCann and Perry utilize about 10 other retired deputies to staff the firm’s jobs.

“There is no average contract because some people are very spontaneous, and others love to have us at arms reach all the time,” Perry said. (Brad Pitt is reportedly a client, but the firm refuses to disclose its clients citing confidentiality agreements.)

He said his service will often photograph the paparazzi in situations that could be illegal. Photographers angling for a celebrity shot, he noted, sometimes hide behind illegally tinted car windows, drive vehicles without license plates, run red lights or drive onto sidewalks if it means getting a coveted photo.

“When people are mobile, it’s definitely the most dangerous time for anyone involved, and that extends to anyone in the vicinity of the cars,” Perry said.

“Sometimes (the celeb photographers) work in teams; one or two will try to cut a rival off so their colleague can get a shot of the principal. They’re jockeying positions with one another more than just with the celebrity,” he said. “We run interference.”

Other local security experts pointed out that the laws regarding invasive behavior have always applied to photographers, as well as overzealous fans.

“You never know who is following your client or could be a source of danger, so you don’t differentiate,” said Glenn Massie, founder of Encino-based Protective Services Group. “The paparazzi themselves have just gotten more attention in past few years. In the field of protection, you are always focusing your attention on anyone who is paying too much attention to a client.”

Need questioned
Established celebrity photographers like Frank Griffin, though, said that the threat of physical harm is often overstated by celebrities and blown out of proportion, noting that clamors over privacy are seldom raised by political figures who are hounded by hard-news shutterbugs.

“If that’s how these people want to spend their money that’s fine, but I have yet to see anything that’s illegal,” said Griffin, who co-owns Bauer-Griffin photography. He pointed out that that an investigation found insufficient evidence to press charges against the photographer in the Lohan incident.

Griffin said that the celebrities who benefit financially from their public position, “lead very high-profile lives and curry public attention. They know damn well when they go shopping on Robertson Boulevard that there are going to be 10 or 20 photographers waiting to snap their picture.”

A new state law that became effective this month increased the fines that over-aggressive photographers face to three times the damages they inflict. The law specifically refers to “assault committed with the intent to capture any type of visual image, sound recording, or other physical impression,” and broadens an existing law that covered invasion of privacy. Violators of the law can lose any payments their published photos might earn and publishers also can be held accountable.

Still, exclusive photos of A-list celebrities fetch hundreds of thousands of dollars apiece, maybe more if distributed to international markets, so fines could easily be absorbed and seen as the cost of doing business.

“My feeling is that we could pass all the civil legislation in the world and not deter violations, because the money from the photos is too high for them,” said L.A. County prosecutor Rhonda Saunders, who spent years trying to strengthen California’s anti-stalking law passed in 1990. Saunders said that the new law will have to be tested in the court system and could need revision before it becomes effective.

“I think nothing will change until we get a criminal penalty in place. Sadly, I am afraid (a criminal law) may not get the kind of support we need until there’s some egregious incident,” Saunders said.









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