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Vlad's Mercedes is hidden on purpose; he doesn't want another pap to jump his shot because that kills its value.Paps are known by their nicknames – Bam-Bam, Zazy, Top Hat Rick and Mexican Vlad, not to be confused with our Vlad, who is also known as the Black Russian. In the two weeks that I followed Vlad, he abandoned me and his Mercedes on Sunset Boulevard on a Saturday night so he could shoot Molly Shannon, thought he saw former stripper Blac Chyna but declared her ass not big enough, berated me for bringing a banana into his ride, fell at Chaka Khan's feet, and shot George Clooney on his way to picking up his girlfriend for date night. These notorious photos are brought to you by the paparazzi.
"I'll shoot her every day, and I'll have a complete story to sell. The party's guests included her uncle, Russell Simmons. "Russell thinks I should shoot a pilot about me and my little girl, Kaydence, , about the Louds, TV's first reality family, and loved it."The Kardashians are the living embodiment of the Louds," says Vlad."Now you have so many more paps trying to bait the client into a fight.I tell my clients, ' Let cool heads prevail.' In L."It's hilarious," says Rick "Top Hat Rick" Mendoza, a pap best known for suing Britney Spears after she ran over his foot. There is less big game like Jackie O and Michael Jackson out there, replaced by a bewildering galaxy of feral reality stars, former criminals and famouspeople spawn – like Jackson's son Prince, whose martial-arts lessons regularly attract a dozen paps. In the 1990s, you might get a shot of, say, Madonna looking ragged, and you'd have a few days to start a bidding war before selling it to ."Kristen comes up with a new hate word – pedorazzi – and goes on this campaign just as her movie is coming out," says Top Hat Rick. Now it's a race to beat the celeb from posting her own photo on Instagram or another pap from uploading the photo to INF or Splash, two of the largest photo agencies, and then the agency selling your competitor's photo before you've even pressed send. Vlad and other paps shoot, drive and upload simultaneously."It's become the Wild West out there," says one of Hollywood's top publicists.Vladimir Labissiere sits off Sunset Boulevard in his new black Mercedes E350.
He's monitoring the competition – OK, he's calling them fucking cock-blowers – and talking about the time Woody Harrelson jumped his ass and said he was a zombie.
He's one of hundreds of Angelenos who represent a tripped-out rainbow of the American dream – Haitian-Americans like Vlad, aviator-wearing Persians, Brazilians with questionable immigration status, Mexican-Americans in broken-down vans, Eurotrash in leather jackets and the occasional Caucasian dude on a motorcycle – trying to make a living on anywhere from ,000 to 0,000 a year by photographing every move an A-, B- or D-lister makes, short of using the toilet. "It's like they only cared that I got the picture."The Mercedes is now back in position. He also called Ashley Tisdale a name not uttered in polite society after the star used her niece as a shield to ward off Vlad and other paps. I first met him at King's Road Cafe in West Hollywood, a quiet restaurant that Vlad semi-hates because he's had to shoot Jane Lynch there repeatedly."She's always like, ' Again? Paris Hilton's bare vagina staring back at us. Federico Fellini named a photographer Paparazzo – conjuring the sound made by an annoying, buzzing insect – in his 1960 film , and the name stuck, morphing into the plural of paparazzi, an essential tweak since paparazzi tend to clump on celebs like horseflies on road apples.
(Bathroom shots are probably just a year or two away.) Some of the stars hate them, some of the stars use them in a now-estimated billion-dollar business, where millions of insatiable readers scan websites, magazines and television shows for the tiniest scrap of information on the second lead in a Lifetime reality show. ' The asshole is piggybacking on me, punching at me. '"Paps live on situational awareness – a sixth sense anticipating what is going to happen next. He shoots Vlad an isn't-that-something look, but Vlad just curses, spits and piles back into the car. You see some of the weirdest shit in the early morning, son. '"Well, "had to" is a relative term; paps like Vlad are an OCD bunch of characters. It's not an easy life, and it's getting harder.
Fellini's buzzing flies have become TMZ's serfs. Well, except when Hopper Penn called him the n-word and a vicious gay slur while he tracked his father, Sean, in the 90210 last year. Mind you, those standards may be slightly different from yours or most of Western civilization's, but they are still standards. An SUV pulls out of the London hotel and Vlad follows. He trails her to Record Plant studios, powering by her on Melrose so he can arrive a minute or two early and set up. If she's with the kid, it's even better." Vlad might make about 0 for an exclusive Jones shot, but could make twice that for one with her kid. He debates going home to change after this chase ends."Man, I'm getting dirty and shit, yo. I work really hard to fucking stay clean."Many paps see themselves as simple hacks, grinding out pics of whatever celeb is in front of them, often not knowing who they've shot until later. Sure, he can come across as Vlad the Barbarian, jumping in the face of celebs and sitting here behind Jones and her kid, but he wants something more from his pap life than shooting 50 sets a week and working six 12-hour days.
He's already on the sidewalk and shooting when a security guy asks him to let Jessie's mom pass. The Rover pulls up to a house in a nondescript neighborhood. He studies the glam photos of Jackie O stalker-pap Ron Galella and gets excited."That's what I want to do, get beautiful full-framed shots."But the exact goal is blurry. "I'd like assignments, just one day to know where exactly I'm going," says Vlad.
"Fuck Mark Wahlberg," shouts Vlad as he joins a scrum. It's a commonplace attitude of the paps – moral indignation when a target refuses to give it up. Celebs that hit the West Hollywood/Beverly Hills quadrant and places like the Urth Caffé are not exactly trying to keep a low profile; it's sort of like if Le Bron James went to an ESPN Zone and then whined about being hounded for autographs. Kim Kardashian routinely tipped off the paps in her early days.