by Jerry Gorin and Antal Neville
Paparazzi tend to get a pretty bad rap. These celebrity photographers are often seen as social parasites, invasive and relentless hunters, and morally bankrupt individuals. That may very well be the case for many paparazzi, but there's another side of the story.
At 10:00 pm on a Wednesday, Jody Girl is running late. That's not the veteran paparazzo's real name, but it's the name she's been using for over 20 years. Tonight she's trying to catch Paris Hilton before she leaves a Hollywood restaurant called Madeo.
"She's going to come out and give it up and pose. If there's 20 guys there, everyone's going to get the best shot because it's like she's on a runway, it's a trip. She's my favorite person to shoot, Paris Hilton," Jody says.
Jody first started taking celebrity pictures as a fan. When she was still in high school, she waited outside the entrance to the MTV video music awards to see stars like Bon Jovi, Stevie Nicks and Kiss. After that she started taking her camera everywhere, and it turned out she had a good eye for spotting the rich and famous. She recognized a young Kim Basinger at a supermarket one day, so she took her picture. She didn't really think it would lead to a career.
"I do a regular routine. It's called 'doing the rounds,' like a Pacman, like a little pattern, seriously. You just check out 15-20 restaurants. If you see some SUVs in front of a restaurant, or if you get a tip, then I'm there," says Jody.
As we pull up to Madeo, we see two Escalades idling across the street. If you're hunting for celebrities, black Cadillac Escalades with tinted windows are a dead giveaway. Jody got here just in time.
There's a buzz outside the restaurant. Along with bodyguards, valets and restless fans, about a dozen paparazzi stake out the perimeter. Most of them look the same - husky guys with scruffy beards, beanies, and tired eyes. Jody doesn't really stand out...except she's the only woman out here, and she's really short, too.
"The more people that come are going to try to get in front, and they're bigger than me, so I gotta hold my ground," Jody explains.
Sometimes that means throwing a few elbows around, too.
Suddenly beefy bodyguards barrel their way to the door, and it looks like Paris and her dinner companion, British socialite Petra Ecclestone, are leaving the restaurant together. It's a free for all.
In the midst of it all I lose sight of Jody, only to see her pulling a fast U-turn. Before she drives away, I jump in her car.
"OK, I'm going to follow her. Hold on."
Jody floors it as we catch up to Paris' SUV going east on Beverly Blvd.
"There's seven cars, paparazzi, following her right now. See all the cars behind us? That one to the side, two behind that one, and three behind me," Jodi points them out.
We follow the SUV to the Roosevelt Hotel. Jody puts the car in park and runs inside, leaving me to take the wheel. Minutes later she's back, two big cameras flung around her shoulder. She's smiling as she runs, her short black hair bobbing up and down.
"They didn't go in the normal way, they went through the exit. But there was a lot of traffic in there and we were able to walk in, 15 of us, and we kind of scattered, and she got out and we jumped out. Surprise! Got pictures of her walking in," Jody recounts the story. "Got some great ones, nice ones."
How nice? That all actually depends on her agency, Pacific Coast News. While Jody keeps the rights to her photos, her agency distributes them in exchange for a cut of the profits. Pacific Coast News president Paul Harris says the biggest scores are for exclusives.
"If an exclusive, astonishing picture or video comes to you, depending on how marketable the celebrity is, it can make a lot of money," Harris says.
What kind of money are we talking about?
"If you go to at the highest extreme, and if you look at Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, I have a feeling the birth of the babies made $2-3 million." Harris says.
He says that kind of score is rare, and most nights, in fact, go by without a money shot at all. That's where Jody's persistence pays off.
"Basically she's just driven to go out. She likes to photograph celebrities; she likes to go where they are. People get a buzz from that," Harris says. "She's one of those people."
Jody Girl was in the right place when actor Jesse Metcalfe of the show "Desperate Housewives" recently got into a street fight. She says she scored $30,000 for those pictures.
"Every night you have that opportunity to get that money shot. And anything could have happened with Paris. Some weird girl could have come up and tried to slap her, and then you get those shots," Jody says.
Jody works seven nights a week because she doesn't want to miss anything. She says she doesn't want to see anybody get hurt, but if they do, she'll definitely be there to take a picture.