These days, the British native and former London-based journalist heads a paparazzi empire. The company has supplied the photography for 500 magazine covers over the last five years, he says, adding that Splash News sells photos in close to 70 countries. "I was amazed when we hit the million dollar (mark) in revenues," says Smith, who drives a Bentley. "Now I am laughing about it."
Celebrity news from the company's field offices around the world have trickled in overnight. As he does every morning, news editor Paul Tetley delivers a brief status report: Jennifer Lopez is in Chile and allegedly sleeping with someone from her team of dancers. Irish singer Sinéad O'Connor plans to get married, for the fourth time, in Las Vegas. A rumor from England says that Prince William's wife, Kate, is pregnant.
And, of course, there's always Alec Baldwin. "He refused to shut off his mobile on a flight yesterday," Tetley reports. The actor allegedly became verbally abusive and was ordered off the plane. It's a mini scandal -- and a hit for Splash News.
A Vast Intelligence Operation
Indeed, the celebrity news agency thrives on the missteps of the stars. "We always used to say 'Your misfortune is our fortune,'" Smith readily admits. Being in the right place at the wrong time -- for the celebrities at least -- is the art of the paparazzi, who ply their trade with the virtuosity of skilled investigators.
The agency employs roughly 1,000 photographers across the world and operates an extensive network of paid informants. Smith has his "tipsters" in hotels, restaurants, theaters, hospitals and airports, including about 100 doormen, bartenders and chauffeurs in Los Angeles alone. Among other things, Splash News uses this network of tipsters to keep track of who is flying when and where, and it closely monitors publicly accessible police reports.
"Hardly anything happens in this city without our finding out about it," says Smith, who claims he could find almost anyone within a day. For this knowledge, he depends primarily on his photo reporters, a close-knit group that refers to itself as the CIA, or "Celebrity Intelligence Agency."
"The job is a bit like bird-watching," Smith says. "You have to have a certain tenacity, and you have to be able to blend in."
And be fast, he could add. Indeed, Smith's photographers can transmit their photos directly to the editorial office via a high-speed cell-phone network, thereby giving customers access to the images within seconds.
"People pay for speed," Smith explains. "The first picture runs; the second just doesn't." Out on the Hunt
Owing to this pressing need for speed, Splash photographer Darren Banks always has his Canon EOS 1D Mark IV within reach. The compact 36-year-old is wearing white sneakers and jeans. He was once a marksman with the British Army. "It's the same training, exactly the same business: Have a recon, shoot the prey," he says in a strong British accent, maneuvering his large SUV out of a parking spot.
We drive toward Hollywood, the 20-square-mile (50-square-kilometer) zone surrounding Sunset Boulevard that is the hunting grounds of the paparazzi. Banks always drives up and down the same 12 blocks, along Melrose Avenue, Rodeo Drive and Robertson Boulevard, past "Ivy," a restaurant popular with celebrities, the "Boa" steakhouse and the Fred Segal boutique. Eventually, he heads toward Beverly Hills, where the stars live.