In Benedict Canyon, Banks monitors the situation in front of David and Victoria Beckham's $22-million (€17-million) mansion. A few blocks later, he drives past Tom Cruise's former house.
Banks knows the area like the back of his hand. Three months before Cruise's daughter Suri was born, Banks practically lived in front of the estate's gate, sitting in his car from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day while taking only short breaks. He calls the practice of waiting for weeks on end for just the right opportunity "doorstepping."
At times, he says, there were eight paparazzi lurking in front of the house, but "in the end, I got the largest number of exclusive photographs." The haul consisted of eight "sets" of photos, little vignettes from the life of the Cruise family that are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Voyeurism and Pride This form of journalism is profitable because the Internet has created a huge new market for the big-game hunters of photojournalism. Magazines like Us Weekly and People, as well as newspapers like the British tabloid Daily Mirror and the German tabloid Bild, are still important customers. But, these days, Smith primarily sells his photos to celebrity websites, such as tmz.com, eonline.com and perezhilton.com, which have something to say about every shopping trip of a given celebrity. Splash News assembles about 200 photo sets of small episodes from the lives of the stars. With these photos and archive images, the company sells about 10,000 photos a day, making it the world's largest dealer of voyeuristic content.
With success, however, comes the pressure to liberate the company from its shady image. Indeed, Smith expends a lot of effort touting his company as a "legitimate news agency" and insisting that Splash News' reporters are well-trained journalists and photographers. "We consider ourselves the gentleman on the block," he says. "There are a lot of rogues out there," he adds, referring to photographers only out there to make a quick buck. "They are all rubbish." Allegedly Less Scrupulous Upstarts
Francois Regis Navarre is one these "rogues" -- and someone Smith would prefer to see banished to the deserts of California. After serving as a war reporter in Iraq and Cambodia for the French newspaper Le Monde, Navarre founded the X17 photo agency in 1996. Since then, the 49-year-old Frenchman has scored some of the biggest coups in the paparazzi world.
For example, the world has Navarre to thank for photos of Britney Spears shaving her head. Navarre also claims to have been the first to know about Michael Jackson's death because, as he says, one of his men managed to take a few shots of the inside of the ambulance carrying the singer.
Navarre lives on Amalfi Drive, an exclusive street in Pacific Palisades, and he also owns a beach house in Malibu. Paparazzi photos have made him a rich man, with his company reportedly generating roughly $10 million in annual revenues.
Others in the paparazzi world despise him because he doesn't employ professional photographers. Instead, his team is primarily composed of immigrants from countries like Brazil, whom he pays a low flat fee every month for the rights to their photos. He instructs his photographers not to take pictures of stars from far away but, rather, to "flash" them at close range, as he calls it. "I want to have eye contact with the stars," Navarre says.