When celebrities and paparazzi collide, the resulting picture is not always a pretty one. Hardened shutterbugs battle throngs of fellow photographers in the hunt for the next big money shot. It's an arena that can be downright ugly, nasty and even dangerous.
You'd certainly never expect to find two wide-eyed 15-year-olds in the middle of the mayhem, but young photographers Austin Visschedyk and Blaine Hewison have been making a name for themselves as paparazzi … and not always a good one.
"I took a picture of Adam Sandler, exclusive," Blaine recalled. "And he came up to me and said, 'So you're gonna be a dick.'"
"He was being really rude," Austin added.
Were they invading Sandler's privacy? Blaine doesn't think so.
"If you're a celebrity, you've gotta know that there's gonna be paparazzi," Blaine said. "It's a choice you make. If you don't want it, you can end it."
These longtime best friends have gotten used to the chaos that comes along with life as a paparazzo. Over the past year, they've become fixtures in L.A.'s sometimes rough-and-tumble paparazzi scene. This offbeat career path may seem strange to some, but not to Blaine or Austin.
"We've lived in Hollywood all our lives," Austin said. "And it was just kind of like, yeah, you go to a restaurant and you see a celebrity … and you think after a while, we can start taking pictures of these people and actually make some money."
Blaine convinced his father to invest in a camera, and he and Austin got to work. "We started to, you know, get out there and be known a lot more, get business cards made, start to network with the people around us and where we live," Blaine said.
Jane Seiberts, Austin's mother, realizes that most parents don't dream of having their child become a paparazzo. "We'd obviously heard all the things that everybody else hears about the paparazzi," Seiberts said. "I mean there was a part of me like, are you sure you want to do this. … It's a little scary."
Blaine's dad, Rob Hewison, also had reservations. "It made me a little nervous in the beginning because of the stigma that's, you know, with the paparazzi word," Hewison said. "When they started, I wanted to make sure that they were supervised and that it wasn't a world that was gonna be scary."
Their parents say the young photo hunters never go on a celebrity safari without an adult along, but even with supervision, Austin is sometimes presented with some risky situations, such as those infamous celebrity car chases.
"If Britney goes through a yellow light, the 20 paparazzi have to, behind her, have to go through the red," Austin said.
Sounds unsafe, but Austin says those chases are actually safer than they may appear. "If everybody goes through the red light, it's like a chain … and nobody deliberately is gonna drive their car into another chain of cars."
Luckily for their own and other people's safety, Austin and Blaine are not old enough to drive, and Blaine's father forbids participating in those chases. Still, there can be other dangers. Recently, Blaine was violently shoved.
"Believe it or not, it wasn't a paparazzi," Rob Hewison said. "It was a doorman from a five-star restaurant. So that was quite a shock to me." Criminal charges were brought against the doorman, who claims that the shove was an accident.
Does Hewison regret sending Blaine into such risky territory?
"No," he said, "because it's the world that we live in. And I mean he needs to learn to survive in this world and there are people like that and you need to be able to deal with them."
No Ordinary Part-Time Job
"I think it's been enormously beneficial for [Austin]," Sieberts said. "I mean, all of this has been a wonderful way for him to learn, and what better way to learn than by doing?"
And to those who may say she is letting Austin grow up too quickly? "I think it's just, it's wrong to pass judgment unless you're in that person's shoes. Nobody knows my son like I do."
Their parents also point out that the boys' regular schooling has not been neglected. They're in independent study programs, doing 15 hours of assigned school work each week. That leaves time to pursue photography not as a whimsical hobby, but as a lucrative part-time job.
Austin and Blaine are coy when it comes to the details of how much they're paid. Though Austin first said that he's only paid "a couple bucks" for each of his photos, he later admitted the real number is closer to "thousands."
Us Weekly paid Austin top dollar for a photo of Rihanna that was published in a full-page spread.
"It is … an incredibly lucrative business," said Brad Elterman, the founder of BuzzFoto. "And even if you're doing it part time … you can make six figures doing this."
Elterman has been described as the original teenage paparazzi. He sold his first picture, a shot of Bob Dylan, when he was only 16. He's now credited with "discovering" Blaine and Austin.
"We had a video guy who brought me a video tape last summer and it was of Ryan Seacrest," Elterman recalls. "And so I'm looking at the video tape and … what I see in the corner of the frame is I see these rather short paparazzis there. I did a double take, [thinking] 'Is this a joke or something?'"
Elterman quickly saw the boys' natural talent was no laughing matter.
"Austin took a magnificent photograph of Kim Kardashian. I mean, it just had everything going for it," he said. "And we got a phone call from the photo editor at TMZ, and … he said this is the most magnificent photograph he's ever seen of Kim Kardashian."
Tempted as Elterman was to sign Blaine and Austin for his agency, he ultimately decided against it. "At the end of the day, we passed. I still feel they're just too young to be doing this. … I didn't want to take that risk."
Blaine and Austin's age may have been a liability for BuzzFoto, but on the street their youth can give them a competitive edge. When a crowd of shouting paparazzi is vying for the attention of a celebrity, it's Austin and Blaine who often become the center of attention.
"I would say the paparazzi actually depend on me and Austin," Blaine said, "because the celebrity's gonna be looking at us and want to talk or want to know why we're doing this."
The intriguing freshness of their youth got them shots not only of Lindsay Lohan, but of other tabloid golden girls, such as Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. And now the boys are becoming celebrities of a sort themselves. There's a television reality show in the works, and Blaine's dad is completing a documentary.
While they're enjoying their current success, Blaine and Austin have goals that extend beyond the world of paparazzi photography. "I want to be the best photographer in L.A. That's my goal," Austin said. He also wants to "start my own studio and then do portraits."
Blaine's dreams are similarly ambitious. "I hope to be a great artist," he said, "and, you know, go to school for my photography. … So hopefully, I can start shooting artistic stuff for photography, and that will be pretty cool for me."