Attack of the Paparazzi
On the hunt with the wolves of Hollywood
April 17, 2014 11:00 AM ET
Kim Kardashian swarmed by paparazzi.
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 is parked in an alley across from the London hotel, one of his favorite haunts. Labissiere spends a lot of time in alleys waiting for his shots. That's when he's not trailing behind celebrity SUVs that are taking tots home from play dates.
The 40-year-old Vlad is six feet three, but he's no zombie. He is something more monstrous in the eyes of stars like Harrelson. He's a pap, singular for paparazzi, the despised shooters who bring you all the video and pics you claim to loathe but actually stare at online for hours. 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.
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 $10,000 to $150,000 a year by photographing every move an A-, B- or D-lister makes, short of using the toilet. (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 billiondollar 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 paps struggle not to get squished by TMZ, the Godzilla of the tabloid world, which has the influence, sources and cash to swamp a pap working on his own.
Vlad is one of the last of the lone wolves. Right now, he's waiting on British pop star Jessie J to emerge and head to a nearby recording studio. Vlad checks her Instagram page and sees that she's at the rooftop pool, so it will be a while. He starts talking about his encounter with Harrelson in 2009, as hip-hop blasts from his radio. Vlad's gone solo since, but at the time he was shooting for TMZ. He caught Harrelson and his daughter coming off a flight. "I'm asking questions, trying to keep it light. 'Hey, Woody, so how you feelin', man? I know you must be a little out of it, but . . . are those pants made out of hemp?' And the dude bum-rushes me and smashes my camera to shit. I'm like, 'Woody, that's assault, that's assault.'"
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