Sometime in the coming weeks, perhaps as soon as the first week of May, somewhere in the world—probably Paris, but possibly Los Angeles, or maybe even Addis Ababa—Angelina Jolie will bequeath unto the celebrity weeklies a gift so magnificent that, until recently, few imagined such a thing was possible. She will give birth to Brad Pitt’s child.
Not since Jesus has a baby been so eagerly anticipated. Actually, forget Jesus. Only three wise men turned up to greet him in the manger. The Brangelina baby—as the megawatt couple’s spawn is known, at least until its parents give it a proper name—has People, Us Weekly, In Touch, Star, and Life&Style (working, of course, on behalf of the millions and millions of readers they serve) awaiting the newborn’s arrival, all of them hoping and scheming and planning to voyage to the ends of the Earth, if that’s what it takes, to get a first—preferably the first—glimpse of the blessed child.
Why are people, and People, so desperate to see the Brangelina baby? The men and women who helm the celebrity weeklies have an easy answer. Their readers, they explain, view celebrities as their friends; and as they would be with any friends, they’re interested in their so-called life events. The big three of life events, the theory goes, are weddings, breakups, and babies—hence the celebrity weeklies’ laserlike focus on celebrity weddings, celebrity divorces, and celebrity babies.
But even for a life event, celebrity-weekly editors go on to explain, the Brangelina baby is particularly enticing. For one, there’s the simple matter of aesthetics. “The parents happen to be two of the most gorgeous people on the planet. How gorgeous is that baby going to be?” wonders Bonnie Fuller, the editorial director of American Media, whose stable of magazines includes Star. Dan Wakeford, an executive editor of In Touch, offers a tentative answer: “This could possibly be the most beautiful baby in the history of the world.” Even more than looks, there’s the backstory. “There’d be a lot of interest if it was Jennifer Aniston’s baby,” explains an editor at one celebrity weekly, “but with Brangelina, there’s that extra factor that the Hollywood golden couple was broken up so that this relationship, and this baby, could happen … I mean, this is the baby Jen wouldn’t give Brad, and the fact that it’s Angelina giving it to him—my feeble little mind can barely handle it!”
In that sense, the birth marks the end of a modern fairy tale, the sentimental made-for-TV-movie moment of the happy new family in their cocoon of bliss (and for added narrative pleasure, there’s poor Aniston off smoking and getting naked in a bad-looking movie with chubby Vince Vaughn). Whoever contrives to get the shot of the gorgeous Pitt-Jolie offspring will not only enjoy a lucrative windfall. They’ll give us the closure we all crave, while throwing open the door to the next serial fairy tale (the inevitable marital bumps, etc.) that will delight and/or disgust millions of us around the world—and sell a ton of magazines. But first, the photo, or what Debra Birnbaum, the deputy editor of Life&Style, calls “the Holy Grail of celebrity journalism.”
The Brangelina-baby photo hunt is unusual insofar as the hunters seem more beleaguered than the prey. Ask any Sears studio photographer what it’s like to shoot a squirming 1-month-old posed on a bearskin rug, and he’ll tell you that it’s not easy. Now, imagine trying to get a candid, on-the-move shot of a baby whose parents are doing everything in their considerable power to prevent you from taking their child’s picture, and you have an idea of the difficulties facing a paparazzo on a typical celebrity-baby assignment. “Weddings are so much easier,” says one with a sigh. “At least with those you’re dealing with full-sized people.”
To gauge just how challenging a celebrity-baby photo hunt can be, consider the last big one—which was for Sean Preston Federline. Steve Ginsburg, who abandoned his bartending gig to become a Los Angeles paparazzo and who has made a handsome living ever since, had high hopes for landing the first picture of Britney Spears and Kevin Federline’s baby. He tracked the singer in the final months of her pregnancy, studying her moves, learning her habits, trying to glean as much information about her as he could—so that, when her due date arrived, he would be in position to land an exclusive. Of course, Ginsburg wasn’t the only one doing such legwork, and when he showed up one day in mid-September outside the Santa Monica UCLA Medical Center—where Spears had checked in under an assumed name—he discovered the place already swarming with paparazzi. “It was a spectacle,” Ginsburg says.
Once upon a time, a photographer on the baby hunt might have tried to sneak into the hospital, like the Italian paparazzo Adriano Bartoloni did after Pope John Paul II was shot in 1981. Bartoloni persuaded a family friend who worked in the intensive-care unit to put his name on a visitors list; he made it all the way to the door of the pope’s private room before a security guard caught him. But with privacy laws and celebrities’ private security forces being what they are today, such feats of derring-do are a thing of the past. And so the paparazzi camped outside the hospital, where they were constantly watched by Spears’s security guards, some of whom took their own pictures of the photographers. Their hope was to spot Spears leaving the building to go home with her new baby. But they never did. That’s because, according to one paparazzo who was at the hospital, Spears had her team wheel an empty carriage out to a waiting car; as the paparazzi fixated on that, Spears and baby absconded in the back of an ambulance to her home in Malibu. (In this instance, photographers at least have the small comfort of knowing how they were fooled, unlike in 1997 when Michael Jackson vanished from Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles with his newborn. “The hospital was completely surrounded by photographers … If they’d all held hands, they could have formed a human chain around the place,” recalls Kevin Smith, the owner of the Splash photo agency. “And he still managed to get out with the baby and no one saw him. To this day we have no idea how he did it.”)
In Malibu, the baby hunt continued as paparazzi staked out Spears’s house. But it was largely to no avail. “She basically disappeared,” says Ginsburg. “Nobody had a for-sure sighting of her for months.” Making matters worse, there were no nearby homes for the paparazzi to commandeer that afforded a good view of Spears’s property, such as the one German photographers rented for $5,000 a day in 1996 to snap the first pictures of an unaware Madonna and her new baby, Lourdes, reportedly pocketing $150,000. And while the photo agency X17 did lease a helicopter and squeeze off a few shots of Spears in her backyard holding a small, blanketed bundle, the pictures were grainy and blurry and apparently did not fetch a very high price from the handful of celebrity weeklies that ran them. (A staffer at a magazine that passed on the pictures doubts the bundle even contained a human being: “It was a dog wrapped in a blanket, or maybe a doll.”) Baby pictures stolen from a private photo shoot were briefly available online until they were removed after the threat of a lawsuit. Finally, in November, the photo hunt essentially came to an end when Spears released those pictures to People. The paparazzi skulked away from Spears’s home with nothing to show for their weeks of effort. Says one bitter paparazzo: “The whole thing was a giant cluster-fuck, a total waste of time.”
“It’s going to be very hard, because if you think about it, a newborn is in that ‘carry’ thing, whatever the hell you call it, and you literally need to get up right next to it to get a clean shot of the face.”
And yet, like moths to a flame, the paparazzi are getting ready for the Brangelina baby. According to those whose business it is to know such things, Jolie will likely give birth at Paris’s American Hospital during the first week of May, although she’s also believed to have booked rooms at Cedars-Sinai and Malibu’s St. John’s Hospital and may have done the same at hospitals in London, Berlin, and a Third World country—possibly Ethiopia, from where she adopted her daughter, Zahara. (Some of the same people who claim to have a good idea about where and when Jolie will give birth also seem to have a good idea about how: They say it will be a C-section. They also say it’s a boy.)
So, with Paris looking at the moment like the best bet, the paparazzi are brushing up on their French—and feeling a touch frénétique. “It’s like going to the moon,” complains one American paparazzo who has shot in Paris. “First of all, there’s the language difference. Second, there’s the traffic. Nowhere in the U.S. has traffic like Paris.” Then there’s the cultural chasm: “They’re Frenchmen and we’re all just stupid Americans. They all think George W. Bush is our father.” Even Paris’s topography conspires against the paparazzi. “In Los Angeles, everyone’s outdoors a lot because of the weather and everyone has backyards,” says Peter Howe, a former director of photography for Life and the author of the book Paparazzi. “In Paris, people are in their apartments, and the landscape isn’t as flat as it is in Los Angeles, and the light isn’t as good.”
Finally, there’s the Princess Di factor. Unlike in Los Angeles, where the paparazzi often pursue their quarry in high-speed car chases and shoot “guerrilla style”—getting right up in celebrities’ faces and blasting them with a flash—Diana’s 1997 death dampened paparazzi culture in Paris. “The paparazzi here discipline themselves,” says Marc Rylewski, a Paris paparazzo who worked in Los Angeles until U.S. immigration authorities threw him out. “They stay ten feet behind, they don’t shoot with flash. No one wants another Princess Di situation.” After Diana, the French also passed stringent anti-paparazzi laws. “If a Paris cop really wanted to press it,” says one paparazzo, “he could arrest us all.”
Why Jolie and Pitt would choose to have their baby in Paris (if that is indeed where they have it) is known only to them. Perhaps it’s because Jolie’s mother is French. Perhaps it’s because they simply like Paris, where the couple—and their two adopted children—has spent much time in recent months. But some wouldn’t put it past Jolie and Pitt to pick Paris simply to make the paparazzi’s lives more difficult. It wouldn’t be out of character. In 2000, when Pitt was marrying Aniston, he had a Los Angeles printer make up invitations with the wrong date and location, knowing someone at the printer would leak the information. Then, in order to thwart the photographers who discovered the wedding’s real location—which was at a friend’s Malibu mansion—and who were tempted to try to shoot the nuptials from helicopters, Pitt supposedly secured a temporary flight restriction over the property, which, as one paparazzo puts it, “is like an act of God … That house was like the fucking White House.”
Jolie is usually more accommodating of the shutterbugs, but she too has resorted to extreme measures. Earlier this year, for instance, when she was shooting The Good Shepherd in the Dominican Republic (just before publicly revealing that she was pregnant with Pitt’s child), the film set resembled an armed fortress. “The local security actually had the Dominican military working with them,” says one paparazzo who tried and failed to shoot Jolie (and her by then noticeably growing belly) in Santo Domingo. “If they told you something once and you didn’t do it, you were going to jail.” His local tour guide did, in fact, end up getting arrested.
All of which makes one paparazzo paint a particularly bleak scenario of how the hunt will play out in Paris. As he sees it, he will arrive there a few days before Jolie’s due date and join the stakeout at the couple’s apartment. Then one day he and the rest of the paparazzi pack will follow Jolie and Pitt—who, if habit serves, will travel in an easy-to-spot American-made minivan—to the American Hospital and set up an encampment across the street. “It’s going to be a circus,” the paparazzo predicts. He will do his best to establish his spot, one that gives him a view of as many hospital exits as possible, and then he will wait. While waiting, he may try to make contacts with people inside the hospital and ply them with money to give him even the smallest shards of information—such as which floor Jolie is staying on or which exit the new parents and baby might emerge from when they go home—but he admits the chances of his getting any are slim. “If anyone is going to get inside information,” he complains, “it’ll be the French photographers.”
And then, after a few days, Jolie will leave the hospital with her new baby. Chances are she and Pitt will create a diversion—an empty carriage, a decoy car, something. But even if they don’t, there’s no guarantee a paparazzo will get a good shot of the baby. “It’s going to be very hard, because if you think about it, a newborn is in that ‘carry’ thing, whatever the hell you call it, and you literally need to get up right next to it in order to get a clean shot of the face,” the paparazzo says. When Jolie returns to her apartment, she will be even harder to photograph, since her place is next door to a French-government building, and she typically gets in and out of her car in the government’s secure parking lot. Once Jolie goes inside with her new baby, the photographers will wait again. And wait. And wait some more. Maybe someone will try to bribe a delivery boy for inside information, but there’s no point in trying to bribe the other people who live in Jolie’s building, since, the paparazzo explains, “neighbors won’t give up a neighbor.”
Eventually, this photographer hopes, his fortunes will turn. “The first two weeks after the birth is a zoo,” he says. “But after two weeks, a lot of them start to get fed up—especially if they’re paying serious money for a hotel in Paris. Then there are only five or six guys left. And that’s when you make some money.” Which can be considerable. Although his expenses for the assignment could exceed $10,000 when he factors in flights, hotel, car rental, fuel, parking, meals, international cell-phone calls, and payments for tips, one picture of the Brangelina baby—even if it’s from a distance; even if it’s blurry; even, perhaps, if it’s a nonexclusive—could fetch him $50,000. And, as he calculates it, if he gets a few of those types of pictures each year, along with a steady diet of $1,000 shots, then he’ll make an annual salary in the mid–six figures. “People call you a scumbag pretty much every day,” he concedes, “but it’s nice being able to pay your bills.” And that’s why he plans to go to Paris and stay there for as long as it takes. “You’ve got to outlast the story,” he says. “You’ve just got to spend weeks outside her apartment waiting for her to come out.”
So the Brangelina-baby photo hunt will likely end precisely when and where the proud parents want it to. “If Brad and Angelina do not want anybody to see the baby, then they have the capacity to keep the baby out of the public eye,” says Bonnie Fuller. But at some point, the couple might want to show off their new addition, and there are several tried-and-true strategies Jolie and Pitt can use when it comes to determining who gets the first shot of their baby, and how it’s gotten.
One such strategy is what some paparazzi darkly refer to as “pulling a Sarah Jessica Parker.” After giving birth to her and Matthew Broderick’s first child, James Wilke, at Lenox Hill in 2002, Parker informed the paparazzi that she and her husband and newborn baby would be leaving the hospital through a certain exit at a certain time. At the appointed hour, the threesome marched out and stood on the hospital steps for three or four minutes, letting all those assembled get a good look. That made the paparazzi’s job easy—too easy. The market was flooded with “first photos” of little James Wilke, turning what some predicted would be a million-dollar picture into a discount special. “There were 200 photos of that baby,” says Frank Griffin, co-owner of the photo agency Bauer-Griffin, “and they all sold for $75 a picture.” Which, of course, is exactly what Parker hoped would happen, since, with her baby’s picture now largely worthless, the paparazzi would be more likely to leave her and her family alone.
Parker’s strategy, however, does squander money that could otherwise be put to good use. After Gwyneth Paltrow gave birth to her and Chris Martin’s daughter, Apple, in 2004, Paltrow tipped off an old friend, the photographer Steve Sands, about when and through which exit she’d be leaving her London hospital. Sands snapped a few supposedly “surprise” shots of Paltrow, Martin, and Apple, and sold the pictures for a reported $125,000 to People. “That was my most expensive photo,” says Sands, who wouldn’t confirm an exact figure. He says he’s hoping that Paltrow, who is pregnant again, will give him a similar opportunity with “Apple 2.0.”
“I’d say there’s a zero percent chance that Brad and Angelina will sell their pictures to ‘OK!’ Say what you will about Brad and Angelina, but they’re not low-rent.”
Another technique is to steer the money to charity. Last year, for instance, Julia Roberts had her husband, Danny Moder, take pictures of their 3-month-old twins, Hazel and Phinnaeus, and sell the photos to People for a figure that sources say was between $100,000 and $150,000. Roberts then donated the money to an environmental group. Courteney Cox and David Arquette released a picture of their baby daughter, Coco, to the photo agency Wire Image on the condition that all the proceeds go to a charity.
And then, of course, there are the celebrities who pocket the money. Saying who does this is hard, because none of them—or their publicists—will cop to it. But it’s an open secret in the celebrity-publishing game that sometimes a good portion of the money a magazine pays a charity or a photographer or a photo agency for an exclusive first-baby photo finds its way into the bank account of the baby’s parents. The rumors about this practice are particularly vicious when it comes to Spears and Federline.
Officially, the exclusive first photos of Sean Preston that People ran were secured with a donation—said to be in the neighborhood of $500,000—from the magazine to a charity Spears established to help Hurricane Katrina victims. “The money went to the Britney Foundation or whatever it’s called,” says People managing editor Larry Hackett. (Spears’s publicist Leslie Sloane Zelnik would not confirm whether her client required that any fee be paid, to charity or otherwise, for the photos.) But that hasn’t stopped many in the industry from openly speculating that the money went elsewhere. “The money didn’t go to charity,” says one industry source, “unless you consider Kevin Federline charity.” Adds an editor at a celebrity weekly: “Britney had it in her prenup that any money they make together he gets half of. This is Kevin’s primary source of income.”
No one thinks Brad and Angelina will sell the first picture of their child in order to fatten their own wallets. But the consensus is that the couple will use it to raise money for one of their favorite charities—probably Yéle Haiti, which was established by Jolie’s friend Wyclef Jean to fund development projects in his native country. This is what Jolie did when she revealed that she was pregnant during a visit to a Yéle Haiti project in January: She allowed one of the charity’s employees to take a picture, which Yéle Haiti then sold to People and its sister publication in Australia for $500,000.
Magazine wranglers have been approaching Pitt’s publicist Cindy Guagenti (Jolie does not have a publicist) to express interest in the first baby photo. “We’re getting offers,” says Guagenti. And while she won’t say any more on the subject, it’s a virtual certainty that those offers are quite substantial—because for a celebrity weekly, the value of landing the first exclusive photo of the Brangelina baby is almost incalculable. Certainly, baby photos will send newsstand sales skyrocketing. Last year, for instance, People’s third best-selling issue was the one with Julia Roberts and her twins on the cover; Us’s second best-selling issue in 2005 featured Jolie and her newly adopted daughter, Zahara, on the cover. “If you sell an extra 300,000 or 400,000 copies at $3.50, there’s a million dollars right there,” says an editor at one weekly. Beyond newsstand sales, there’s the ineffable quality of having the thing that everyone wants. “There’s really no price on that,” says the editor. “Just having it is good for the brand to show readers that your magazine is the one that gets these sorts of photos.” Which is why editors, photographers, and publicists all say that the Brangelina-baby photo could fetch at least $1 million.
Only a handful of magazines have deep enough pockets to pay that sort of price. High-end magazines, such as Vogue and Vanity Fair, could easily afford it, but it’s doubtful Jolie would want to give it to one of them, since those magazines have such long lead times—meaning that Jolie, to guarantee that the photo remained an exclusive, would have to keep her baby out of sight for several months after completing a deal.
That leaves the celebrity weeklies as Jolie’s best option, and, according to people in the industry, there are only two willing and able to pay seven figures for a photo. Although the field is still technically wide open, the Brangelina-baby-photo sweepstakes will likely come down to a duel between OK! and People.
OK!, a venerable British publication that has struggled with its new American version, has no qualms about paying celebrities. The magazine recently paid a reported $3 million for photos of Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore’s wedding that an editor at another celebrity weekly said “looked like they were taken with a camera phone.” Insiders speculate that OK! could shell out as much as $5 million for the Brangelina-baby photo, in the hope of reversing the magazine’s sagging fortunes in the U.S. (Sarah Ivens, OK!’s editor-in-chief, will only say that the magazine’s offer to Jolie and Pitt is “impressive.”) But many say OK! won’t get the photo for any price. “I’d say there’s a zero percent chance that Brad and Angelina will sell their pictures to OK!” says an editor at a magazine that plans to sit out the bidding war. “Say what you will about Brad and Angelina, but they’re not low-rent.”
That makes People—the Goliath among celebrity weeklies, with a circulation of 3.8 million that is more than double that of its nearest competitor, Us Weekly—the odds-on favorite. “People is so skillful at buying pictures but not telling anyone,” says one publicist. “You can do a photo shoot with People and come across as good parents and still get the money. If you do the same thing with OK!, the perception is that you sold your kid.” Hackett is certainly aware of his magazine’s overdog status in the Brangelina-baby sweepstakes. “Experience has shown we tend to treat these people with fairness, and we’re the biggest magazine,” he says. Still, he strongly implies that $5 million is well out of his range. Which may be why, in an effort to hedge its bets, People appears to be currying Jolie’s favor in other ways. In March, the magazine ran a glowing story about an anti-poverty initiative in the tiny African country of Malawi that Jolie has supported. Some in the industry even claim to detect a creeping anti-Aniston bias in People’s pages. “They’ve been totally ragging on Jen,” says the publicist.
Meanwhile, the other celebrity weeklies are hardly planning to go gently into the night. “I don’t think it’s a given that all photos are going to wind up in People,” insists Life&Style’s Birnbaum. “If that’s the case, we should all just fold and pitch our tents elsewhere.” A source at another weekly talks of crafting a pitch that wins over Pitt and Jolie with its goodwill. “We’ll promote your charity, we’ll throw an auction for your charity, we’ll do articles on it in our magazine, we’ll have our staff go volunteer in Africa or Haiti or wherever.”
But an editor at one celebrity weekly takes a more realistic, or perhaps jaundiced, view. “People’s going to get the picture, and there’s nothing we can do about it,” he says. “We’ll just have to counterprogram. Put Nick and Kristin on the cover that week.”
How Much For a Picture
A paparazzo reveals a few rules of the trade.
’It’s all about context.” For instance, a picture of Nicole Richie buying coffee would probably fetch only $1,000. A picture of her eating might go for $10,000 or $15,000, either as an exclusive or sold to five different magazines for $2,000 or $3,000 each. Likewise, Nick Lachey: By himself, maybe $1,000 if you’re lucky, but with another woman, such as Kristin Cavallari, if it’s exclusive it might fetch as much as $100,000. Same goes for George Clooney: a few thousand for a shot of him alone, but much more money for a picture of him with a woman. “There was a horrible photo with him and one of the Desperate Housewives in the back of a car leaving a party, and I heard they made $80,000.”
But when it comes to Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, pictures of the two of them together are a dime a dozen, and therefore might not command even $1,000. But pictures of Holmes by herself can get $20,000 or $30,000. “The magazines can say, ‘Where’s Tom? Why isn’t he with her?’ ”
“Anyone in a bikini.” In the past couple of years, Jennifer Lopez has gone from A-list to C-list, and the value of her pictures has plunged. But a few weeks ago she was photographed poolside in Miami in a bikini—a picture that probably had a $25,000 price tag. “Photos of stars in bikinis will go for a minimum of $25,000. They don’t even have to be young.”
HOW MUCH FOR A PICTURE
A paparazzo reveals a few rules of the trade.