This week, celebrity gossip site TMZ was put in the unusual position of defending itself against a rumor. A misreported claim that the notoriously shameless site was in the market for a drone caused widespread Internet panic. Even after TMZ and the Federal Aviation Administration both denied the report, the image of paparazzi-manned drones flying around Beverly Hills backyards, snapping photos of unsuspecting celebrities in their swimsuits, remained a tough one to shake.
“It’s very real, it’s very frightening, and it’s very inevitable,” longtime Hollywood publicist Howard Bragman said of drone-armed paparazzi. With small smartphone-controlled drones already available for several hundred dollars, he thinks drones with cameras will become commonplace in Hollywood by next year. “Trust me, if TMZ doesn’t do it, someone will.”
Still, Bragman noted, paparazzi already go to great lengths to snap a candid celebrity shot, and celebrities already go to equally great lengths to shield themselves. Even if desperate photogs aren’t sending remote-controlled helicopter cameras over privacy hedges just yet, they are in the habit of flying actual helicopters over celebrity weddings. But Mike Zimet, who provides security for celebrities, long ago figured out the secret to keeping leering eyes and lenses away from such intimate affairs: it’s called a tent. “The biggest concern on Alec Baldwin’s wedding day was his wife being photographed in her wedding dress,” Zimet said. He set up a “covered entrance”: a tented area on the sidewalk so Hilaria Baldwin could pass from the church to her car without ever being exposed to prying eyes.
Drones might not be able to get a photo that a dedicated tree-climbing, car-chasing paparazzo can’t, but there is one thing they’re better at: constant remote surveillance. Veteran shutterbug Ron Galella sees the appeal right away. “There was a garbage alley behind Doris Day’s house where you could view her pool,” he said, recalling one particularly grueling stakeout. “I went to that alley many, many times on a sunny day hoping to catch her at her pool.” He trekked to the alley 30 times before he finally caught her swimming with her dogs. “A drone would have saved me all of those trips.”
The 81-year-old has finally retired from his long, illustrious career as America’s most notorious paparazzo. A spinal operation has left him unable to run after his glamorous subjects, but he still knows what’s hot. “Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie would be my No. 1 subject of interest,” he confessed. “It would be great to catch them in their yard or at their chateau in France.” So if he could get a drone to capture the money shot of Brangelina, would he use it? “Probably. It’s tempting,” Galella chuckled. “What do they cost?”