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Camera-toting partygoers leave paparazzi in the dark

From Monday's Globe and Mail

TORONTO — On the third floor of the exclusive Holt Renfrew bash Friday night, chic partygoers were sipping martinis and swapping gossip while they awaited the arrival of their host, actress, budding designer and tabloid darling Sienna Miller.

It was a Toronto Film Festival party and outside, behind the barricades and excluded from the fun, professional paparazzi could only sit and wait.

But that doesn't mean you'll never see photos from inside the event. Many guests had cellphone cameras poised, hoping to snap a shot good enough to send to any of the dozens of websites hungry for fresh celebrity sightings that mainstream media outlets won't have.

"I'd send it to Go Fug Yourself if it turned out," said Maxine Mader, a 23-year-old fighting the crowds, snapping away with her camera phone.

Such is the reality of the new citizen paparazzi, where regular men and women within shutter range of celebrities can use their cellphone cameras, and nerve, to launch themselves onto gossip sites and even into the pages of Us Weekly.

Some take the pictures for cash, participating in a new industry for amateur photography that is quickly challenging the role of professional lensmen. But most do it just to play a part in tabloid culture, receiving no money and no credit, remaining as nameless to the public as they are to the A-list celebrity at whom they aimed their flash.

But the new wave of citizen paparazzi who make it past the velvet ropes are causing concern to those running the events and the pros who earn their living shooting them.

"It's frustrating. They can go places you can't," said Toronto freelance photographer Tom Sandler. "But that's the world we live in now."

Melanie Greco, publicist for the Four Seasons Hotel, agrees. "It's something we're finding more and more difficult to control." The hotel has been infiltrated this week by many citizen paparazzi hoping to get that money shot of George Clooney in his PJs or Brangelina (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie) engaging in some PDA.

The hotel has strict policies barring photography in its public areas.

But while photographers and camera crews employed with a media organization generally respect the rules of film festival engagements, guests wielding digital cameras are harder to control.

"If they take pictures, we don't condone that behaviour but it's not like we're going to jump on top of them or anything," Ms. Greco said.

This year's festival has already spawned its quota of citizen paparazzi moments. Photographs of Jake Gyllenhaal arriving at Pearson International Airport were quickly sent to gossip websites like Pink is the new Blog, while shots of Sienna Miller's Annie Hall meets Alice in Wonderland were online before the Factory Girl had made it to the VIP room.

Agencies are now popping up to take advantage of this material, and the new labour force that provides it.

A site called Mr Paparazzi.com encourages visitors to send photographs of celebrities, and features a gallery of amateur shots of Pamela Anderson and Britney Spears, each plastered with the dollar figure paid to the contributor.

"If you get something good, don't hang around, send us the pictures NOW!' the site screams. "This will increase your chances of making BIG bucks."

This coaching, and coaxing, is taking it's toll on the paparazzi industry.

"We try to maintain a level of professionalism that just isn't there with those people," Mr. Sandler said. "They have no sense of what else is going on around them. They'll just stick their arm right into your shot."

Mr. Sandler said that because cellphones and inexpensive digital cameras are now equipped to transfer large files, photographs taken by untrained shooters are now of sufficient quality to appear in newspapers and in magazines.

And because members of the citizen paparazzi will often accept lower rates, he worries that prices will fall for all photographers. While some sites pay a one-time fee, others offer no fee, or, like Getty-owned Scoopt, pays members 40 per cent of gross sales prices.

"They flood the market with substandard material," he said. "It can eat away at the business."

Over the past few years, citizen paparazzi have gradually gained footing in Canada.

A Calgary bartender dished to a British tabloid about her romp with Prince Harry, while the C-list celebrity equivalent of the Zapruder film of the Kennedy assassination was produced in Toronto last year when a McDonald's patron captured a cellphone video of a drunken Ashlee Simpson berating the fast food chain's staff.

The maker of the video sold it to CTV, and it was quickly broadcast around the world to the embarrassment of the young pop star.

Jordan Schwartz, vice-president of daytime programming for CTV, said the network was approached with the Simpson video, and that they do not solicit for amateur material.

"We have our own photographers and use agencies. We have professionals who do that," he said. "But if somebody brings us something that we think is newsworthy or of interest to our audience then we'll examine it carefully."

The Simpson footage was worth paying for, he said, because "nobody else had it."

"You always want to have something that nobody else has. And every cellphone has a camera attached to it these days so I think we'll be seeing more of that kind of thing."

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