There are rumours Brad Pitt is calling the paps on himself. He’s not the only celeb to play this game.

In the late '90s and early 2000s, celebrity media coverage reached its peak.

With multiple print publications in circulation, a new celebrity was plastered across the front pages every week. The storylines ranged from actors "caught" in undesirable situations to starlets stumbling out of nightclubs, young women's bodies unfairly judged and breaking news about "secret" celebrity couples.

It certainly wasn't a shining moment for pop culture journalism but there was a voracious public appetite for this kind of coverage, and publications spared no expense in giving the people what they wanted.

A big cog in this heightened, no-holds-barred celebrity news cycle was the relationship between paparazzi, photo agencies and publications. They all worked hand in hand — agencies would send out paparazzi (or freelance photographers) in an effort to capture major '"scoop", then those images would be on sold to media for a hefty price. 

Media companies would fight for the images, with the exclusive rights going to the highest bidder.

The imagery (still or video) told a thousand words and the visual medium became the driving force behind perpetuating these celebrity stories. Someone caught with their pants down, an affair uncovered through a long lens, and private moments were all fodder for the paps, who went to great (and sometimes dangerous) lengths to ensure they never returned from an expedition empty-handed.

This attitude towards getting the shot no matter the cost immediately drove a wedge between celebrities and pop culture media. This friction often meant individuals would lash out at paparazzi, call the police or publicly slam media publications for supporting (and profiting from) this kind of behaviour.


But at the same time as paps were making names for themselves as the apparent pests of the entertainment industry, there was a subset of celebrities who were taking a different approach to the situation.

These were the stars who decided to work with the paparazzi instead of against them, and who would barter with them by giving them a shot or a soundbite if they promised to leave them alone afterwards.

And then there were others who completely flipped the script and chose to make the paparazzi work for them

There's a long-standing rumour that some celebs call the paparazzi or photo agencies to arrange a staged shoot. The thinking behind this theory is that the stars take back the power, giving themselves the ability to control the narrative. It also gives them brownie points with the paparazzi, because they're giving the photographers access to the very thing they want — exclusive shots that turn into big paydays.

Of course, for celebs engaging in this tactic, it's one they'd rather keep under wraps. After all, it's a little like sleeping with the devil. Paparazzi do not have a good name for themselves, and fraternising with them would likely be seen as a big no-no amongst their celebrity peers.

There is an air of perceived gaucheness that might follow a celeb if they were found to be calling the paparazzi to gain attention.


There are also questions raised around why someone might want to control the narrative in such a way. Is it for financial gain? Is it to publicly shame another celeb? Is it to push a commercial partnership? Is it to control a public viewpoint during a legal battle? All of these have been suspected drivers behind celebs calling paparazzi and orchestrating photo opportunities.

When we look into this decades-old phenomenon, we start to realise that it runs deep, and the people involved in these kinds of set-ups include both celebrities from whom we might expect this kind of behaviour, and ones that may surprise you.

On one end of the spectrum you have the product placement paparazzi photoshoots that are so overtly staged you simply have to laugh. No one has cornered this slice of the craze quite like #Speidi. Former The Hills stars Heidi and Spencer Pratt made a pretty tidy sum of cash when they became leaders in calling the paps on themselves.

"We had a 50/50 partnership with [a photo agency called Pacific Coast News] and we were making over a million dollars selling our paparazzi photos, so you start doing a lot of them and you're like, 'This is the best gig ever!'" Spencer during an interview with Pop Culture Died in 2009.

Spencer and Heidi Pratt in 2009. Image: Getty.


They were shameless in their endeavours to cultivate press and make a quick buck, and quite frankly, they weren't hiding their intentions.

Then came the Kardashian-Jenner era, when it was widely accepted that this famous reality TV family tipped off paparazzi in order to drum up interest in their growing brand. You know what they say about Kris Jenner working harder than the devil? Well, a big part of the strategy around promoting their multiple business offshoots boiled down to their names perpetually being in the media. And of course they get more airtime if there are some pics to accompany a story — hence their penchant for tipping off photographers on their whereabouts.


This was all working fine until the Kardashian-Jenners entered a legal stoush with photo agencies, after people  (including the famous family) reposting images without buying the rights started receiving cease-and-desist letters.

So what did they do instead? 

They hired in-house paparazzi photographers to take flattering pics of them whenever they wanted. No need to get sued and the ability to control the pics that get circulated in the media — rather savvy really.


Other lesser-known reality TV stars have been suspected of calling paparazzi as they try to extend their 15 minutes of fame, including Julia Fox who has truly had no qualms in being honest about her pursuits in tipping off photographers.

Image: Instagram/@juliafox

"Decided to walk to increase the chances of being papped cuz the world needs this look ur welcome," she shared on her Instagram stories getting very candid with her followers.


It's hard to say if she's joking or not but the slew of pap shots in recent times suggests she's being transparent around her tactics.

Of course, there are the celebs from whom you come to expect this kind of behaviour... and then there are the ones who try to emanate a very elusive public persona who happen to be just as culpable.

You see, celebrities can put a lot of resources behind remaining hidden if they really want to. But if they want to be seen (without necessarily tipping off the paps each time), they have particular ways of doing so. One paparazzi insider (who wanted to remain anonymous) told Bustle that Hailey Bieber is pretty tactical and far less overt in her approach to getting media attention.

He told the publication Bieber will go to the exact same spots each week, at the same time by design so paparazzi know when and where to find her.

"To me, that's a set-up photograph," he said when pointing to a picture of the 27-year-old leaving her regular pilates class in Los Angeles. (Of course, there is the chance the model just... likes to go to a certain pilates class.)

On the other end of the spectrum, things get a little murkier as they start to tread a moral line.

Celebrity digital publication Lainey Gossip — known for its blind items and commentary on all things pop culture — recently ran a piece claiming Brad Pitt is a long-standing player of the 'paparazzi set-up' game.

And you know what? The theory is pretty compelling.


Rumours of both Pitt and his ex-wife Angelina Jolie staging pap shots are nothing new. In fact, these whispers have largely followed them ever since they were first spotted together in 2005, just months after Pitt announced his split from Jennifer Aniston. 

The pair had been connected ever since they starred in the blockbuster spy romance Mr. & Mrs. Smith, so when pictures showed them happily frolicking on a beach in Kenya with Jolie's then-infant son Maddox, it was the scoop that made headlines around the world.

Was it a coincidence that a paparazzo scored the million-dollar shot on a secluded beach in Africa? Perhaps. But Pitt's latest paparazzi sighting seems a little more heavy-handed, giving credence to the notion he may have orchestrated an appearance in order to change the current media narrative about himself.

Less than a week ago, PEOPLE magazine and The Daily Mail published images of Pitt and his girlfriend of two years, Ines de Ramon, walking along a beach in Santa Barbara. By all accounts, it was the picture of domestic bliss, the pair walking with interlocked fingers and seeming at ease in each other's presence.

The pictures are a far cry from the image of Pitt that has been painted in courtrooms over recent years, as his ongoing litigation with former wife Jolie continues. The former spouses have been battling it out legally over the ownership of their French winery Château Miraval, and throughout the case there have been many explosive claims made about the 60-year-old actor.


Among the most damaging allegations put forward by Jolie has been the assertion that Pitt was physically abusive to both her and their children throughout their relationship. At the centre of these allegations is a particularly troubling affidavit in which Jolie outlines an alleged incident that took place on a 2016 flight, during which Pitt was reportedly verbally and physically abusive towards his then-wife and one of their children.

Amidst the sensitivity and severity of these allegations, Pitt has stayed largely out of the spotlight in recent years. So it isn't out of the question that he (or a member of his team) would set out to work some damage control by staging a photo op with his current girlfriend.

Interestingly, the photographer who took these pictures isn't just any old run-of-the-mill paparazzo. The images were shot by a photographer named Miles Diggs, who has become a bit of a celebrity in his own right as a go-to snapper for the stars. 

You may remember him as being the photographer that Rihanna hired to take pictures of her when she was pregnant with both her children — her opportunity to announce the news herself before being captured unwillingly.


Given his notoriety and roster of big name celebrity clients, it is hardly likely Diggs was camping out on the beach in Santa Barbara waiting for Pitt and his girlfriend to stroll on by. It is, however, completely feasible that he was hired either by Pitt, one of his attorneys or perhaps his PR rep in order to inject some positive spin into the bad press that has been circulating around his name in recent years.

Of course, Pitt has every right to orchestrate something like this if he so chooses. But when you think about the complex allegations of abuse that have been put forward against him, a tactic like this begins to feel somewhat potentially problematic. It's a reminder that while pop culture news can often be light-hearted, there's often a lot more going on behind the lens.

Feature Image: Getty.