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Junior celeb chasers: the true Hollywood story

June 30, 2007|Molly Selvin | Times Staff Writer

Looking back, Monday night was a high point in the professional partnership of Blaine Hewison-Jones and Austin Visschedyk, briefly known as the "Pint-Size Paparazzi."

Tipped off by the maitre d' that Meg Ryan was dining at Koi, they hustled over to the West Hollywood restaurant, Nikon cameras in their backpacks, and joined about a dozen much taller photographers huddled near the front door.

If Ryan was there, they missed her. Later that night, they also missed Paris Hilton when she was sprung from jail. But they had a great time. It was fun to hang out with the grown-up paparazzi.

By Wednesday, it wasn't fun anymore. The zoom lenses had turned on them, the novelty of high school kids hounding stars making them so big a story that their friendship couldn't take the strain.

"We were fighting about money and publicity," Blaine said, "and we don't want to hurt each other."

Next-door neighbors and best friends, Austin, 14, and Blaine, 15, bonded over dirt biking and stalked each other with paintball guns. They're enrolled in independent study programs through the alternative City of Angeles School, where Blaine is heading into 10th grade and Austin into ninth.

A few months ago their interests turned to photography and then, with the realization that celebrity watering holes were short skateboard and scooter rides from their West Hollywood homes, to celebrity photography in particular.

They had glossy business cards printed up, and their parents supplied them with high-end cameras. Blaine's uncle set up a website, pintsizepaparazzi.com.

They schmoozed the staff at Koi, Mr. Chow and other places frequented by camera-friendly names.

If they were hot on a celebrity's trail, they called their parents for permission to stay out past their 10:30 p.m. curfew.

Austin got lucky this month, selling a photo of Adam Sandler exiting a West Hollywood gym to the New York Daily News for $500. For his part, Blaine got "American Idol" host Ryan Seacrest at Koi one night and posted the shot on the website.

Brad Elterman, co-founder of the agency BuzzFoto.com, took the boys under his wing. "I sold my first photo, of Bob Dylan, in 1974 when I was 16," Elterman recalled. "I can heavily relate to what they're doing."

He warned them about trespassing laws and advised them to stay in school "because this is an up-and-down business." And he helped place a small story about them in the Daily News last week.

Within days, the two had appeared on the entertainment website TMZ.com and producers from CNN, ABC's "Nightline," HBO and local television stations were calling. "The Insider" taped a segment on them that aired Wednesday. "That's So Hollywood" on FOX 11 plans a feature for today. There has been talk of a documentary.

Austin and Blaine at first were eager for the attention, giving practiced answers about how they got their shots and the stars they hoped to photograph (Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears, Ashlee Simpson).

But the hype began to take its toll.

"The boys have been really competitive with each other their whole lives," said Robert Hewison, Blaine's dad, who bought his son a $3,000 Nikon for the paparazzi endeavor. "They think they're going to be rich and were arguing about how they're going to split the money."

Jane Seiberts, Austin's mom, said she became "uncomfortable with the whole concept." So Austin's picture and bio disappeared from pintsizepaparazzi.com and he went out on his own. Just Friday he sold a shot of Kim Kardashian outside Koi to TMZ.com. He's planning to launch his own site, called austinseye.com.

Does that make the boys competitors in this cutthroat business?

They don't see it that way.

"We're working together but we're not partners," Blaine said, hanging around with Austin outside Mr. Chow in Beverly Hills. "It didn't work out so well and our friendship is more important."

"That's right," Austin said.

Added Blaine's father, "They're just getting a small taste of what these celebrities go through."

As for BuzzFoto.com's Elterman, who said he felt like Henry Kissinger trying to negotiate peace between the quarreling boys, the 15 minutes are over.

"We did our story," he said, and now, "we'll move on to another story."

That's Hollywood.

molly.selvin@latimes.com

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