It was pushing 11 on a Friday night, and Austin Raishbrook wanted to be prowling the streets of Los Angeles looking for murder and mayhem.
Mired in a pocket of messy downtown traffic, the 32-year-old British transplant clenched the wheel of his Police Interceptor Crown Victoria and cursed out loud. Every few seconds, he turned his attention to the laptop computer glowing beside him, checking for any fresh crash alerts on an internal California Highway Patrol website.
One of the three radio scanners clipped to the visor above Raishbrook's head crackled to life. A Los Angeles Police Department dispatcher reported gunshots on 110th Street, near Broadway. A victim was lying in the street.
"Agghhh, come on!" Raishbrook growled as a traffic light turned red in front of him.
Reaching the onramp to the Harbor Freeway, he floored the accelerator. The speedometer soared into triple digits.
"With shootings, you need to get there quick enough to get the shot of them loading him into the ambulance," he said, weaving in and out of lanes and blowing past cars that appeared to be standing still. "Unless he's dead on arrival. If he's D.O.A., you've got all the time in the world."
Raishbrook has an identical twin brother, Howard, who also spends most nights in a Crown Vic, monitoring police scanners. The brothers don't wear badges of any sort. But if it's late at night in Los Angeles and there is a police pursuit, shootout, terrible car accident or a good-sized fire, chances are they'll be there. They'll be the ones with the video cameras.
Call them the paparazzi of pain.
The Raishbrook brothers own RMG News, a news video agency that supplies local and national TV programs with footage of the chaos that plays out each night in and around the city. There is good money in feeding TV news' insatiable appetite for violence and upheaval. But hang out with the Raishbrook brothers long enough and you begin to believe them when they say they would still be out on the streets even if there wasn't a dollar to be had.
"To actually be in the middle of it all, the gangs and all. It's just a visual feast," Howard said. "I swear on my life, I was put on this planet to film police chases. I swear on my life."
Austin concurred. "If you're not living life on the edge, you're not living life at all," he said. "You can't get close enough to the action for me. If you're covering a fire and not getting burned or wet from the hoses, you're not close enough."
Sons of a driving instructor and a schoolteacher, the two were raised in the placid countryside of southern England. As kids, they peeled about on their bicycles, chasing anything with a siren. Home, however, was "filled with old people, cows and fields," Austin said. "There are only so many cats stuck in trees you can see before you start wanting a little real excitement."
They became entranced with Los Angeles and images in films and news reports of its gang epidemic. The brothers first came as tourists in 1995. They spent weeks driving around South L.A., Compton and other violent, crime-ridden areas, following police cruisers and ambulances. On subsequent visits they bought video cameras and took the footage home to enthrall friends.
Howard recalls with particular relish the day three floors of a Venice building erupted in flames down the street from where the brothers were staying. He shot 45 minutes of footage -- an eternity compared to the five minute snippets that harried TV news producers demand of them now.
"I remember having all this footage and not doing anything with it!" he said. "I even had footage of an injured firefighter, which is gold these days."
In 1999, Howard landed a job as film production manager in Hollywood; it allowed him to move permanently to Los Angeles and pursue the hobby with more zeal. Austin followed two years later, when he was hired as an editor at an international photo agency, and joined his brother in the grueling routine that continues today. They regularly stay out on the streets until 3 or 4 in the morning, grabbing a few hours of sleep and then heading to work.
"I live off of Red Bull," Austin deadpanned.
Until a recent fire destroyed the apartment they shared, the brothers lived together. (Austin was home at the time and, true to form, videotaped his own desperate escape down a smoke-filled stairwell. Sales of the footage topped $10,000.) Both have girlfriends across the Atlantic and claim to want to settle down and start families, but they have shown no signs of slowing down.
"I'll keep doing this till I can't get out of bed in the morning," Austin said with a laugh. "The kids will be strapped down in the back seat."
They didn't make a dime off their videos until 2004, when Austin got some exclusive shots of a nasty Ferrari crash and someone suggested that he shop them around.