THE MAGAZINE

California Cruisin'

By Teresa Anderson
 
Paramount Studios
 
The Bronson Gate that Billy Wilder made famous in Sunset Blvd. still stands where it was erected in 1926—the year Paramount Studios opened at its current location in Hollywood, California. However, the ornate, wrought-iron structure is now inside the new entryway, which is equipped with barriers and is staffed with security guards. It is no longer possible to drive up to the gate as Norma Desmond did; vehicles cannot maneuver around the concrete bollards.
 
In addition to being a part of film history, the gate represents the challenge faced by security professionals at the studio. They must keep the magic of the movies alive for employees, production workers, guests, and visitors while addressing the practical need to protect people and property at the only remaining major movie studio in Hollywood.
 
During peak season, Paramount employs more than 5,000 people who work on the 62-acre site. The actors and production staff produce movies, television shows, and commercials on the studio’s 30 sound stages and many back lot sets.
 
A movie studio the size of Paramount requires numerous resources not common to most workplaces. While some of these functions—such as the full-service restaurant, the dry cleaners, and the credit union—are provided for convenience, others serve more vital purposes. For example, the studio has its own fire department and an aggressive fire-prevention program. Similarly, an on-site medical clinic is staffed with registered nurses who have trauma experience.
 
The 65-member proprietary security team receives training in CPR and all security supervisors receive some EMT training. “This type of training is critical for security because our officers are often the first responders during off hours,” according to Louis Lam, executive director of security services for Paramount.
 
Security officers work in three shifts and patrol all buildings on foot. They use a guard tour system to report safety issues and potential fire hazards to the studio’s on-site command center.
 
At the command center, officers monitor feeds from the studio’s 200 cameras and 23 perimeter and intrusion alarms. The perimeter alarms are integrated with the camera feeds. When an alarm is triggered, nearby cameras automatically focus on the location of the alarm. The center is also charged with responding to the panic alarms installed on all perimeter gates.
 
Fire alarms are a special case. Fire personnel are on duty around the clock and extra staff are brought in during high-risk filming involving the use of fire or explosions. Fire alarms feed both to the control center and to an off-site monitoring company. Both parties respond to any fire alarm.
 
Security maintains several levels of access control to the studio. Employees are vetted before being hired, and once on staff, they are issued a photo ID that also serves as a proximity access control card.
 
Some people must report to the studio on a regular basis for a specific project but are not studio employees. This category might include actors or members of production crews. The production company conducts background checks on these individuals, who are then issued a photo ID. However, these people must check in with security to gain access.
 
Extras, who might only visit the studio once in connection with a production, are issued a paper badge good for one day only. Security works with Central Casting to get an electronic list of the extras in advance. Security then prints out the passes for each individual and marks them off the master list when they arrive.
 
In addition to dealing with the day-to-day activities of the studio, the security team is also responsible for protecting guests at special events. These gatherings range from small VIP parties and movie premieres to large public events.
 
The smaller parties are by invitation only and are usually held at one of the studio’s back lots. For example, a popular party spot is the New York Street back lot. This permanent set is a city street scene that has been used to film exteriors for a variety of famous shows from Laverne and Shirley to Seinfeld.
 
These events usually include around 1,500 to 5,000 guests. From 10 to 12 security officers in black suits patrol the area to protect the set and create a perimeter to prevent guests from wandering off.
 
The security presence at such parties is intended to be unobtrusive. “We stay out of the way,” says Lam. “But, if we are needed for security or medical reasons, we can respond in a moment’s notice.”
 
Public events are handled differently. Unlike the private parties with controlled guest lists and behind-the-scenes security, public events feature defined access points and high-profile officers.
 
“The main goal with these types of events is…to help control the crowd and to protect property, such as sets and memorabilia,” says Lam. To do this, security sets up parking across the street from the studio. People enter through perimeter gates and must go through metal detectors. Backpacks and tote bags are prohibited, and all purses are searched.
 
Approximately 20 to 30 security officers are on duty for these events. Wearing uniforms to ensure visibility, officers block off access to the studio from the event location and require attendees to travel along specific routes. This measure helps officers spot people trying to sneak into the studio.
 
Dealing with large public gatherings is security’s biggest challenge, according to Lam. “People can buy tickets to these events online,” he says. “We can’t control who gets in, so we must be able to control the crowd after people arrive.”
 

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