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On the Lot, Security Remains Tight

Safety* Studios are poor targets, experts say, but vigilance continues. Some say the measures are an overreaction.

September 09, 2002|ANITA M. BUSCH and ROBERT W. WELKOS | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

After Sept. 11, Hollywood studios went into a virtual lock-down.

At Warner Bros. in Burbank, concrete barriers were erected around the executive office building. At 20th Century Fox in Century City, a cement maze had cars zig-zagging into the lot. At Paramount Pictures, traffic was lined down Melrose Avenue as guards methodically used hand-held mirrors to check the undersides of cars for bombs. Cars entering the Universal Pictures lot got the same once-over. And, at Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, Chairman and Chief Executive Michael Eisner even drove around the perimeter of the lot to see that cars were not parked illegally.

Today, while Hollywood's rank-and-file may make light of the heightened security at studio gates, many security measures remain in place: Car trunks are searched, photo IDs are checked, and guards with mirrors circle cars and trucks.

"I think the mirrors under the cars, it's more for perception," said producer Marc Abraham, whose credits include "The Family Man" and "Spy Game." "The only way they'd know there is a bomb under there is if it was built by Wile E. Coyote."

In truth, security experts point out, movie lots make poor targets for terrorists because the buildings are so spread out and production bungalows and sound stages are not always occupied.

Although some may discount the security steps Hollywood has taken as self-absorbed or arrogant, security experts note that brand names such as Disney and MGM are highly recognizable symbols of America to people around the globe and could be tempting targets.

Only last week, two Islamic militants who were indicted in Detroit were found to have "surveillance" videotape footage of Disneyland in Anaheim and the MGM Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, according to the indictment.

As a result, studios have beefed up the presence of uniformed guards on movie sets both here and abroad, celebrities rely more heavily on personal bodyguards, and at least one studio--Paramount Pictures--has gone so far as to institute background checks of vendors doing business on the lot, from cleaning and maintenance crews to delivery people.

"We are assisting Paramount in that," acknowledged Henry Kupperman, senior managing director in charge of the Western region for Kroll Associates, an internationally known security company hired by the studio shortly after Sept. 11.

Although Kupperman would not discuss security measures specific to Paramount, he said vendors often have pass keys that can give them access. "By doing background checks," he said, "you're heightening security, making sure no one has something in their background that might be problematic."

Paramount no longer rents out its lot for parties and has limited the number of screenings on the lot. "We feel that it's important that members of the Paramount family and our guests be safe and feel secure," said Rob Friedman, vice chairman and chief operating officer of Paramount Pictures.

Shortly after Sept. 11, the FBI met with the heads of most major studios to brief them on security concerns. Two security chiefs who run their own companies told The Times that when the FBI briefed the studios, there had been no direct threats.

"I think the security we are seeing at the studios was an overreaction," said Robert Newman, an agent at ICM who regularly attends meetings on various studio lots. "The government has handled the whole thing hysterically and, in some ways, the studios have followed suit."

One studio head who requested anonymity said: "The FBI was probably overly cautious and gave us too much information. People say we're overreacting and don't need to be doing this. It's expensive, but we have a responsibility to our employees."

"They are the authority figures, and when a somber guy [from the FBI] comes in and suggests that we need to increase security, you listen," said Sony Pictures Entertainment Chairman John Calley. "We have to make sure our back doors are closed."

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