Security enabling Film Production
In the last few months, the Film industry has gained a great deal of negative media attention due to lapses of security for both cast and crew. Since the dawn of the #MeToo movement, this provoked Blackstone Consultancy to get involved and make a change. To provide an insight into how security has changed, Craig Etherton gives us his account. He joined the Team at Blackstone Consultancy working initially on Residential Security Teams and Close Protection roles and was then successful in becoming a security manager working on global productions.
It says a great deal about the human condition, that we spend vast amounts of resources in bringing the stories we tell each other to life. The creation of a modern blockbuster film is a marvel, not just of acting talent, but logistics and professionalism. Despite the vast sums of money spent on the films creation, for many years, security was considered something of an afterthought, or something that would be dealt with in an ad-hoc manner.
This is all starting to change. Professional management of security at a film studio is very new! But one that is becoming more and more common—and a role in which Blackstone Consultancy are becoming market leaders.
Film sets are truly global places with people coming from all over the world to work on a specific production. But to an outsider, they are a complete mystery. A studio is a highly self-contained unit, and its inner workings are sometimes very opaque. So, how do you manage set-security for a blockbuster production?
The answer (outside of hard work and logistics), is building relationships with key groups of people—each of whom have their important role to play in the running of a studio.
External Security Company
First, there is the external security company. Any film studio is a secure location and these men & women control all access and egress to the site, as well as providing patrols to ensure a perimeter is maintained. Often, they’ve worked on the site for several years, and by building good relationships, you will always have access to a helping hand and quality insight.
Executive Producers and Unit Product Managers
There are the Executive Producers and the Unit Production Managers. Working well with them is critical, as these are the two departments that determine your budget. Any security changes you implement must go through one of them. We may gasp at the idea of a $200 million film budget, but with so many experts and professionals working onset each day, the cost rises quickly. A good relationship with Unit and Executive production means more resources and extra workforce—allowing the production security manager to have the independence to respond swiftly to developing situations.
Studio Unit Manager
Then, there’s the Studio Unit Manager (SUM) for the Production. SUM are aware of every last change to the set and everything within it. Shooting film(s) is a tricky and complex process; change happens fast and for any number of reasons. A Production Security Manager (who can win the favour of the SUM) can be aware of changes to shooting schedules long before they occur. Creating an ‘early warning system’ can result in huge cost savings for the production.
Cast and Crew
The final part of this quartet is the cast and crew, without whose constant work, nothing would make it to the big screen! Initially, both were very suspicious of this new ‘security member’ on-set with them, and some thought that the job of Production Security Manager was to be the “eyes and ears” of the executives. However, they soon came around to the idea that security is there to help and support them, not work against them.
Security on site
Higher profile members of the cast sometimes come with their own long standing Close Protection teams, and the Production Security Manager will liaise with them directly. Some have been with the same client for years (so tend to know their principal very well), and discretion is key with any request they have. With a proper security infrastructure in place, visiting CPO’s have commented on how we have enabled them to concentrate on their job, and security concerns they’ve had over the years on previous productions are already rectified before their arrival. Other members of the cast are there on their own, and you may find yourself assisting with any number of issues both commercial and personal. Having an A-list film star wanting to take your number is a surreal experience, but it’s important to always remain professional.
Social Media and Privacy
Social media is a hot topic at many studios—the ubiquity of social media is what helped spearhead the #MeToo campaign, but at the same time, many studios maintain strict secrecy about their various productions. Social media must, therefore, be managed responsibly, as leaked information spreads rapidly due to our now ability to re-tweet or share at the tap of a screen. A single malicious post on Instagram, Snapchat or Facebook can cause enormous harm to the production as a whole. Use of social media also extends to intellectual property rights, which are zealously guarded by production companies. Some measures that have been taken include: removing mobile phones from Supporting Artists to even covering up costumes—via secrecy cloaks.
Some of the measures seem absurd to an outsider, but the sheer level of interest in many productions means that any detail, no matter how minor, is pranced on by both fans and the press. Some films generate many millions, not just from box offices, but merchandising, clothing, toys and even theme park rides. A leak of data doesn’t just spoil the plot, but also causes pirate manufactures to start faking official merchandise; potentially costing the studio hundreds of millions in lost revenue.
Aside from insider threats, one of the biggest challenges a Production Security Manager will face, with regards to privacy, is how to deal with the Paparazzi. Most are professional journalists, but some are less pleasant individuals who try to infiltrate restricted areas to grab a compromising photo. Storylines, props and costumes may be very sensitive and ruin the film if leaked. There are also many circumstances in-between filming where cast may be relaxing or socialising, in a way contrary to the message of the film in production. A studio would be deeply embarrassed to have a picture of a drunk cast member on the set of a family film for example. The higher profile the film, the more determined the Paparazzi! Some camping for days in the undergrowth just to get ‘that shot’; some even use drones to get aerial photos of the set, the cast and the crew. All of these issues must be mitigated by the Production Security Manager.
We have a number of highly qualified individuals who’ve the flexibility and initiative that enables them to work on Film Productions. It seems the days of ad hoc film security is very much at its end. Those who are Production Security Managers represent the very best of the security industry—working under complex conditions in a demanding industry. They must manage resources to an ever-changing schedule, and respond perfectly to constant and continuous changes swiftly and effectively.
It is satisfying, though after a project is over, to sit and relax in a cinema seat and watch your hard work and dedication appear on the big screen.