Barbarians at the Studio Gates

When I moved to Southern California 18 months ago, one goal was to get invited inside the gates of a major motion picture studio.  (I was once flown out by Disney for a job interview and was taken to lunch on their studio lot, but since it was Disney, it really wasn’t fun, so that doesn’t count).  Last week, I was able to check this item off my L.A. “to do” list with an invite to a screening of “Get Smart” on the Warner Brothers studio lot in Burbank.

The first thing I noticed was the high security at Warner Brothers.  At least one of the gates we passed on Olive Avenue had the steel cylinders that slowly raise up from and recede into the pavement, presumably on hydraulics, just like the feds have around the White House.  I’m told that the studios added this and other security features after 9/11.  Guys, I don’t think your studios are very high on Al Qaeda’s target list, but whatev. 

We then presented our credentials and made it past the clipboard-toting guard and the studio rep for the event.  Stepping inside the rather non-descript, flesh-colored Business Development and Strategy Building, we were met by John Wayne, Jimmy Cagney, and Humphrey Bogart.  Other than these large black and white movie stills lining the walls, it looked like an ordinary office building, complete with a large potted plant — perhaps fittingly fake? — with a sign that read “Do Not Water.” 

Then it was up the stairs to Screening Room 12.  Across from the registration table and just outside the screening room doors were two more security guards.  I know they were security guards because no one else for miles was wearing a blue blazer. They gave me the once over and checked the handbag of my inviter.  Hopefully, they were just looking for recording equipment, or, again, I think we’re hitting the overkill switch.

Screening Room 12 is a small movie theater, with approximately a couple of hundred seats.  I’m guessing that the room dates back decades — the seats, though comfortable, had wooden backs.  There was no stadium seating.  It’s been a long time since I have noticed the backs of heads in a movie theater.  In the center of the row in front of us was a large wooden fixture with a small screen (possibly an old CRT computer terminal), telephone, and flexible lamp.  I didn’t see any executives making notes or calls there this time — perhaps they did so when reviewing the “Get Smart” dailies.  The theater did have a good-sized screen and a modern, very loud surround sound system.

As for “Get Smart”?  Due to the press embargo, I’m not permitted to publish a review until opening day, June 20.  I will say that I really enjoyed the movie.

Perhaps one day soon, I’ll be jaded like others in “the business,” attending or turning down free screenings at the studios, the Arclight, and elsewhere with a yawn.  Perhaps I will see movies as cold, dry products made by sausage factories. Until that day, however, I still find some magic and mystique in the movies, and the Los Angeles area studios that produce them.

13 Replies to “Barbarians at the Studio Gates”

  1. Actually, I worked at WB during and after 9/11 and we were told that the Hollywood movie studios were number 3 on the terrorism hit list. It’s what it represents, I guess. It was serious enough that WB hired the former head of the CIA to re-design its entire security plan and that’s when they started implementing the strict measures. It used to be incredibly easy to get on the lot. Now, like you said, it is way more difficult.

    Screening Room 12 is an older and smaller screening room, but there is a big, beautiful digital theatre called the Stephen J. Ross on the lot as well. Hopefully you’ll get an invite for a screening there soon!

  2. Actually hildy is quite correct. Shortly after 911 the studios had security beefed up so high it was incredible. A friend of mine, a Sargent with LAPD in the north valley took early retirement then went to work security for Warner Bros for double his salary. One of the mucky-mucks then doubled his salary again to work for him guarding his house in Brentwood.

    Did you get in on one of those invites passed out on Venice Beach? Whenever I have company from out of town we visit Venice and take advantage of those free screenings. An experience and a half for the out of towner and a free flick in the process.

  3. I have no doubt, as I wrote, that the studios beefed up security after 9/11. But number three on the target list? Who told you that? Who told them that? During and after 9/11, I worked 4 blocks from the White House and across the street from the World Bank. It was pretty nerve-wracking to walk around the neighborhood that was surely target #1. Those buildings? The Capitol? The DC and NY subways? LAX? The bridges and tunnels of our largest cities? Nuclear and chemical plants? Military installations? It’s pretty hard to believe that the Hollywood studios could possibly be number three on the list.

    My invite was from a journalist who was interviewing some of the movie’s principals. I had not heard about getting passes at Venice Beach. That would explain some of the security procedures (but again, having nothing to do with 9/11).

  4. They have always been high value targets, as is Disneyland. The worst of Western capitalism, apparently.

  5. Every institution likes to say they are super high on the threat list. Maybe to secure increased funding?

    I’ve been watching this show ‘America’s Port’ about the Port of LA + Long Beach. Often interesting, but it’s ridiculous how they overblow things on there. Talking about what a ‘big huge target’ the port is. Never mentioning the fact that it’s not a very good target at all, being so dispersed and spread out, most any attack short of a nuclear bomb would barely affect the port.

    True big targets have single-point concentrations of LOTS of people. Skyscrapers, national monuments. The port (and the movie studios) have neither. Many national monuments will be on the list before them.

  6. Don’t forget Vegas baby! I recall that attendance at the theme parks and Vegas droppped off big time after 9/11, but of course, these were high-profile, high-population public facilities as well as obvious capitalist symbols.

    I thought the concern over security at the LB/L.A. and other ports was not so much that they would be targets themselves, but that, because so little incoming cargo is inspected, they could be the point of entry for a “suitcase bomb” or other destructive device that could be shipped here, picked up and then detonated at one of the high value targets. Tom Clancy wrote about that in his book “The Sum of All Fears” published way back in 1991, and which, circling back to the movie theme that this post is about after all, was adapted into a horrendous Ben Affleck movie in 2002.

  7. The media companies WERE targeted by terrorists … remember that anthrax thing that was being sent around? (We just don’t know what that agenda was.)

    So what if the studios want to have super duper security? They’re private property and run projects that cost hundreds of millions of dollars. If it’s not the terrorists, it’s certainly the weirdo stalkers they need to keep at bay.

  8. This could be my favorite thing about blogging. THE most minor point of my post gets picked up and becomes the focal point for ALL of the discussion in the comments. I never know exactly when or how it will happen, but it happens repeatedly. I love it.

  9. Nobody’s picking up on minor points, Matt. You made a major ahem when you said:

    Hopefully, they were just looking for recording equipment, or, again, I think we’re hitting the overkill switch.

    People are just responding to that. That’s my favorite thing about blogging; the most innocuous yet ignorant statements get picked up and dissected.

  10. Ok, this discussion is officially about the security at the studios. Fine with me. But if the studios want to spend millions to keep weirdo stalkers at bay, which sounds perfectly reasonable, does anyone else think it’s strange that they give away free tickets on Venice Beach? It sounds like they’re taking pointers from the Bush Administration.

  11. Isn’t this post about the studio’s security? I mean, there’s an intro paragraph, a closing paragraph, a paragraph with a cursory description of Screening Room 12, and of the remaining 3 paragraphs 2.5 are about your interaction with security.

    I mean, it certainly wasn’t a well-informed post regarding the motivation for security but the bulk of the post was security-related. What else are commenters going to discuss, the fact that wooden backrests didn’t detract from the seats’ comfort? And yes, the guards were searching for bootlegging devices, not for weapons. Pirates are still a bigger threat to the studios than Al Qaeda.

    “if the studios want to spend millions to keep weirdo stalkers at bay, which sounds perfectly reasonable, does anyone else think it’s strange that they give away free tickets on Venice Beach?”

    Isn’t that like asking why the government would spend millions of dollars a year on White House security then allow civilians to come by the busload to tour its nooks and crannies? Oh, except the difference is that while White House tours are purely a public service the studios directly benefit from screening their movies.

  12. Roger wrote:”…my favorite thing about blogging; the most innocuous yet ignorant statements get picked up and dissected.”

    I have to agree you never know what what will trigger comments. It doesn’t have to even be ignorant, sometimes it is just contrary to what someone wants to believe.

    If you want to see divided thought processes bring out the rancor this blog is pretty light. Over at FCBlog anything about Sierra Madre or Monrovia brings out the gloves and the post is hijacked off topic and the verbal warfare ensues. At least here there is some modicum of civility when things go off topic. Usually.

  13. Changing topics:

    I got here in 1985 to go to film school and have worked in the movie biz every since. I’m jaded about a few things, but NEVER about seeing movies. To this day, when the trailers start rolling at my neighborhood multiplex or the Arclight or at a invite only screening or even to watch dailies in a studio screening room, I get excited. I LOVE MOVIES! And if you do to, which it sounds like you do, that will never go away.

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