Red-Carpet Security Under Scrutiny Post-Orlando as Lapses, Crashers, Proximity to Stars Pose New Risk
Hollywood grapples with balancing key access to celebrities with safety as THR reveals how porous the red carpet can be after studying a year of film premieres: "We all need to take a second look at what's going on in the world around us."
Red-carpet events and Hollywood have been synonymous since Sid Grauman decorated the entryway of his Egyptian Theatre for the first movie premiere, Douglas Fairbanks' Robin Hood, in 1922. Now, the fatal shooting of YouTube star Christina Grimmie during a June 10 autograph signing in Orlando and the massacre of 49 revelers at the city's Pulse nightclub two days later are shining a new light on security concerns at high-profile events, the lifeblood of an industry that increasingly depends on publicity and granting fans access to stars.
For anyone in the public eye (and their managers, agents and publicists), what happened to Grimmie is an absolute nightmare. Innumerable stalking cases have made headlines through the years (actress Rebecca Schaeffer was shot and killed by an obsessed fan in 1989, and more recently, in 2014, a stalker entered Selena Gomez's Calabasas home), but social media has made it so much easier for fans to access celebrities on a more personal level than ever before. And talent reps say they often feel pressure from studios and tour promoters for stars to approach fan pits and sign autographs at premieres or after concerts. These areas often are filled with unscreened fans.
"Studios are really forcing the talent to engage with their fans on a personal level. It's sort of like a free pass for strangers to touch or grab them or want more from them than they should be obliged to give," says a rep for well-known actors. "It has just evolved into a level of expectation that if talent doesn't walk over to the fans, they're booed."
Security at high-profile events is an even bigger concern. During the past year, before the two Orlando attacks, THR staff made more than 55 visits to red-carpet events throughout Los Angeles, including premieres promoting films from every major studio. (TV premieres also were examined, as were celebrity-rich charity and fashion events, including those hosted by THR.) Despite the presence of hefty security — dozens of guards with earpieces, hundreds of feet of barricades, the occasional metal detector — it typically was strikingly easy to stroll very close to the carpets.
Grimmie, who was shot and killed during an autograph signing June 10 in Orlando, performed at a New York concert in March.
"There have been incidents; there have been things that have happened that have been kept from the public eye," admits Eric Rose, West Coast director at Pinkerton, which works on Hollywood events but none breached in THR's study (studios typically hire security contractors to manage premieres). "We have just been fortunate that it hasn't been catastrophic. … With the way things have changed in the last couple of years, I don't think the entertainment industry has yet taken note — because if [a terrorist] is going to blow up a train station in Paris or an airport in Brussels, what's better than a Star Wars premiere?"
Despite a few disturbing incidents — most notably when Vitalii Sediuk crawled under America Ferrera's dress at a Cannes premiere then crashed into Brad Pitt at a Maleficent event in Hollywood, both in 2014 — the reality is that onerous security breaches have been rare. But in today's climate, law enforcement officials are concerned less about aggressive pranksters than about potentially armed lone wolves who pose great risk to those on the red carpet and the crowds hovering nearby.
Some especially prominent events this past year have been impenetrable — including the Oscars, as well as the potentially charged openings of Universal's Straight Outta Compton and the Fox Searchlight documentary He Named Me Malala (about Nobel Prize-winning Taliban target Malala Yousafzai). But at nearly every premiere visited, no one was wanded or frisked by security before attending the red carpet, and bags were not checked. THR interns carrying no press accreditations, cameras or VIP passes breached more than half of them, attempting no subterfuge and leaving as soon as security inquired about their presence. Exact distance to the carpet's edge was determined discreetly with a laser tape measure.
Among the premieres where visitors could stand within 5 feet of the carpet: Marvel's Avengers: Age of Ultron, Pixar's Inside Out, Sony's Will Smith-led Concussion and Universal's Melissa McCarthy-starring The Boss. The closest a representative got to a Warner Bros. carpet was 11 feet (at Sandra Bullock's Our Brand Is Crisis opening). Security personnel kept an interloper to 17 feet of Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy and Alejandro G. Inarritu at Fox's launch of The Revenant. To be sure, none of this is unusual for starry events, just of more note in the current climate.
Angelina Jolie mingled with the crowd at the Kung Fu Panda 3 premiere at the TCL Chinese Theatre in January.
"What we do in Hollywood is fun and isn't supposed to be taken seriously, but a nightclub in Orlando is supposed to be fun too," says Liza Anderson, founder of Anderson Group Public Relations, who represents Eva Longoria and other top actors. "So we all need to take a second look at what's going on in the world around us and figure out where the balance is."
Indeed, most in Hollywood agree tighter event security is a priority. But balancing the tension between a desire to promote films in a splashy yet cost-effective way and ensuring the safety of guests (in a world where no amount of precautions is impenetrable) leads to few easy answers. Of the 24 distributors and TV networks whose events were penetrated, only two offered an on-the-record response.
"The safety of our guests and staff is a priority at all Open Road Films events," says the Spotlight distributor's executive vp publicity Liz Biber. The firm's Mother's Day premiere in May at the TCL Chinese Theatre featured dozens of guards and appearances by Julia Roberts and Jennifer Aniston on the red carpet — as well as an uninvited, unchecked attendee 5 feet away. "We will continue to take appropriate measures to maintain the highest level of security at our film premieres."
At WGN America's Underground premiere at the Ace Hotel in downtown L.A., an uninvited guest was able to stand 6 feet from the carpet and never had an interaction with security personnel. "The safety and security of our casts, creative teams, employees and guests is our highest priority, and we take their protection very seriously," says a WGN representative in a statement. "For the March event, the network retained two reputable and experienced outside security firms who had a complement of 30 officers, some armed, on site charged with securing the red carpet and screening. We appreciate the undercover study and are committed to continuously reviewing and refining our security measures to ensure the well-being of our talent and guests."
The FBI, Los Angeles Police Department and County Sheriff's Department declined comment. They all participate in the Joint Regional Intelligence Center, which synthesizes threat assessments to public events across law enforcement agencies. (Many of Hollywood's key event security firms are members of InfraGard, a public-private information-sharing partnership established by the FBI after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Its L.A. regional bureau includes a subsector dedicated to entertainment and large venues.) In most cases, the LAPD works alongside security companies hired to staff premiere events. The top security companies employed for Hollywood premieres are SPEC and Noble, which also work high-profile events in other industries as well as political and charity fundraisers that struggle with similar issues. The companies did not respond to requests for comment. "There's no doubt in my mind that in light of everything that has happened, everyone is talking about this and reviewing their systems," says a TV network publicist.
Arnold Schwarzenegger took a selfie at the premiere for Terminator: Genisys at the Dolby Theatre in June 2015.
Premiere events take place throughout Los Angeles, New York, London and elsewhere. In L.A., a handful of venues are used most frequently: the ArcLight Hollywood, the Regency Village Theatre in Westwood and the Dolby Theatre, TCL Chinese Theatre and El Capitan Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. Some theaters were notably less secure than others. Undercover interlopers were able to get within 5 feet of the red carpet at the ArcLight Hollywood on occasion, sometimes even stepping directly onto the carpet without being questioned by security. (The ArcLight did not respond to a request for comment.)
At some more chaotic events, there were occasions when uninvited attendees could wander into restricted zones, including press and staff areas. At Universal's Minions premiere at the Shrine Auditorium, an attendee was able to walk into the photographers' area (without credentials or a camera) and had direct access to the red carpet. At Fox Searchlight's Me and Earl and the Dying Girl premiere at L.A.'s Harmony Gold theater, a woman without a credential was able to walk into the red-carpet area reserved for staff and stand next to talent as they walked to the carpet.
"Every single red carpet I've been to with a client has been disorganized," says Nicole Miller, a publicist for TV and film talent including Sons of Anarchy's Theo Rossi and actresses Ashley Scott and Claudia Black. "For whatever reason they're afraid to say no; they're afraid to say, 'Back up.' "
Security experts agree the ideal distance between the public and event guests is at least 21 feet. "I would prefer somewhere on the higher end, from the edge of the red carpet to the public space is 25 to 30 feet," says Jeff Zisner, head of Aegis Security & Investigations, who adds that security is a "soft science" and no single tactic can defer all breaches. However, even when THR reps were unable to get beyond fan barriers, they often were within 10 or 15 feet of the carpet at such events as Warner Bros.' Barbershop: The Next Cut premiere and DreamWorks Animation's Kung Fu Panda 3 opening, both at the TCL Chinese Theatre.
Studio and network insiders say premieres on studio lots are most secure because attendees must check in at the front gate, whether driving or walking in. "You have secure entrances — you don't have to worry about the general public," says one publicist. However, an on-the-lot premiere is quieter because it doesn't feel as big an event as when, say, Hollywood Boulevard is shut down. During this age of social media and increasing desire to break through the clutter, a splashy premiere is important. It's a push and pull between the studio's desire for press and spectacle and the talent representatives' and security companies' wish for safety and security. And everyone agrees on one thing: No one is 100 percent safe anywhere these days, be it a subway, a nightclub, a Hollywood premiere or a fan meet-and-greet.
Adds the rep: "The idea is that the more a celebrity ingratiates himself or herself to the fans by hugging and doing selfies and hearing their stories, the better chance the film has to open. I think it's a very vulnerable place to put talent in."
This story first appeared in the July 15 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.