Inside security at Hollywood's Paramount Pictures

Hollywood, Calif. – Louis Lam just smiles when he confesses that his sister recently called again to inform him that the country sheriff's department was taking applications. He had a similar conversation with her almost two decades ago when he was actually looking for a job. But after 19 years with Paramount Pictures, Lam, who is the executive director of security services for the nation's oldest and most prestigious movie and television production studios, says he is living the dream.

"Sometimes I just have to pinch myself that we really get to work here," admits Lam with a genuine affection for his place of employment. "Everyday there is something different. It is the variety the keeps the job interesting. Plus, who wouldn't have fun working for some of the {entertainment} industry's biggest stars? You find out in a hurry that they are very normal people just going to work like the rest of us. And they expect us to keep them safe when they are here."

While most of the major motion picture studios have fled Hollywood for spots like Burbank or Culver City, Paramount remains a Hollywood icon and is the only big name movie studio still actually located in Hollywood: It also happens to be the longest continually operating studio in Hollywood. Paramount is also one of the few studios that admit the public on regular guided tours of the studio's back lot.

Founded by Adolph Zucker, Paramount moved to its current location on Gower Street in 1926, and in the subsequent years has grown into a sprawling complex that includes the former RKO studios it's absorbed in the late 1940s. Paramount is now a sprawling studio, covering an area almost as big as Disneyland. When the studio is in peak production mode it employees over 5,000 people. And according to Lam and Clint Hilbert, the facility's VP of environmental health, safety and security, Paramount is a self-contained city that includes its own water tower fire department, medical clinic, dry cleaners, credit union and restaurants.

"Paramount is a city within a city," says Hilbert of the 62-acre complex.

Hilbert has been with the Paramount less than six months after stints in several executive security positions in corporate and healthcare environments.

"The security challenges here change very quickly depending on what is being filmed on the grounds. There are very real safety and security issues to be concerned with ranging from crowd control to fire safety because of the older structures and all kinds of combustible building materials."

Walking through the vast studio complex is like a stroll through movie and television history. From Paramount Studio's ornate wrought iron entry gate built in 1926 (the familiar arched gateway located at the north end of Bronson Avenue known as "The Bronson Gate") to the iconic Paramount logo of a snow capped mountain with a halo of stars, the ghosts of past Hollywood giants like W.C. Fields, Rudolph Valentino, Gary Cooper, Marlene Dietrich, Bing Crosby, Audrey Hepburn, Jimmy Stewart and Bob Hope seem to haunt the back lots.

Paramount is also entrenched in television history with vintage series like I Love Lucy, the original Untouchables, Star Trek, Mission Impossible, The Brady Bunch, Happy Days, Cheers, and Mork & Mindy. There is a lot of history to protect, but Hilbert and Lam also have to protect the company's future.

Hilbert admits that with so much invested in its star-powered employees, time is money at Paramount. So his department has to be extremely cognizant of keeping productions on schedule and minimizing costly delays.

"We need to be sensitive to the economics of the business we are involved with here. Every time you stop the cameras you are burning valuable time and dollars, so it is important that we ensure that not only security, but also safety issues, are proactive. Because of the older structures here we are extremely proactive with our fire prevention strategies," admits Hilbert. "And when it comes to security issues, everything that is of concern outside our walls is addressed inside as well."

Hilbert and Lam say Paramount faces both internal and external theft, potential stalking of its celebrity and executive staff, workplace violence, and vandalism. To address its threats Paramount employs a mix of contract and in-house guard staff to patrol the grounds, deal with crowd control, special events and traffic. All studio employees are badged and more than 200 video surveillance cameras are integrated into a Lenel management system. Lam and his staff are in the midst of migrating its analog video system into an IP-based system that will be monitored in a new command center that is slated to open by the end of the year.

Rick Madrid, Paramount's head of security investigations and emergency services, oversees one of the more unique missions specific to the movie industry. His group is responsible for making sure unreleased movies are protected during the private screening process. Having a movie hit the streets or the internet before the scheduled release date could spell disaster for the studio which routinely invests tens of millions in a project.

Madrid tracks the progressive versions of films being screened through proprietary editing ques, watermarking and good old fashioned police work. During a film's various screenings, Madrid and his team don night vision goggles to make sure there is no covert recording being done during a screening.

"We cannot compromise a new release during the screening process. It is like protecting the secret," adds Madrid. "We have a very close relationship with local law enforcement to help us curb potential bootleg copies of new releases hitting the market."

Security, it seems, is never "a wrap" when it comes to protecting one of America's flagship studios.

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