HOLLYWOOD — You’re in an exotic locale, your production is in prep and … a bomb explodes? Oliver Stone’s “Alexander” faced such a dilemma, as did Baz Luhrmann’s Alexander the Great project after suicide bombings killed 41 people in Morocco last year. Luhrmann moved the production to his native Australia, while Stone’s cameras continued lensing across the Moroccan landscape.
The difference? Security.
Studios have always considered security a serious issue, but Sept. 11, worldwide bombings including those in Spain and Indonesia and the ongoing conflict in Iraq have heightened tensions and prompted an upgrade in procedures that include more than an inhouse security team. For example, the Sept. 11 attacks pushed Paramount’s “Timeline” into a Canadian locale instead of its original European destination.
While the safety of high-profile stars on location is a necessary consideration, expensive production equipment, sets and valuable cast and crew are also costly factors should something go awry … such as the revolutionary overthrow of the Ecuadorian government when Castle Rock’s “Proof of Life” was filming there.
“Alexander” continued its epic course on Moroccan soil with the help of Control Risks Group, an international London-based business-risk consultancy whose organizational tentacles rival something out of a James Bond pic.
“We engaged CRG to adopt a higher profile in prevention rather than a cure,” says Ian Smith, one of “Alexander’s” producers. “We’re entering a new age where high-profile productions require a protection we didn’t need before, but studios like to play down the changes. Now there’s more of an intelligence-based view to political security.”
CRG dispatched operatives from its London office who made an initial threat assessment and contingency plan, provided daily reports, bodyguards for key personnel and 24-hour guard on the sets. “We were overendowed with security,” says Smith.
Utilizing its contacts with the Moroccan government, CRG also garnered support that included 1,000 soldiers who operated as both security guards and actors on “Alexander.”
“On a production, we live our lives to anticipate what’s not supposed to happen,” adds Smith, who used CRG on “The Mission,” with Robert De Niro and Jeremy Irons, to mitigate the risk of kidnapping in Colombia. “Spain would have been our fallback for ‘Alexander.’ There’s no safe haven now.”
Andreas Carleton-Smith, president-CEO of CRG in Los Angeles, as well as the company’s New York and Washington, D.C., offices, advises studios and production companies to take preemptive measures, especially in light of Morocco, and consider the need for independent analysis of risks and to be prepared with experts on hand.
“Studios have large embedded security departments, but their resources are stretched and they don’t have an expertise in dealing with hostile environments,” says Carleton-Smith, citing an online worldwide country-risk forecast Web site offered by CRG with daily updates.
Even film-friendly locales can be a source of hostile circumstances, notes Carleton-Smith, and CRG can assist studios and production companies in employing “commercial due diligence” to ascertain the credibility of foreign businesses when on location.
Filming in the wake of a revolution is a hostile circumstance, but after preliminary analysis, CRG deemed Ecuador a safe risk for Castle Rock’s “Proof of Life,” whose plot revolved around a high-profile kidnapping in South America.
“Ecuador was considered safer, more benign than Mexico,” says the pic’s producer Charles Mulvehill. “The studio lobbied for Mexico, but according to CRG’s assessment, the elements for kidnapping were greater.”
CRG, which bills itself as a world market leader in kidnap advisory, provided information on the political and physical risks of filming in Ecuador, as well as other South American countries. Its employees accompanied the production and coordinated with the local military authorities to assist with security, and advised cast and crew how to conduct themselves on and off set.
“We wanted the feel of guerrilla warfare and drugs even though it was a fictional country,” says Jeff Stott, Castle Rock exec VP of production. “With all the hot spots in the world, it was helpful to look at each country before bringing in Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe.”
While the political climate was moderate in the aftermath of Ecuador’s less-than-democratic change in government, what would have happened if things boiled over? “In an attack, we would assume overall crisis/incident management responsibilities, which would include coordinating emergency services response, casualty evacuation, repatriation coordination, law enforcement liaison, postincident evaluations, etc.,” says Carleton-Smith.
With the ever-growing spate of reality TV skeins requiring more security, in addition to the requisite background checks on aspiring contestants, CRG can be found in the credits of such small-screen fare as CBS’ “The Amazing Race.” Anti-American sentiment as well as, again, protection of cast, crew and equipment moving around the globe has become a more serious issue.
“The world used to be a great place to photograph, but now with terrorists and anti-American activity, security all over the world has changed,” laments director Brett Ratner. “It’s sad that shooting in exotic locations such as Egypt has become harder, but … there’s always Prague.”