WB pumps piracy patrol

'Matrix' screenings delayed by heightened security

Piracy is the new terrorism.

That was the unavoidable upshot of two all-media screenings for Warner Bros.’ “The Matrix Reloaded” that featured every protective measure but duct tape.

Hundreds of guests last Thursday passed through two metal detectors and two ID checkpoints. They were then led in groups of 20, as if on an Internet geek’s fantasy school field trip, across the WB lot to the Steven J. Ross Theater.

The gauntlet of procedures delayed both the 6 and 9 p.m. showings by 30 to 40 minutes. Given that most people had arrived early for the 138-minute sequel, the evening took on epic proportions. The film’s theme of war between men and machines suddenly resonated.

Other studios, already resigned to tighter precautions since Sept. 11, said they were taking a closer look at screenings. Susan Tick, corporate spokeswoman at Sony, said the company is “constantly re-evaluating procedures.” She ruefully noted the case of someone with a camcorder being nabbed at an “Anger Management” screening.

Studio execs unanimously maintained that piracy is of growing concern to the entire industry. For the moment, however, WB is undoubtedly in the lead. At a Westwood all-media screening of Fox’s “X2,” for example, guests were checked at the door with a metal-detecting wand. And that was it.

Piracy fears undoubtedly run highest for titles like “Reloaded,” but Warners several weeks ago initiated tighter measures for all screenings both on and off the lot.

Audience members at recent screenings report that guards used night-vision goggles to scan the crowd for electronic devices, accompanying even those with cell phones to their cars to witness them putting the gear away. Before “What a Girl Wants,” women’s purses were checked (one way to risk alienating the female demo).

The morning after the “Matrix” marathon, invites went out for a May 20 screening of Warners’ “The In-Laws” at ArcLight Hollywood. A sternly worded anti-piracy notice was stapled to the invite card. It ended with a warning that Hollywood should start to heed: “Please allow additional time for heightened security.”

AOL Time Warner’s Barbara Brogliatti declined to address the new policies. But she acknowledged that Warners has stepped up security at all “pre-opening screenings” of late.

Unlike screenings at the Ross in recent years for much-anticipated titles like “Eyes Wide Shut,” attendees at “Reloaded” were not permitted to park on the lot. Instead, they pulled into a parking garage across Olive Avenue from the lot, where guards searched trunks and checked IDs. A verbal warning about electronic devices was then delivered.

Guarded response

Once cars were parked, guests showed IDs again at a check-in table and were given a card marked “reserved.” The card entitled them to stand in one of the roped-off lines of about 20 people. Every few minutes, flashlight-toting security guards escorted a small line toward the theater. Before piercing the darkness of the back lot, guests passed through a metal detector.

The group then walked in a line through the lot, arriving at the exterior of the Ross, where two lines had formed. Guards watched the ends of each line to make sure no one broke from the herd. Then there was one last metal detector at the theater entrance.

The high concentration of jaded journos meant there was plenty of griping about the delays, the chaperoning and even the cold. In fact, references to prison conditions were as common going into “Reloaded” as gee-whiz reactions were coming out.

(Gabriel Snyder and Dave McNary contributed to this report.)

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