Indiana Jones. The Godfather. Mission Impossible. Transformers. These are just a handful of the iconic feature films produced by Paramount Pictures, the oldest major film studio still in operation in Hollywood.
While the last movie Paramount filmed entirely at the lot was Star Trek in 2009, the studio facilities are still used to shoot feature films, television shows, and commercials. But production companies are increasingly moving from shooting on studio lots to filming on location, which opens up a whole world of possibilities for the movies, says Scott Phemister, executive director of global risk and crisis management at Paramount.
“You name it, and we pretty much have looked at it and considered it for a destination to shoot,” he says.
Paramount has six offices domestically and about 23 around the world, including in Asia, Europe, and South America. Previously, the security team would outsource protection for producers, actors, directors, and other staff that were traveling. But recently the security team realized it would be more efficient and effective to bring more of its international operations in-house.
“You can imagine the security climate has definitely changed, especially with a lot of international travel and international locations, and the political and economic instability in some of these [global] areas,” Phemister notes.
The control center for security operations was also inefficient, he says. With an array of cameras, monitors, and incoming alarms, security could hardly keep up with what necessitated a response and what did not.
With all this in mind, Paramount Pictures recently enhanced its safety and security department, reorganizing it into the Global Security Operations Center.
“We wanted to expand to cover all of our assets,” Phemister says, a task that would require bringing in more monitors and alarms from global offices and filming locations. “And to be able to do that, and to do that effectively, we needed to overhaul our control center.”
At the time, the security operations center had 10 different systems used to monitor lot operations. “But they were all disparate; they were all on separate systems, none of them talked to each other,” he notes. Moving to one system would be more cost-effective in the long run, but security knew it would have to prove that in a business plan to company executives.
“We knew that we couldn’t just go ask for an enormous amount of money to revamp our security, so we had to be smart about it,” Phemister notes.
He and his team put together a strategy that would allow them to invest in a physical security information management (PSIM) system, which combines disparate systems into one more-easily-managed platform.
“When we were looking at our strategy, we knew we needed to overhaul our control center, and that would be the focal point of how we were going to reach all these groups and manage their safety and security,” he says. “And really the only way we could do that was to have a system that had a main interface that could manage all those systems.”
Reorganizing the 10 systems into one would also allow for a reduction in personnel, resulting in cost savings. “By bringing in a PSIM we knew that we could limit [staff] to two primary operators and then an analyst,” he explains. “So by reorganizing that and reallocating that person to another area, we were actually able to get a headcount reduction of one person per shift.”
After receiving approval, security put out a request for proposals to find a PSIM provider, which included a lengthy 200-line questionnaire. In October 2014, Paramount selected SureView’s Immix CC enterprise platform, and shortly thereafter began the installation.
During the new control center’s construction, a makeshift operations room was set up to allow business to continue as usual. IT set up a test server so software and configurations could be tested on the SureView system.
“We have a very sophisticated IT department that was able to set up all the networking and the servers, and then we did all the configuration of the system in house,” Phemister says.
SureView did help provide support throughout the installation process when needed. “SureView was a great partner,” says Jeff Reider, senior analyst on the Paramount security team. “They came in and trained us on the basic knowledge…they set us up for success and then helped guide us through it as we figured it out.”
Before SureView, security was overwhelmed with so many incoming points of information that it would miss alarms.
“It could have been a door forced open or a panic alarm, and we’d have no idea because there was so much stuff happening on so many different screens, we couldn’t see it,” Phemister notes.
During the installation process, security filtered out the alarms that did not require immediate action or that it wasn’t required to see at all, reducing alarms by about 90 percent.
“It comes down to only a few [alarms] every four or five minutes or so, which is much more reasonable than hundreds where you’re just overwhelmed, and operators are overwhelmed,” he says.
Paramount had previously outsourced its fire alarm monitoring to a third party, but the company hopes to be UL (Underwriter Laboratories Incorporated) certified to do its own monitoring by later this summer.
“Once we did this [installation], we felt comfortable that we would never miss an alarm and would be more efficient,” Phemister explains. “So we’re going down the path of being UL certified right now and that’s going to offset those costs as well.”
The buildout continued until February 2015, and the subsequent training for security staff was quick and efficient, Phemister says. “Instead of having to train operators on 10 different systems, it’s really training them on one system. So we had a four-hour training session and then we went live.”
There were challenges throughout the process, but those kinks gave the security team the opportunity to configure settings exactly as it wanted them.
For example, after going through and configuring how all the alarms would appear to operators, the team decided there was a better way to do it.
“The naming convention that we initially established for various alarms was a little confusing, so we decided to rename alarms using a different naming convention to eliminate any confusion for the operator,” Phemister notes. “You have to be willing and flexible enough to identify that as you’re doing it, you might find a better way of doing it, and then not be shy about it changing it.”
The new control room has three large monitors. The first one provides a multiview of cameras throughout the studio lot. The operators can customize the view as needed.
In the event of an alarm, standard operating procedures (SOPs) that have been customized by Paramount appear on the second screen. “We set up the business rules for them to get an alarm if they need to take action on it, and then the SOPs will guide them on their way,” Phemister says. “We set it up so the system will make the decision for operators, and they just have to follow the steps.”
The second monitor also has camera and playback view so if an alarm goes off, the operator can pull up the feed of the nearest camera and go back to when the incident occurred. “If we have an alarm associated with a door forced open, and we have a camera or two cameras that point to that area, as soon as that door-forced alarm comes in, it will start recording however long we want it to,” Phemister explains.
The third and final screen is an interactive map that displays exactly where alarms are occurring. Then the left side of that screen displays the playback. “Operators don’t have to go into a video management system and log in, and try to figure out where the camera is. It’s all in the map right there at their fingertips,” he says.
For incidents happening beyond the scope of its alarms, a situational awareness and travel tracking application from Anvil Technologies integrates with SureView.
Anvil’s platform filters in intelligence from news outlets, police scanners, social media, and other primary sources, and updates operators in real time.
“That information goes into the system, and, if it hits within our parameters of where offices or travelers are, then it sends us an alert,” Phemister says. He notes that during the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2015, Paramount had three travelers in the city when it got the alert from Anvil.
“Anything that hits assets that are traveling, we’ll get an alert that says, ‘Here’s the situation that’s happening, and these potential travelers may be impacted,’” he explains. Fortunately, security was able to connect with the three people in Paris, all of whom were unharmed.
Anvil also has a GPS capability that can track travelers, should they choose to turn the signal on with their mobile phones. Operators can then hit a mobile panic button that locates the asset’s exact coordinates.
Since installing the system, Phemister says that security has responded to more alarms than ever before. Now it’s able to alert productions more quickly to potential incidents before anything goes wrong.
On one occasion, there was a commuter train wreck less than a mile away from where one of Paramount’s movies was being shot. Security alerted the crew to the incident, and the crew shut down production for the day because bad traffic would affect the shoot.
Another time, there was a protest a few miles from Paramount’s offices, and productions decided to shut down filming for the day. “It’s because of the systems and integrations that we get those alarms we would not have gotten before,” he explains.
Reider adds that the security team has gained more visibility throughout the company, thanks to the SureView installation.
“It lets them come to us because they know we have information they can actually use to help them,” he says of the rest of Paramount. “I think that’s one of the side benefits of everything. Usually security and this kind of stuff is invisible and in the background.”
Overall, Phemister says the security team is pleased with how quickly it was able to overhaul its system and gain so much return on investment. “Three months is very quick in terms of being able to go from where we were to where we are now, and at the same time reduce risk and operational inefficiencies.”