Movie and TV Culture

Spoiler Nation: Movie Sets Under Siege

Hollywood's casts and crews are fair game when they shoot outdoors. Go inside the spoiler wars' biggest battlefield, where determined spies have beaten the defenses of ''Iron Man,'' ''Indiana Jones,'' ''Gossip Girl,'' and more

Harrison Ford, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Image credit: ILLUSTRATION BY EDDIE GUY

Anyone working on a high-profile movie or TV show these days dreads seeing two words in a script: Exterior shot. Filming a hot project at an outdoor location has become a swim in a giant, incredibly public fishbowl. Of all the battlefronts in the spoiler wars, location shoots are the places where filmmakers and show creators feel the most exposed, the most overtly under siege — and maybe the most powerless to plug leaks. ''You can't control it anymore,'' says Kathleen Kennedy, an executive producer on Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The cast and crew did the best they could to keep a low profile on locations in New Mexico, Hawaii, and Connecticut. They tagged the movie Genre on call sheets. Harrison Ford was listed as ''#,'' and Cate Blanchett's Russian villainess Irina Spalko became ''Mean Girl.'' Even so, interlopers crashed the party wherever Crystal Skull went. Somebody in a helicopter — possibly just a lucky tourist on a joyride, who was passing through airspace the Skull crew couldn't control — snapped shots of a Hawaii-based jungle sequence from above. Plot-spoiling amateur videos of a motorcycle-chase scene filmed in New Haven, Conn., also showed up online, thanks to onlookers posting footage. ''Unfortunately, it has become intrusive, and extremely aggressive,'' says Kennedy. ''You have to accept that it goes with the territory now.''

No matter how distant the location, it seems, those pesky snappers find a way in. A few weeks into the shoot of Iron Man, in March 2007, work was about to start at an extremely remote desert-canyon spot in a gated national park near Lone Pine, Calif. — more than three hours' drive outside Los Angeles. Barren and desolate-looking, this spot would stand in for Afghanistan in a sequence where Tony Stark, played by Robert Downey Jr., gets kidnapped by terrorists. Somehow, photographers found the waiting set. They commandeered a vantage point in the hills above, and got telephoto-lens pictures of the faux terrorist encampment, including weapon containers marked ''Stark Industries.'' The images showed up on a fansite before any of the sequence had even been filmed. ''We thought if we'd be safe anywhere, it'd be here,'' says Marvel Studios production chief Kevin Feige. ''It just shows you people will track it.''

Can't anything be done by way of defense? Whenever possible, producers now try to shoot on private property in states where trespassers can, in theory at least, be legally ejected after a stare-down or a call to the cops. But professional gawkers have ways around even these measures. They simply get access to some adjacent private property themselves, aim their high-powered lenses, and start clicking. As long as they're not physically standing on your turf, there's nothing you can do. ''They will go to extreme measures,'' says Kennedy. ''It's really frustrating. We've had paparazzi literally buy apartments near a set where we were shooting so they can claim to be on private property.'' What about blocking people's views? Good idea, but even if you build giant plywood enclosures, surround the location with huge screens, and make the actors wear hooded robes or overcoats coming and going, you can't protect every angle all the time, especially from overhead — it's too expensive and time-consuming and impractical.

NEXT PAGE: Movie set surveillance ''directly affects PR, and drives when you release images to the public. We want to be the first ones to unveil it. Not some scooper with a camera phone.''

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