Grips, Gaffers, and Guards: 4 Bodyguard Tips for Protecting Talent on a Film Set

For security professionals, film sets can be a confusing environment of strange lingo and constant distraction.


I remember my first protection assignment with a client on a movie set.  I thought my training had prepared me to operate in any environment. I thought I was ready. Needless to say, I was not and reality hit me like a brick.

The film industry is unique and they have a language all their own:  “Honeywagon….Check the Gate…. 2nd 2nd AD… Video Village….Apple Box….”  When I first heard these terms, I was lost.  The crew communicated with terms that made no sense to me; I was clearly an outsider and I had a lot to learn.  Below are 4 basics I wish I knew then, and basics I still apply now.

1. Don’t Watch the Movie Sets are busy. Camera operators, grips, gaffer, talent, production, caterers, and so on are all racing back and forth.   There’s a lot going on and a lot to observe, so don’t get sucked into watching the movie (i.e. what’s being filmed) versus monitoring this busy environment.  Staying aware – i.e. “being in the NOW” — is where a protector’s attention must be to provide the best protection possible. This doesn’t come easy with all the easy distractions you can latch onto like side conversations or on set drama. The long tiring days standing on set and the countless protectee movements require disciplined fit protectors. Don’t be like a tourist on set, being pulled from one distraction to the next.

2. Know the Lingo Protectors on set should know what to say, and what not to say. To learn the lingo, I recommend reading A to Z Guide to Film Terms. Also, listen to the radios the crew carries.  Key terms like “Martini” can give you advance knowledge of what’s about to come and better prepare you for the next movement. And so you know, “Martini” means the last shot of the day.  So in this case, “Martini” is your signal to move the protctee’s vehicle into position and prepare for a departure.

3. Controlling Movements When talent moves from one controlled space (Basecamp or Hair/Make-up) to the next controlled space (Wardrobe, Set or Car) they are in the “open,” and therefore, vulnerable to inappropriate encounters. In his book, Just 2 Seconds, Gavin de Becker reinforces this point, citing 64% of assassination attempts occurring in or around a car. So to provide safer movements from one controlled space to the next, protectors can implement ways (before their protectee arrives) to reduce the time and distances of vulnerability. Examples include golf carts for reducing time and ideal trailer locations for reducing distances.

4. Build Relationships with Key Influencers After a decade of protecting public figures on-set, I’ve noticed that most often, there’s only one protector assigned to a protectee while filming.  Consequently, that protector must utilize all resources available to create the safest environment for their protectee. Crew members know who belongs on set and who doesn’t, so ask them to notify you if someone appears out of place. By fostering a positive relationship with the crew, you can gain their respect. This is important because you are going to need their help for access and “heads up” notifications about time changes and last-minute movements. Here are the key influencers I rely on the most to augment my security posture while on a film set:

Knowing your environment, including the lingo and key influencers who can help you, will set you on the right path towards mission success in protecting clients on a film set. And don’t forget to stay in the Now!

Ben Zeifman is Vice President of the Protective Security Division at Gavin de Becker & Associates.  Over his tenure with GDBA, he has led and developed studio security operations and intellectual property protection for some of the most notable and highest grossing films in history.