The scene is a sprawling estate in southern France. Two men dressed in camouflage slip onto the grounds carrying sophisticated recording equipment. The targets, actors Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, are unaware of the lurking menace, which is quickly dispatched by an elite security team who ambush the intruders.
That was no Hollywood script. It took place last week at the Brangelina home, where the most hunted celebrity couple in the world were relaxing with their six children, including newborn twins Vivienne Marcheline and Knox Leon.
The men in camo were paparazzi.
The guards, hired by Jolie and Pitt, are a key part of the high-stakes game that celebrity journalism has become. At a time when photographs of celebrities and their kin can fetch thousands and sometimes millions of dollars, private bodyguards and security guards have become a familiar sight and scuffles like the one between the guards at the Jolie-Pitt compound and the paparazzi more frequent.
These days, it's not uncommon for bodyguards to be packing a gun while shepherding their clients through nightclubs and down sidewalks. Nor is it unusual for guards stationed at celebrities' homes to be armed.
Even Tom Hanks, who has played nice guys like Forrest Gump, hired an off-duty police officer with a semi-automatic to protect his vacation home in Sun Valley, Idaho, from the contractor he's been feuding with.
A Hanks rep told the New York Post: "One security guard had to be hired after [contractor Gary] Storey tried to force his way onto the Hanks' property at 7 a.m., unannounced, with five pickup trucks full of his cronies. The one guard that was hired is an off-duty police officer who, by Idaho law, is allowed to carry a gun."
Meanwhile, paparazzi competing to earn potentially big payouts for candid photos of stars sans makeup, strolling their children down sidewalks, sunbathing topless or canoodling with married men have also gotten more aggressive, getting in the faces of the celebs they are photographing and sometimes coming to blows with the hired guns protecting them.
"It's getting crazier," Lee Weaver, a former bodyguard for Lindsay Lohan, told ABCNews.com.
A bodyguard for 20 years, Weaver has seen the number of paparazzi proliferate. Back when he was protecting Kim Basinger, he recalled accompanying her and then-husband Alec Baldwin to their home after the birth of their daughter Ireland in 1995.
"Kim was holding the baby, and this photographer just jumped out of the bushes," Weaver remembered. "Kim almost dropped the baby. We rushed her in the house. Then me and Alec had to respond. We sure didn't invite him for dinner."
The difference today? "It would have been four or five in the bushes," he said.
Nothing attracts paparazzi more than a whiff of scandal, something Weaver's former client Lohan seemed especially prone to.
"Lindsay was a fighter," Weaver said. "I would tell her, no fighting tonight. She told me she used to fight when she was 8 years old. The paparazzi would jump on one of her friends and she'd be ready to roll. I would pick her up and her feet would still be going and I'd put her in the car."
Lohan and Weaver had a parting of the ways last year after she accused him of stealing, tattling on her to the tabloids and leaking seductive pictures of a knife-wielding Lohan and Vanessa Minnillo.