July 29, 2008 -- 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.
In a MySpace entry from June 2007, Lohan wrote: "a former friend, one who was supposed to protect me, instead did the opposite and ran to some british (sic) tabloid to get a couple dollars. He's stolen cameras/memory cards, panties, jewelry & even money. he's a con artist and that's the reason he was fired last year. He will be held responsable (sic) for the false stories & recent pictures he's been circulating verywhere (sic)."
Weaver, who got into the business after coming to Eddie Murphy's rescue during a brawl at a nightclub where he worked and was subsequently hired to protect the actor, has learned how to coexist with the paps.
"Their job is to get you into a heated argument," he said. "That's their shot: Lindsay on the ground with her skirt over head fighting. Princess Diana fell right into that paparazzi trap. She should have just posed. You can't outrun them. Sometimes you give them that picture, it's nothing and they leave you alone."
Eric Ford, a photographer who has been shooting celebrities, primarily on movie sets, since 1997, said the tension between paparazzi and celebrity muscle has eased over the last five years, as "people have accepted the paparazzi as mainstream kind of media."
Still, he won't forget having a gun aimed at him by Pitt's security team.
Pitt, newly married to Jennifer Aniston, was filming "The Mexican" in 2000 in the middle of the Las Vegas desert. Ford and another photographer were hiding among the cactuses when Pitt strolled out to, ahem, relieve himself.
"That's when he saw us. I think he thought we got a picture of him taking a pee," Ford told ABCNews.com. "He sent his bodyguards and it got ugly. They took out guns and they got physical. It was a scuffle. They took our cameras, they took our cell phones and they put us in handcuffs. The cops ended up coming after 10 minutes and they arrested the security guards and charged them with false imprisonment."
The producers ended up paying a monetary settlement to Ford and the other photographer.
Henry Flores, co-owner of Buzz Foto in Los Angeles, also had guns pointed at him by Pitt's security team when he and a group of other photographers followed the hunky actor and ex-girlfriend Jennifer Aniston down to Cabo San Lucas in Mexico.
"We were going to take pictures of them walking out of a restaurant," Flores said. "Suddenly, we were surrounded by five bodyguards, ex-federales, ex-cops, all pulled guns and said, 'If you guys move, we will annihilate you.' I was the only Spanish-speaking person and I told everyone to stand still. If that had happened in the U.S., I would have called the police myself."
That's exactly what he did a few years ago, when he tailed Paris Hilton to a hotel where she was meeting a music industry guy. The security for the industry guy threatened to kill Flores, who left and promptly called 911.
Blair Hanson, another Hollywood-based photographer, said he was threatened with a weapon when he caught Mary Kate Olsen coming out of hair salon. He went for the shot and one of her two bodyguards grabbed his lens and pushed it down.
"I tried to run in front of them and that's when he pulled some kind of badge and flashed a gun," Hanson said. "I said, 'You're ridiculous.'"
Olsen's body guards earned a reputation for being aggressive. They would stop at green lights with paps on their tail and then gun it just as the light turned red, Hanson said. Flores said they would push photographers and put them in headlocks. Finally, the twins dumped them, perhaps because they were becoming a liability, Flores said.
Weaver said most celebrities want their bodyguards unarmed. "If a situation gets really hostile, some bodyguard is going to want to pull a gun out," he said. "And the celebrity is going to have to end up paying for that."
Certainly there have been times when the ex-military, 6-foot 4-inch, 300-pound bodyguard has had to pack heat – for example when he rolled with Death Row Records mogul Suge Knight for a few days before deciding the job was too dangerous, or when visiting a couple of night spots with Murphy.
It was at one New York nightclub where he accompanied Murphy and his good friend singer Johnny Gil in the early 1990s that he saw Gil's bodyguard get shot in the chest by a clubgoer who was rebuffed twice by the guard from taking a picture of Gil.
Weaver said he tries to use his mind instead of muscle in most situations. In most cases, he said, a gun is unwarranted, especially for guards protecting properties where the people most likely to trespass are either photographers, the homeless or rabid fans.
"All you need is a body on the property," he said. "When Madonna lived in the Hollywood Hills, she had an armed guy. And this homeless guy got over the gate and the guard shot the guy."
When the homeless would trespass on Murphy's estate, Weaver would first scare them, then bring them in, feed them, give them $20 and take their pictures and get their names so he'd have a record to give the cops if they did it again.
Brad Elterman, Flores's partner in Buzz Foto, said he knows at least one security firm that is doing the same thing when it comes to paparazzi. The company posted pictures of photographers, along with their addresses and license plates, on its Web site. "It's a little scary," he said.
Elterman, who has been shooting celebrities since the 1970s, when the famous paparazzo Ron Gallela was his mentor, said there's a celebrity food chain in Hollywood, of which security guards are a part. "The phenomenon of celebrity is keeping these guys in business," he said.
The money and the lifestyle are also alluring, Weaver said. "There have been times you can sit back and enjoy the celebrity life. You're right in the middle," he said. "If they're eating caviar, you're eating it. You're flying on the jet with them. Sometimes you get a five-, 10-grand cash bonus."
Weaver recalled a time he was working with Sylvester Stallone in Miami. Stallone, wearing a $15,000 white suit he had just purchased, was hanging out at a bar when he turned away one woman who was making aggressive advances at him. The woman returned with a shaken coke bottle and released the contents of it all over Stallone's suit.
Stallone went to grab the woman and Weaver and another bodyguard grabbed him instead and hustled him out of the bar. Later, Stallone handed Weaver $5,000 and said, "I would have punched her and that would have cost me a million. I would rather pay you five grand," he said.
Situations like that can go right to a bodyguard's head. "You can't get caught up in that," Weaver said. "Once you do, you lose focus on your job. You're not the celebrity. You're the bodyguard."