By Topher Gauk-Roger
Celebrities developed a new reason to fear for their safety in 2008, thanks to five teenagers from the Valley.
Over the course of a year, this group managed to steal a reported $3 million worth of goods from the homes of various A-list celebrities. They came to be known as "The Bling Ring," and they let nothing stand in the way of their quest for fashion and fame. They wanted to be part of the lives of the celebrities they worshiped and the notoriety they assumed would accompany it.
It has been more than three years since the Ring members were arrested and their activities were documented in a 2010 article in Vanity Fair by Nancy Jo Sales. Now the gang is getting their biggest claim to fame yet: a major ﬁlm. It's not just any ﬁlm but one from an Oscar-winning writer/director and starring one of the hottest young actresses in the industry. Now everyone can get an inside look at their exploits.
Sofia Coppola has five films and one Academy Award under her belt but was raised into fame as the daughter of legendary director Francis Ford Coppola. At "The Bling Ring's" recent Hollywood premiere, Coppola revealed that she had a hard time wrapping her head around this real-life case.
"It just seemed so out of hand compared to things we did when I was a kid and just so timely just about our obsession with pop culture and reality TV. It's a story that couldn't have happened 10 years ago."
Lindsay Lohan, Rachel Bilson, Orlando Bloom, Miranda Kerr, Megan Fox, Brian Austin Green and Audrina Patridge all fell victim to the teen thieves. The most famous case may be that of socialite Paris Hilton, whose Hollywood Hills home was robbed on numerous occasions by the Ringers. Hilton first saw the film at the Cannes Film Festival this year, and the celebrity says it was a struggle to watch the events play out on the big screen.
"I was really emotional watching the film. I tried to hold back tears, and I was just really upset and mad that these kids had done this to me. I felt so violated. What they did was so wrong, so watching it was so bizarre to know that that was real life."
(Hilton also has a cameo in the movie, and parts were filmed in her house.)
The Ring tracked their targeted celebrities online. Thanks to entertainment news stories, they knew who would be out of town, and search engines helped turn up the celebrities' exact addresses. Once they found the location of each home, they had no trouble getting in with unlocked doors and barely hidden spare keys, officials said.
The robbers picked up as much clothing, jewelry and handbags as they could carry. In certain instances, they also raced off with artwork, electronics and even a gun from the home of Fox and Green. The group managed to nab millions in cash and clothing before police could identify any of the parties responsible.
Coppola is known for her keen aesthetic eye. Despite winning the industry's highest accolade for her work as a screenwriter, her films are famous for their use of imagery and music to create atmosphere. While working on this film, Coppola made a conscious effort not to glamorize the extreme tale of celebrity obsession.
"I wanted to make it seductive enough so you understood how you got into this world, but you want to be clear that you don't want to be encouraging. I think it's something important to look at, like our interest in this side of culture and how healthy it is to be that extreme with it."
In addition to the teens, there were two adults helping unload the stolen goods. All seven parties alleged to be part of the Ring were taken to court, and four of them were sentenced to time in jail.
Alexis Neiers -- immortalized on her E! show "Pretty Wild" complaining to Sales about her negative portrayal in the Vanity Fair article -- was one of these people, serving 30 days of a six-month sentence. Coincidentally, part of that time was spent in a cellblock with Bling Ring victim Lohan.
In the new film, "Harry Potter" actress Emma Watson portrays a character loosely based on the former reality star-turned-drug and alcohol abuse counselor. Watson feared that the film adaptation wouldn't send the right message to a celebrity-obsessed public.
"I was definitely concerned. At one point, I was like, 'Oh, my God, everything looks so incredible. People might be glamorizing with this.' But I think Sofia's perspective is very balanced. She's not there to judge; it's not official commentary. But at the same time, I think it shows the darker, monotonous, repetitive aspects of what that lifestyle's really like."
The story of the Bling Ring captures a young generation raised on the concept of fame being the ultimate achievement, a world where hard work and talent aren't necessary to achieve success. With reality TV and other pop culture phenoms, it's hard to imagine this trend reversing any time soon. But Hilton, for one, is hopeful.
"I think when people watch this film, they're definitely going to see what our culture's like and how celebrity-obsessed it is. And how things need to change. People need to have more important priorities and other things to aspire to."