Blockbuster Universal Premieres Bookend L.A. Film Festival

Premieres for two summer action movies from UniversalWanted and Hellboy IImarked the opening and closing nights of the L.A. Film Festival.

By Irene Lacher July 2, 2008, 12:25 PM EDT

The festival's closing-night street party

Photo: Line 8 Photography

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Los Angeles may be the film capital of the world, but unless the city's film lovers are actually working in the entertainment industry, most will have to keep on driving—or stand behind barricades—when they see a theater hosting one of the zillion movie premieres thrown here in any given year. All that changes, however, when the Los Angeles Film Festival rolls around. Film Independent's 10-day event, which brings together filmmakers and their ticket-buying public at screenings and parties, is designed to bridge the gap, essentially bringing down the “fourth wall” dividing them.

This year—the festival's 14th—Film Independent partnered with Universal Pictures for its opening- and closing-night galas on June 19 and Saturday, which doubled as world premieres for the studio's features Wanted and Hellboy II: The Golden Army, respectively. At a time when financial pressures are squeezing the independent movie industry and some major studios are shutting down their indie film arms, the two organizations found common ground in Universal's blockbuster action films directed by auteur filmmakers (Wanted's Timbor Bekmambetov and Hellboy's Guillermo del Toro).

“What Universal is doing that's so great, which you're not seeing from most of the other studios, is that it's working with great independent directors,” said Diana Zahn, Film Independent's director of special events, who organized the galas with Hollace Davids, Universal Pictures Marketing's senior vice president of special projects. “What you're seeing are the directors' visions on a totally different scale. They're the perfect partner for us in the film festival.”

There were mutual financial advantages as well. In exchange for footing the party bill, Universal benefited from the nonprofit's access to theaters, discounted vendor rates, and contributions from beverage sponsors.

All that good news can nonetheless create headaches for event producers. Instead of planning for the still-considerable guest list of 1,000-plus typical of film premieres, organizers had twice that many mouths to feed—about 2,500—at the double-barreled events. Still, lines remained manageable; Along Came Mary, which catered the closing-night festivities, provided 22 buffet stations for the masses exiting four Westwood theaters at once.

“One of the things we pride ourselves on is, we know what these things are like in terms of people hitting these events at the same time, so we know how to make sure there are enough buffets and bars and waitstaff to serve an onslaught of hungry folk,” Davids said. “Our goal is to make it an evening where people say, 'I love the movie. This was a great experience.' They don't walk away stressing about the parking, all the little things that can ruin a night for somebody.''

On opening night, Jameson Irish Whiskey provided visual punch as well as drinks with brightly lit bars at the post-screening street party on the Broxton Avenue block abutting the Mann Village Theatre, where the main Wanted screening was held. The decor was simple, with gold cloths and electric candles topping tables, market umbrellas shading the Napa Valley Grille's buffets, and plenty of cost-effective lighting techniques.

For the Hellboy II premiere on closing night, organizers stepped up the decor, which was inspired by del Toro's lush interpretation of the sci-fi comic book character's world. Taking their cue from scenes at a busy bazaar for magical creatures, designers created tableaux for Universal's V.I.P. party adjacent to the street festivities, arranging props from the film (think models of creatures and golden army “pods” in which the dormant warriors rested) with vintage birdcages, pillar candles, Moroccan lamps, and boxes covered in Egyptian-style friezes. Other tableaux featured rusty boilers and chains hinting at the New York underground where Hellboy's magical creatures lurked.

Throughout the festival, filmmakers and V.I.P.s had the opportunity to loung at the sleek Target Red Room, a temporary space on Westwood Boulevard that featured a bar, DJs, Target snacks, and computers. Lighting and style were provided by mini clear-plastic chandeliers fitted with red bulbs, while guests relaxed on black and red furniture topped with red pillows. Target's corporate logo was a ubiquitous design element, showcased on the bar front, cocktail table tops and pillows.

By contrast, Sunday evening's relatively intimate LAFF Awards ceremony was a study in simplicity. Westwood's Hammer Museum courtyard was the backdrop for the cocktail reception, where waitstaff circulated with Wolfgang Puck's tuna tartare in sesame cones, duck and mango spring rolls, and Szechuan beef nibbles. Nearly 300 guests attended the awards ceremony at the Hammer's Billy Wilder Theater, where actor Don Cheadle was regaled before receiving the Spirit of Independence Award as the festival came to a close.

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