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The release of the football player Ernie Davis’ biopic, The Express, is still a month off, but that didn’t stop Universal Pictures and Syracuse University from treating the city of Syracuse—the filming location and real-life setting of the story—to a full-blown party for the official premiere. Around 3,000 guests, including Dennis Quaid, Charles Dutton, Jeff Zucker, and Bob Costas turned up for the September 12 event that transformed the OnCenter War Memorial Arena into an indoor football field.
Syracuse, as you might imagine, is not a city accustomed to hosting film premieres, least of all ones boasting a guest list in the thousands. So to produce the party, Los Angeles based Precision Event Group had to look outside the college town for partnerships that would bring the event together. The extensive list of vendors included groups from Los Angeles, New York, and even Toronto.
“It was clear early on that the vendors in Syracuse didn't lend to something of a gala nature,” said Jason Wanderer of Precision. “We needed to produce something typical of Hollywood or New York, but we also really wanted to impress the people there.”
Impressing those locals required a complete overhaul of the venue. An old hockey rink that isn't associated with parties, the War Memorial Arena is equipped to handle the large crowd, catering responsibilities, and little else. All of the lighting equipment needed to be brought in from out of town, and the closest city with an appropriate vendor was across the Canadian border. “Toronto is only a three-hour drive,” said Wanderer, “so bringing all of the lighting equipment down from there was really cost effective.”
Despite the early date, the party was planned in an effort to piggyback on Syracuse University's Ernie Davis statue dedication at Saturday’s football game. A Syracuse alumnus, Davis was the first African-American football player to win the Heisman Trophy in 1961.