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Behind The Orange Carpet

Syracuse, NY will be overtaken by Hollywood tonight for the gala premiere of The Express. The orange carpet will be rolled out. Stanchions and velvet rope will be placed accordingly. Creepy-looking people with handfuls of glossy photos will line the streets (And that's just the SU Athletic Department). Hollywood stars will show up in limos. Photographers will flash photos. Interviewers will schmooze. Someone will get up before the movie and talk about this film was the best movie they've ever been a part of. The movie will begin. The stars will sneak out after twenty minutes because they've already seen the film three times. Even though the gala party is walkable the limos will show up to bring those stars over. They will be whisked to the VIP area where they will only interact with other VIPs. Goody bags will be dispersed. And everyone will go home happy. Or happyish.

Why do I know this? Because in a former life I worked at least thirty movie premieres as a publicity schill for a movie studio (I won't give out specifics but let's say the na
me of the studio rhymes with "Schmions Schmate"). I worked big ones, little ones, gala events and straight-to-DVD film courtesy screenings and all of them pretty much operated the same way. Everyone freaked out and made a big deal out of dumb minutia, everything went relatively fine, everyone got grey hair from stressing over why Actress A got a black limo when she specifically requested a white limo and refuses to get inside to come to the premiere (it happened).

You might find it odd that I worked in publicity for a movie studio since I am not:

A) Female

B) Gay

And you'd be right to be confused. In my three years doing it, I NEVER met a fellow straight male publicist. I am the only one who ever lived. That's something to be...proud of?

You can imagine I have a few stories to tell from these events and I thought this might be the perfect time to share some of them. For those of us who cannot attend The Express premiere, I dedicate these tales of ridiculousness to you.
(And before you ask, I will swear on a stack of Bibles that all of this is true if you asked me to...especially the last story)

If The Producer Wants Five Seats, The Producer Gets Five Seats

The first movie premiere I ever worked was for a film called Lovely & Amazing, which is a pretty decent movie if you don't mind three-minute long full frontal nudity shots of Emily Mortimor. It was held at the Arclight Theatre in Hollywood which I can't recommend highly enough as an amazing (and lovely) place to see a film. It costs a little more but that keeps the riff-raff out.

As low man on the totem pole, I was assigned a block of seats in the theater to guard and make sure no "civilians" sat in. These rows were designated for people involved with the film. I got a walkie-talkie so that people who were within earshot of me could talk into it and look cool rather than just speak loudly in my general direction. I took my job extremely seriously. Anyone who approached needed to tell me their name so I could check it against the pre-approved list with assigned seating. If they weren't on the list or the numbers didn't jive, tough luck buckaroo.

After a little while, a group of five people walk over to me. They tell me their names and I check the list. It's one of the (many) producers and her guests. Problem is, I only see four seats listed for her. The rest of the row is already taken. I let her know the deal, that I have four seats
reserved and I would have to check and see what we can do for her fourth guest. She said...
"I don't think you understand, sweetie. If the producer wants five seats, the producer gets five seats."
No build-up. No attempt to butter me up or sweetalk me. Nope, right to the bullying. My first premiere, my first lesson in Hollywoodnomics.

(For the record, she got five seats)

In Hollywood, A N***a's a N***a
It's weird to remember this but when Fahrenheit 9/11 premiere in LA, it was the hottest ticket in town. Fresh off it's run at the Cannes Film Festival, people were practically beating down the studios doors to get invited to the special Hollywood screening that had been organized. So popular was it that it was actually split into two screenings to be split between theaters across the street from each other.

I was manning the second screening and once again I was in charge of protecting seats for certain desirables. But this time my mission was specific. Guard Row L, Seats 19-20 for Leonardo DiCaprio and Giselle Bundchen. Sounds simple. I'm pretty sure I could pick them out if I saw them coming. Her more so.

But its very specifically told to me that these seats are for Leo and Giselle and for Leo and Giselle only. If anyone else sits here, I will be taking out back, beaten with reeds and my limp body will be used as a footstool for Kurt Russell. Though I suppose there are worse fates, the man IS Snake Plissken.

So I'm literally standing in front of these two seats, which are on the end of the row, when I hear a familiar voice behind me. I turn's Chris Rock. I am three feet from Chris Rock and we have just made eye contact. I smile. He smiles. I look away. I just flirted with Chris Rock.

Okay then...
So a bunch of A-listers file in. Still no sign of Leo or Giselle. In the meantime, Orlando "7-Up Guy" Jones and his date approach. He sees Chris Rock and they apparently know each other. They start chatting right in front of me and even before he asks, I know exactly what's about to happen. Chris Rock turns to me and says "Is it cool if they sit here?"

Sonofabitch. My mind races, sweat trickles down my brow and my hands begin to shake. All eyes are on me. Personally, I don't give a crap know...the reeds thing. I say "I'm sorry, I've been told that I have to save these seats for someone specifically." I just told the star of
Evolution that he can't sit where he wants. The balls on me...

Chris was surprisingly understanding. He turned to Orlando and said sorry, he tri
ed. And that's when Orlando Jones said...

"It's cool man. Hey, even in Hollywood, a n***a's a n***a."

I immediately let out one of those subdued laughs that white people do when black people use the N word in front of them. You know, the obviously fake and nervous guffaw that is an attempt to diffuse the awkwardness of the situation but only makes it worse? I then looked anywhere in the theater except at Chris Rock and Orlando Jones.

It was also around this point that Leonardo DiCaprio and Giselle Bunchen walked in. On the other side of the theater. And walked down to the front. And took two other seats.

Orlando Jones' career hasn't been the same since. I don't think this is a coincidence.

Why Me?
Hey, remember that comedy Eulogy with Ray Romano and Kelly Preston? What? You don't remember it? Also starred Famke Janssen and Hank Azaria. Still not ringing a bell? Oh, I forgot to tell you, it's horrible and unfunny and it was out of theaters in a week. So I'm happy to hear you've never heard of it.

The premiere for Eulogy was held at a little theater in Westwood, which is the equivalent of playing the an NFL game at your local high school. Clearly, the odds were stacked against this little engine that shouldn't have. So I'm doing my usual routine, checking the seats to make sure the right people are in the right spots when my boss calls me over. This is odd because I'm not part of the "A" team this evening, the team in charge of all the particulars, I'm just really there as a helper. There's no reason for me to be involved in any specifics.

"I need you to go to the afterparty right now."

Again, very strange.
"John Travolta is arriving there soon and I need to make sure he's taken care of." Extremely strange considering that I am not on the "A" team and also that I am a very junior person in the department. They don't get too much bigger than Travolta, so why would you want me being in charge of this? I ask that very question. "Why me?" My boss looks at me as if he'd deciding whether or not to tell a little kid that Santa Clause isn't real and says...

"Because he prefers young men and you're the only one we've got."

I confirmed with him that he meant what I thought he meant and one thing became abundantly clear to me...I was about to be presented to John Travolta as his personal concubine for the evening.
(And if you're one of the twelve people left in the world who doesn't know he's gay or doesn't believe it and you think I'm lying, have at it)

So I prepared myself, girded my loins and headed over to the after-party. A million thoughts raced through my head. Would I have to sit on his lap? Would he put a leash on me and make me following him wherever he went? Would I have to seduce other young men in the crowd to bring them back to his VIP table to so that we may perform for him as his leisure?
There was a very good chance the defining moment of my career was about to take place. Would I make the ultimate sacrifice to ensure that the afterparty of a movie premiere that no one cared about went smoothly?

I never had to find out. By the time I arrived Travolta has already been seated and pampered to the desired degree. My services were no longer necessary. I breathed an easy sigh of relief and returned to my seat-guarding duties.

So think about these stories tonight when you're at home, wondering what you're missing from The Express premiere. You're probably exactly where you want to be and not missing much at all. And as I write this, there's some poor Universal publicity assistant currently freaking out and losing hair because Dennis Quaid's hotel suite faces North and he specifically demanded one that faces South-Southeast and he refuses to stay anywhere else. I'm with you in spirit, my friend, cause I'm smart enough to not actually be you.