Like most film industry executives, Jamie is an MBA – the money – not an MFA – the creativity – and as such, he has never seen the glamour of the movie business: in fact, he is famous among my more starry-eyed friends for grumbling, “Movie magic? Bah. It’s just real estate.” On one level, he’s right, it is real estate – who rents your stages is pretty much the same as who rents your storefront – but it is a far cooler real estate job than being the broker for the new Burger King franchise in El Segundo.
Partly because Jamie worked all the time and was often exhausted at the end of the day and partly due to his attitude toward them, we didn’t go see a lot of movies, and we attended film industry functions purely as networking opportunities.
My first movie premiere was in 2005. Jamie’s friend Bru, one of the executive producers of the film, invited us and the only reason Jamie agreed to go was that Bru asked in front of me and I wanted to see the film; generally, at industry events Jamie steamed through the Suez Canal of producers and showrunners while I bobbed along in his wake, nibbling at the canapés and being ignored by the Beautiful People; when the networking was done, so was the evening.
I was looking forward to the premiere. Visions of the Frederic March and Janet Gaynor version of A Star is Born tangoed in my head as I chose my outfit. I doubted that I would be photographed, but as guests of Bru and his wife, Marcy, we would be seated with the film’s cast and creators and I wanted to fit in.
The night of the premiere, we parked the car and walked the two blocks to the theatre. The street, shut to vehicular traffic, was lit up like the moon landing. A tomato-red carpet had been laid on the sidewalk for a block before the entrance. Massive, old style Hollywood klieg lights were positioned in front of the theatre, their beams criss-crossing the sky like in the Twentieth Century Fox film logo. The enormous press contingent was thronged on the outside of the cordon created by a red velvet rope; behind them jostled a large crowd of fans and onlookers.
I poked Jamie. “Wow! This is pretty cool. Just like in the movies.”
He shot me a quizzical sideways look. “It is the movies.”
“No, you know what I mean. Like in those old behind-the-scenes movies like What Price Hollywood.”
“I think you watch too many of those,” he mumbled, reaching in his breast pocket for the tickets and dragging me through the thick crowd to the entrance.
He showed our tickets to a man dressed in a dark blue suit with a Bluetooth in his ear – high-level security – who, after verifying their validity, motioned us to the check-in table inside the velvet ropes where young women in period costumes searched for our names on the guest list and provided us with lariats to hold our tickets. Just ahead the stars and executives were being interviewed and photographed in front of a giant white backdrop bearing the studio’s corporate logo. The line moved slowly because every guest was photographed against the backdrop to be used as publicity in industry publications like The Hollywood Reporter and Daily Variety.
The lights were blindingly bright and the noise level was deafening. Period music was blasting through enormous speakers and the crowd was chanting the names of the film’s stars so loudly that I wondered how the E! Live interviews were being conducted at all. It probably didn’t matter who could hear what anyway, as on my way past I caught the inanity of the questions and the vapidity of the answers.
We made out way through the lobby and had tiny 1930’s size bags of popcorn thrust at us, then we were herded into another line for yet another studio employee in period costume to check our seating section on the tickets. After it was determined that we were with the film’s creators, a wave of deference crashed over us. Did we want anything? A drink? More popcorn? To be shown to our seats? To each question I smiled and shook my head while Jamie yawned and scanned the crowd for Bru and Marcy.
“Are you sure you want to be here?” I asked as he stifled another yawn.
“You are yawning.”
“I’m tired; I worked all day, besides you know I always fall asleep at the movies.”
I sighed. I did know that.
While we were waiting I admired the lobby decor. The film was a period remake of a 1930’s classic and the entire room was decorated in the style of the movie’s urban setting. A period newsstand was set up in one corner. A giant, yellow, Checker cab filled another. I poked Jamie and pointed to all of the props. “It’s cool in here, isn’t it?”
He looked around the room. “Yeah, it is. Wait until you see the after-party.”
“There is an after-party? Where?”
“On one of the stages at the studio. It’ll be all decorated like this, too. Actually, they will probably move this stuff out while all of us are watching the film and truck it over.”
“They can do it that fast?”
“Sure, they’re Teamsters.” Jamie continued running his eyes over every face in the room, searching for his friends, as the lights began to blink and studio employees dressed in Depression-era movie usherette costumes and carrying flashlights encouraged us to enter the auditorium.
“Are we going to the after-party?” I asked as we shuffled along.
“Sure. Why not?”
“You just said that you worked all day and are tired.”
“Yeah, but I’ll sleep through the movie. The party’s where everyone really has a chance to talk.”
The auditorium was divided into sections of varying sizes for people of varying importance. Our tickets entitled us to sit in the last row of the small front section reserved for production insiders. The room filled quickly and it began to grow warm. The stars were shepherded by their handlers while the executives clustered together like Armani-clad molecules. Finally, I saw Marcy and Bru enter. I poked Jamie. “Look.”
Immediately Jamie stood. People were moving around all throughout our section, squeezing in and slipping out of rows as they greeted friends and colleagues. Impatient, Jamie climbed over the back of his seat and scrambled in the direction of Bru. Marcy slid in next to me from the other side and touched my arm. “Hi.”
“Hi. Hey, thank you so much for inviting us to this. I am so excited. I have never been to a premiere before.”
Marcy shrugged elegantly. “Oh, no problem. I need someone to sit with anyway because Bru will be up and down all night talking to people.”
“Sounds like Jamie.”
She grimaced. “Birds of a feather. Oh, well. At least it keeps him awake. The way he falls asleep at movies, you’d never believe that his job is producing them.”
I stifled a giggle. The lights dimmed.
The movie started but Jamie wasn’t back yet. I sighed and munched my popcorn. In a few more minutes I began to grow annoyed. I liked Marcy but I wanted to share this experience with Jamie. I scanned the periphery of the theatre; hordes of people milled around, leaning in near each other’s ears to whisper and hear commentary. No wonder the soundtrack is deafening, I thought, they have to drown out the ancillary chatter. The auditorium doors opened and closed constantly as the costumed usherettes shooed the most unrepentant of the talkers into the lobby.
After about twenty minutes, the room calmed; those who planned to watch stayed in and those who felt the need to conduct business were kept out. Just as I grew convinced that Jamie was among the latter, he slid along the seat back and plopped into its velvet expanse.
“You’ve missed the entire beginning of the movie,” I hissed.
He waved his right hand dismissively then jammed it into the popcorn bag.
“Where’s Bru?” Marcy whispered, leaning across me toward Jamie. Jamie jerked a thumb toward the lobby. Marcy rolled her eyes and returned to her seat; she had done this before.
Jamie looked at the screen for a while, then, bored, began to swivel his head around trying to catch a glimpse of anyone he knew and might need to speak with later. Facing right, he stared at the man seated next to him, frowned, then turned his head forward toward the screen. After a minute he looked right again, then back at the screen as if confirming something. He leaned into my shoulder and hissed in my ear, “Hey, the fat guy sitting next to me is in this movie.”
I looked at him. “The fat guy sitting next to you is Jack Black and yes, he is the star of the movie.”
Jamie nodded, completely unimpressed. “Huh.” He munched some popcorn, then stood and climbed the back of his seat again to go and find Bru. I might have been annoyed if every other executive in the room weren’t doing the same thing; the only difference was most of them weren’t in the back row and had to slither long the narrow aisles disturbing everyone else.
Eventually Jamie and Bru both arrived and clambered over in tandem. Surprisingly, both stayed awake and saw the last thirty minutes or so of the film. When it was all over and the lights came up and everyone applauded, Jamie turned toward his seatmate. “Hey, great film, man.”
“Thanks,” Jack Black answered graciously as he rose to receive the applause.
On the way out of the theatre I leaned into Jamie’s shoulder. “Did you like the movie?”
“I dunno. I didn’t really see enough of it to have an opinion. Come on, hurry up. I want to get to the garage so we don’t have to wait too long for the car.” He strode toward the wide-open entrance of the theatre.
It was chilly outside now and most of the Hollywood caravan had folded their tents, mounted their camels, and ridden off toward the next oasis. The red carpet was still there but the velvet rope was gone. So were the backdrop, the reporters, and videographers. The studio employees had packed up the ticket table and departed. Security was minimal. Only a few lone autograph-seekers remained. No one asked for mine.
After we retrieved the car and were inching our way up the ramp to the street, Jamie looked over at me. “So did you have fun at your first movie premiere?”
“Yeah, I did, despite all that bouncing up and down you and Bru did; at least it kept you from falling asleep.”Jamie stuck his tongue out at me as we turned right and drove away from the bright lights and into the relative darkness of the street on our way to the after-party.