Film fans struggle to get close to Hollywood’s great and good,
reports Jason Korsner
12 February 2008
“It’s the most fun of any of it,” said actor and Academy stalwart Ed Begley Junior as he emerged from the annual Oscar Nominees’ luncheon in Beverly Hills.
Try telling this to film fans who’d come from as far and wide as St Louis Missouri, London and Tokyo to catch a glimpse of their favourite stars only to find out that without warning, for the first time, members of the public had been banned.
In previous years, the Oscar Nominees Luncheon at the Beverly Hilton hotel has provided the rarest of opportunities for film fans to meet their heroes the casts and crews of the year’s greatest films, stopping off on their way in to be honoured for their work by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
While most of the actors chat to fans and sign autographs, some including last year, the likes of Mark Wahlberg and Leonardo di Caprio, willingly take fans’ cameras and take photos of themselves with the movie-goers who they happily acknowledge put them on the pedestal that brought them there in the first place.
“Previously, we’ve even been invited,” said Fran Armstrong, who’d extended her stay from St Louis to come to the event for the fifth year in succession. “They used to say on the radio that it was happening and we should come down.” Her husband Elmer explained that the stars were still very nice, trying to stop off if they could, but this year had not been good for fans. “In the past, it’s been wonderful, but today has been a nightmare. Not fan friendly at all.”
In previous years, in addition to the official press presence inside the hotel’s ballroom, there’s been a pen for unofficial press outside, along with three other areas for fans to gather both in the forecourt and in the lobby. This year, security guards were out in force, escorting anyone off the premises who wasn’t accredited press or hotel guests. Rather than arriving to screams from adoring fans, some of the world’s most heralded celebrities were greeted by little more than quiet murmuring and muted chatter.
Hotel security chief Lynda Simonetti said the Academy had to ensure security for the stars, although in previous years, but LA-based British film-maker Sherlia Aziz explained that this hadn’t ever been a problem in previous years when there’d been a higher terrorist threat. “I’ve never known them be so rude to fans,” she insisted.
Savvy professional autograph hunters, who’d known about the change of heart in advance, beat the ban by checking in to the hotel in order to secure a spot in the tightest of pens, screaming for the attention of the stars as they headed in the opposite direction. But a room at the exclusive Beverly Hilton is beyond the means of most average film fans.
George Clooney (Michael Clayton), Laura Linney (The Savages), Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men), Marion Cotillard (La Vie En Rose) and Viggo Mortensen (Eastern Promises) were among the stars who made the effort to ensure that all the hotel guests who’d lined up since before 10am got their photos and autographs. “I’ve got two signed,” said hotel guest and professional autograph hunter Kevin as he brandished two large photos of Juno’s Ellen Page, that he’d printed off the internet.
Japanese film critic Duke Matsumoto had flown in from Tokyo to catch up on the Oscar-nominated movies and photograph the stars for his own snap-book. He was lucky enough not to get escorted off the premises for his crime of not having a hotel room, but like the Armstrongs, he was denied anything other than a view of the back of large men scrambling to get as many photos and posters signed as they could, so that they could recoup their hotel room cost by selling them on ebay.
The handful of security guards whose efforts to keep the adoring fans away from the stars who happily stop for photos could teach the Department of Homeland Security a thing or two. They managed to quell the hopes of fans who’d come from around the world for what’s previously been one of the most informal and best-natured events of the awards-season calendar. Particularly at a time when the three-month-old writers strike has brought the City of Angels to its knees, one might have thought that a boost to morale and studio-fan relationships could have helped to lift spirits somewhat.