“Are you over 21?” I had no idea why the portly guy who works the front desk at the desolate-looking building I’d been sent to with six tapes to send up on a satellite feed from Century City to Chicago was asking me whether I was of age or not. Unfortunately, there was no alcohol involved in the question. There was softcore porn however. Softcore porn and Al Jazeera – both of which were being fed simultaneously on two side-by-side screens at the satellite feed place. The life of a production assistant is never boring. The life of a production assistant is even more exciting when you’re working on a last-minute, guerilla shoot involving the Geico caveman, an internet startup network called Celebtv.com and the 79th Annual Academy Awards.
I was innocently bowling at Zodo’s with my friends on Friday night when I got a call from my mother – a freelance producer who had been called in last minute to coordinate a stunt in which Celebtv.com would use the Geico caveman as a special correspondent at the Oscars. She needed a production assistant, and like many film majors hoping to actually work in the industry after college, I have some experience PA’ing. So once I recovered from my post-bowling hangover on Saturday morning, I convinced a friend of mine to drop everything and head down to L.A. with me.
We checked into the Hotel Bel Age in Beverly Hills – which manages to charge $7 for three pieces of bacon at their in-suite breakfast, making Freebirds look downright reasonable – on Saturday night, unrolled the sofa bed and savored the last few hours of downtime we were to have until Monday evening. At 5 a.m. on Sunday morning, Caveman #1 knocked on our door. The secrets of his transformation from guy pounding on my hotel room door to bona fide caveman will go with me to my grave, but suffice it to say that it was quite a process. After coffee runs, many desperate negotiations with the hotel’s front desk staff regarding everything required to keep a big crew of makeup artists, wardrobe people, crew and producers happy and enough e-mail checking, logistics figuring and phone-calling to more than earn my keep for the weekend, we were off to the red carpet at the Kodak Theatre.
When it comes to the actual carpet, the experience was fairly straightforward – we went, we saw, we shot. It was early, since our passes expired at 11 a.m., so we were there on the carpet with the die-hard fans, press from a variety of other not-quite-top-tier media outlets and crews setting up for the big-time arrivals that were slated to take place way after we were kicked off the carpet. The giant Oscar statues that lined the walkway were just being taken out of plastic when we arrived. By the time we left, they were out, shined and surrounded by flowers and foliage. It was quite a transformation. Meanwhile, the caveman got the biggest cheers on the early-morning carpet, inciting adoration from everyone from the security guards to the guy standing outside with a big “Jack Nicholson for President” sign.
By the time we left the carpet in our limo – elegantly exiting via the Chevron station that served as an impromptu base-camp for many of the media covering the carpet (a fact that prompted them to start charging $100 a pop for parking spots) – Caveman #1 was exhausted and it was time to bring in reinforcements. I missed the details of the big Caveman switcheroo, since I was embroiled in a major snafu at the satellite feed place and spent the better part of the afternoon negotiating with the satellite distribution folks and the head honchos in Chicago. After I finally managed to muster enough mediating, pleading, flirting and beta-machine working skills to get most of our footage fed to Chicago, I made my way via one very run-down taxi back to the hotel, only to discover that the crew had already left for the Night of 100 Stars gala at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Five minutes, one incredibly versatile little black dress and a few seconds flirting with danger via the highest heat setting on my hair straightener later, I was in the back of our limo heading over to the big bash.
After negotiating my way in via even more mediating, pleading and flirting, I finally caught up with the crew, who immediately sent me and my friend on a water and snacks run. Various other similar errands later and it was time to leave the red carpet and try to sneak six crew members, myself and my friend into the big party itself. Luckily, I had my high school prom at the Beverly Hills Hotel, so I knew a back way into the big ballroom via the balcony we snuck out onto to smoke cigarettes during the big night. I made friends with the security guard stationed at the bottom of the back-way steps and, by hook, crook and a promise to get another guard a picture with the caveman, I managed to get our entire crew into the exclusive event.
Kevin Sorbo, Gary Busey, Shelley Berman, John Corbett, Jenna Jameson, Alan Thicke and Jon Voight were all in attendance at the Night of 100 Stars, and the Beverly Hills Hotel’s ballroom was packed to the brim with a dazzling array of crystal, collagen, couture and cantaloupes masquerading as breasts. The caveman was a hit, our crew thoroughly enjoyed themselves and I even managed to sneak half a dessert when nobody was looking. It’s not like any of the women at the party were planning on actually eating their food anyway. All in all, it was the quintessential Hollywood gala – a little bit glam, a little bit gaudy and a lot of people working the room and each other.
The only way to end the evening properly was to do as the celebrities do and hit up Hollywood’s best-kept secret – the trendiest restaurant ever to exist inside a glorified trailer – Astroburger. As we munched on some of the finest fast food L.A. has to offer, and posed the Caveman to recreate the famous shot of Hillary Swank doing the same thing, I had a second to reflect on the whole wild, whirlwind weekend. From bowling at Zodo’s to busting my butt at the Academy Awards, it was a crazy couple of days. Nothing was as glamorous as it seemed on TV, but it all turned out looking that way. And, I guess in Hollywood, that’s what matters. Ultimately, there’s only one thing left to say – I’d like to thank the Academy.