By John M. | March 27, 2000

Okay so I volunteer every year for the Spirit Awards, IFP’s alternative to that other more pretentious Awards show. Volunteers get different assignment but they always give me the celebrity/presenter escort assignment. Last year I had to follow Roseanna Arquette around and make sure when it was time for her to present “Best Actress” that she is on stage at that time as the show is broadcast live on IFC. Some presenters hate it. It’s like being followed by a secret service escort but I always seem to get along. People were still talking about Ms Arquette giving me a hug and a kiss on the cheek last year. Most of the time after they’re done the celebrities say “OK, I did my job, nice meeting you now, leave me alone.” So it was unexpected. This year I got Elizabeth Peña. Perfect. I’m trying to jump-start Latino films. And she is a fellow Cuban who was brilliant in “Lone Star.”
But first we gotta pack the swag bags. See every attendant gets a bag O Swag. The usual stuff. Free T-shirts, hats, Soundtrack CD’s from the movies “election” and “boys don’t cry.” A 20 minute phone card. My favorite items were sunglasses, ’cause I didn’t have any and a real cool leather CD holder. These all are suppose to go in a Leather bag which in and of itself is actually pretty cool, came with a Cell Phone holder built in the shoulder strap. Only one Problem. We didn’t get them. We usually get 1,300 Tuesday, pack them Wed and then Friday just go through the dress rehearsal. We got 500 Wed and that was it. The bag maker screwed up. So we spend all day friday waiting for the bags rehearsing, stuffing a shipment of 300 bags, setting up the tent with banners, arguing over which assignments we got stuffing another 100 bags. It was exhausting. No chance for a break, some of us didn’t get to eat. They all remind us that even though we don’t get paid money, a lot of people volunteer for this and don’t get in. Plus we get a bag, if they have enough.
One guy is asking who Bill Pope is because he has to escort him. I tell him he’s a DP and he’s like what? I tell the kid next to me that I’m glad he got nominated because DP’s never get any respect. He agrees and we talk about DP’s and screenwriter’s whose dissed more? The screenwriter for American Beauty may not win the Oscar because it was highly publicized that the director changed the ending on him.
It’s running late and we still don’t have all the bags. Last we year we took a 2 hour break and I was hoping for the same so I could check into my Hotel room but it doesn’t seem likely. I tell the producer of the show that I need to leave for a few minutes, she’s like No, absolutely not. So I tell her I haven’t checked in yet and she says OK, but hurry.
I check into the hotel and come back. Still no bags.
Now these people pay $500 a seat. (or $2500 a table) starting. They can afford the free cup and shampoo but believe it or not fights breakout every year over these bags. Security guards are hired just to guard them and crew are fired for stealing them every year. So when they announce Plan “B” we are surprised. We’ve done 1,000. It’s late. They bring out paper bags and tell us to stuff these. We lay out leather bags on all the tables except for the back two rows. Called the cheap seats but there are presenters sitting there, including my Peña. The producer then judiciously identifies table by table which ones get Leather bags we are 8 tables short. Can’t wait ’till tomorrow. We keep saying as we lay the bags. “DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM? WHAT DO YOU MEAN I DON’T GET A BAG!
I’m dead tired my feet hurt, my back hurt. I try and get some sleep.
The day is here The Spirit Awards. Jennifer Tilly is the Host and she looks HOT as HELL. Never found her that attractive before because her patented dumb girl routine is so unattractive. But she’d delivering her lines perfectly at the rehearsal:
“Here at the Spirit Awards we try to be different from the other cliché shows. Here we don’t say we’d like to thank everyone we’ve ever met. We just proceed to do so.”
I get there on time but the clean up crew from the night before never showed up. So no breakfast for this Diabetic. What else can go wrong? Now we have to break down boxes, haul trash out, and I end up with the worst job: climbing a ten foot high dumpster, while carrying a thirty gallon trash can in one hand, in my black suit. I almost fall and break my neck twice.
Then the last bags get there. We now can convert the paper ones to leather. This means we also get one for ourselves.
We are lined up outside the producer’s mini tent waiting for the celebs to show up so we can start following them. I talk to Ian who was a volunteer with me last year. She is also the associate producer of the Moxie Awards, A year round film festival in Santa Monica. She’s been buggin me since last year to submit my Doc. I waited because the guys from Telluride made me feel like it was a lock and Chris Gore’s book says only submit to majors first. But after all that they still rejected me. I followed the books advice. Oh well. Ian’s excited about showing it at Moxie. She says they are showing a couple of dock’s on rave the rave scene with a DJ party afterwards. I say I could probably get some bands to play afterwards she’s excited. May even come down to San Diego to see the Casbah show in May. Keeps asking me for the date But I don’t have it yet. She promised yesterday to bring in the submission forms and she does. Is Moxie a worthy world premiere for my Doc? Does is matter at this point? At least she’s really excited about it Plus I think she’s sweet on me.
Of course I think every pretty woman is sweet on me. It’s a serious character flaw that I’m working on, but I’m sure it needs years of therapy.
All the guys are lined up discussing whose the hottest star so far. It’s split between Denise Richards and The hostess herself. We find out that the volunteer assigned to Jennifer Tilly actually HAD to go back with her to the hotel while she changed. Lucky stiff.
My young friend says that the hottest chick there is the make up lady. He’s talking about how hot she is for a half hour. She walks out. I tell him here’s your chance. He says: “no way dude.” I see her take out a pack f cigs. I tell him there’s your opening. He’s says: “Due, no way. You go talk to her.”
I decide it will take him 5 years to get his first feature made. I go up to her as she’s getting out her cigarettes and say; “need a light?”
She says : “No.”
“Good because I don’t smoke and I don’t have a light…”
She laughs her head off.
We shoot the s**t. I go back to my friend. I tell him “her name is Julia, Why don’t you go up to her and say ‘Julia, do you remember me and start talking.”
He says “I could never do that” I tell him it will take 10 years to get his film made.
I see another cute volunteer I had worked with last year. We had been talking yesterday about how tired she was of being an assistant and how much she wanted to direct her first feature. So I go up and ask her what kind of movie she thinks her first feature should be? She gives me a “just a moment” finger and walks away to no where in particular. I am cured! I no longer think every cute woman is attractive to me. She saved me years of therapy.
Forrest Whittaker walks up. The guy is huge I mean Giant! I extend a hand and tell him how glad we are that he came down. He seems very genuine. He is with a black guy in cornrows. Another volunteer says “he’s here with snoop dog?” I tell him he doesn’t look like snoop dog to me.
I get introduced to Elizabeth Peña. I explain to her how glad I am that I get to escort her as I am a latino filmmaker trying to get some latino product out there. She seems genuinely interested. Asks me about my projects, turns out both our dads were imprisoned by Castro for anti-Communist acts. Small world.
I follow her around all day. She talks with Steve Buscemi. She introduces herself and her husband, he introduces himself a woman next to him and his brother. I just hang back like I’m suppose to. They talk about how they were in the same movie “Vibe” but never saw each other. Then Steve Buscemi does an amazing thing. He steps forward, extends his hand and says, “Hi I’m Steve Buscemi, i don’t think we were introduced.” A humbler, more sensitive man I have not met.
Can’t say the same for Michael Stipe. What a pig. There’s a little mini tent attached to the main tent that catering uses to house and distribute the beverages for the day. You can tell it’s used by catering. There are cups, trays and dishes everywhere. Michael is talking to a friend. Then he walks inside this tent which has no one in it at the time and waves his friend inside. He then proceeds to hold the flap closed. I can’t figure out why. A catering person comes up and he’s a real jerk refusing t let her in so she can serve drinks. have my hands full keeping an eye on Peña so I can’t go over. He sees me looking and gives me this nasty look. His eyes are all bloodshot, red bags under his eyes. His friend comes out and buckles up his pants. It hits me! He turned one of the catering tents into his own little Urinal! I’ve never been more disgusted. I make a note never to buy another REM album again.
I talk to my friend who provides script coverage for a living. He read my script for free. He says he loves it but it’s “too Tarantino.”
Peña is talking to (SP?) Joe Mantegna (Bound) He’s trying to get her to try out LA’s idea of a bar. OK now check this out. In one of the sponsors tents they have an Oxygen bar! They have these four glass tubes with flavored liquid in them and they blow Oxygen through this to a hose you insert in your nose. Joe tells Elizabeth that it gives him energy and relaxes him. She says that’s great Joe, your whole sex life lasts this long: She inhales deeply then exhales. We all laugh including Joe.
I have to try it. She doesn’t look like she’s going to move anytime soon because she’s talking to the press. I sit in plain view of her and “breath up.” I do feel a little more relaxed but that could just be that I’m sitting down. Elizabeth asks me how I liked it. I tell her it smells nice, you can adjust the smells and my nostrils are super wide right now. She says “No, I don’t need my nostrils any wider thank you.”
I strike up a conversation with a reporter from Chicago who is covering the event. He says he’s going to right about it. I said go for it, they don’t do this in Chicago or New York, my accent must have been really strong because the whole bar starts laughing.
I have to drag her out of the bathroom but she presents the award in time. I’ve done my job. I tell her I’m still available for anything she needs but she just wants to be left alone. Unfortunately the paparazzi is all over her. I try to shoo them away but there’s only so much you can do.
OK here’s my favorite part.
I see Tarantino. The Quentin himself. I go up but stand aside as he’s talking to a friend. Finally I get a break and introduce myself. I tell him I love his camera work. That no one can “place a camera” like him. This really gets him excited: “That is such a great compliment because I spend a lot of time on placing my camera and determining the viewpoint, You see I try to find the natural angles the way you’d normally see it if you were in the room and then go for unique…
He won’t stop. So then he finally comes to a close and says so what do you do? I tell him about the doc and then I tell him: “It’s funny my script has been criticized for being too much like Tarantino.”
Now he gets even more animated. His arms are flying everywhere, spit is flying out of his mouth; I can only try and approximate his ranting: “F**k all those people what they don’t see is that what I did was write dialogue the way people talk, So now if someone writes a good crime drama with good dialogue they all wanna compare it to me, all I did was show that it can be done…” he’s going on and on then all of a sudden he stops. He looks me in the eye. He grabs my hand and leans over like an old friend telling you a deep dark secret and he says:
“Same f*****g thing happened to me with Scorsese man.”
I have a lot more to say, But it’s already too long. Gregory Nava recognized me but brushed me off (that’s OK), saw my old friend Arturo who is still working on getting a feature length version of his award winning Cuban Short. He was sitting next to Peña, The guy doesn’t know how lucky he is. I introduced each other using the Cuban connection but I don’t think he realized what a chance he had…Small f*****g world. though.
Yes, she did give me yet another hug and a kiss. I told Elizabeth that I hoped we could work together one day but she didn’t ask for a business card and so I didn’t give her one. Just glad I’ve gotten a hug and a kiss on the cheek two years in a row. She’ll remember me. Roseanna did. I asked a Quad leader if we had any drunken ejections like last year, he said “no..the only problem on my end was e couldn’t find Quentin when it was time for him to present…he was running around drunk, talking everyone up.”
I told him, it was all my fault and related the story but I didn’t smell alcohol on his breath. He reminds me of my friend who is so excited that everyone always thinks he’s on speed when he’s not.
That’s it… the after party was the best ever, Entertainment Weekly, outdid themselves but really I’m too tired to go on.
– John M. (www.prozacproductions.com)

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