When your goal is to entertain the biggest talents, trendsetters and image makers in the entertainment industry, the quest to impress is never-ending. A party space just can’t be too unique or too fabulous. And studio backlots in and around L.A. have a magic all their own.
Not only do they offer spaces of all sizes and styles, from themed streets to empty soundstages upon which to project your fantasies, most of the studios have onsite event production departments that allow planners to take advantage of the talent on the lots — from lighting designers to prop masters to caterers.
In other words, it’s often one-stop shopping. It goes without saying that rental availability depends upon production schedules The last standing studio in Hollywood proper, Paramount, has recently hosted bashes including Perez Hilton’s circus-themed birthday party (Katy Perry rode in on an elephant, singing “Happy Birthday”) and this summer’s “Entourage” premiere, which was held at the historic Bronson gate, the original entrance to the studio when it opened in 1912. The location works especially well for premieres, says Par’s head of special events, Uschi Wilson, because the largest theater on the lot, a 518-seater, is adjacent to the gate.
The studio has carte blanche to do “all the wow stuff, like fireworks and stunts,” says Wilson, who adds, on a slightly more mundane (but in L.A., no less significant) note, that parking is close and easy.
For Sony Studios, the former home of MGM in Culver City, its proximity the Westside is a big draw, as is the inhouse catering partnership with Wolfgang Puck. The most popular event location is its versatile Main Street, where Comedy Central hosted its roast afterparty for David Hasselhoff, and AFI entertained 1,500 guests who came out after the AFI Awards’ tribute to Mike Nichols. The VIP afterparty for Nichols was held on a grassy common area connected to the studio’s newest buildings, built to green standards in 2008.
Each studio has its own version of a New York Street, but Universal’s, heavily damaged by fire in 2008 and just reopened in May with a party for 2,000, now boasts 13 blocks that include a contemporary glass-and-steel skyscraper and a quaint West Village-style street.
There are a total of 30 different backlot locations at U, and special events senior manager Morgen Hoffman notes that the studio can partner with the theme park to provide private tours to guests.
“We pick them up and drop them off before dinner. It’s an added value to the whole Hollywood experience,” Hoffman says.
At Warner Bros., a prime spot for cocktail parties and receptions is the studio museum. Guests can mingle amid rare memorabilia like the piano from “Casablanca” and early Oscar statuettes. Hillary Harris, who developed WB’s special events department in the early 1990s, notes how much more sophisticated industry soirees have become in the last decade or so, as hosts aim to get more marketing bang for their buck. One easy way to do that is via the movie theater marquee on the studio’s Brownstone street, notes Harris: “You can do any sort of branding and messaging you want.”
At the Intl. Television Gala in May, the 1,500 broadcasters and stars like William Shatner were led from a Western town with a working saloon to a performance by the avant-garde circus troupe Lucent Dossier — aerialists swung from chandeliers, pouring champagne. Later, George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic performed.
As Harris readily admits, it’s not bad for a night’s work: “I feel like I’m a kid in a candy factory.”