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Bust a budget move

The biz still wants to rock out, but for less money

To paraphrase “Sunset Boulevard’s” Norma Desmond: In Hollywood, the parties are still big; it’s the budgets that have gotten smaller.

Even in today’s economic climate, event planners are expected to cut through the noise of competing events and wow a very jaded audience. Imagination in execution and financing is the new standard.

“You can do big events in creative ways by cost-sharing elements,” says vet event planner Chad Hudson, president of Chad Hudson Events.

Hudson helped broker cooperation between two distribs (Universal and Summit), the Los Angeles Film Festival and the Nokia Theater to lower costs on three events at the fest, including the afterparty for 3,000 for the “Twilight Saga: Eclipse” premiere, which he produced. To do this, one site — downtown’s L.A. Live event deck — hosted three major events in a row: the LAFF’s opening night and post-preem parties for “Eclipse” and Universal’s “Despicable Me.”

As Hudson explains, to reach the common goal of lower expenses, the companies and entities involved amortized costs of party and screening gear such as power generators, theater sound system, furniture rentals and even the black Astroturf on the ground. L.A. Live also underwrote some improvements such as stairs to its event deck. Synergy, however, takes time: For Hudson and his team, the process of planning the June event began in February.

Corporate sponsors increasingly alleviate costs. “Studios are now welcoming sponsors and co-branding,” says Chris Benarroch, prexy of Benar-roch Prods., which she founded a decade ago after stints planning events inhouse at Fox and MGM. Strategic tie-ins and brand partnerships “allow us to offer the same level of production that clients are used to,” explains Benarroch.

Cosmetics, car and electronics firms often lobby her to align their brands with the high-profile talent indigenous to industry events; she makes sure the co-branding will be organic and tasteful. Benarroch points to Google’s presence at the “Sex in the City 2” premiere: Interactive kiosks allowed guests to create their own personal love stories.

Pleasing industryites is always a challenge. “You’re always trying to better yourself, to create what’s new, exciting and different,” says Samantha Sackler, event planner and president of Events in Motion. “Entertainment clients like to push the envelope, stimulate their guests’ minds and give them an experience,” she says, while keeping costs in check, of course. To maximize budgets she works closely with vendors. “Everyone is willing to negotiate at this point,” she adds.

Choosing a party’s layout can also make or break a budget.

At the Warner Bros. “Inception” premiere, Sackler kept the party free-flowing, avoiding a stale ballroom look by adding casual lounge-style furniture and communal tables and making use of higher tables with bar stools as seating. Opting out of linens saved money.

“Furniture rental firms, caterers, florists — everyone is willing to listen and cut deals,” says Sackler.

Utilizing an existing venue comes at a fraction of the cost of transforming a parking lot and building a space from scratch, Benarroch notes. By configuring new lighting, nightclubs, restaurants and hotels’ grand spaces can be dramatically remade. The Sunset Tower’s event space is a popular choice (the “Killers” afterparty and Vanity Fair’s Oscar fete both used this space), as is the Chateau Marmont (the “Precious” premiere party and “Mad Men” Golden Globes afterparty set up here) — and with limited square footage, exclusivity prompts smaller guest lists.

“Even in these tough economic times, we deliver the same caliber of product,” says Benarroch. Extensive press coverage and exposure coupled with VIP guests means that vendors are willing to deal.

“I always try to find something that people will take away from an event and talk about,” says Hudson. “I come up with one element that is the wow factor, an aspect that is completely different or unique” whether it’s a new venue, performance or film-inspired vignette, such as real wolves parading through the “The Twilight Saga: New Moon” afterparty or the misty lake and full moon that were the central setpiece of “Eclipse’s” post-preem celebration.

That attention to visual detail and the guest experience pays off in enthusiastic praise from guests. Relativity Media’s Ryan Kavanaugh says the Kodak Ballroom, which was turned into a Russian nightclub for “Salt’s” afterparty, “matched the size and scope of film.” And no higher kudos can an event planner expect than helmer Christopher Nolan’s review of Sackler’s “Inception” preem: “The party exceeded my expectations,” Nolan almost gushed.

Bling on a shoestring
Event producer Chad Hudson gave the “Eclipse” premiere a luxe look on a budget

The “Eclipse” preem at the Los Angeles Film Festival shared costs with other entities that used the Nokia Plaza and outdoor party deck later in the festival for parties and events.

Event producers advise to focus on one “wow” moment at an event. A full moon and misty lake was showcased at the “Eclipse” afterparty.

Guests could mingle around the stark white furniture and minimalist foliage of the tented “Eclipse” afterparty.

The rooftop deck at the Nokia dressed up for the “Eclipse” preem party after being used for the LAFF’s opening-night soiree.

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