A Critic's Journey Through All the Free Shit at Film Receptions in Los Angeles


Like any city, Los Angeles has its upsides and drawbacks. One major benefit of living in Los Angeles, I’m learning, are the pretty fancy and very free cocktails parties that accompany film screenings.

There are, of course, film screenings and afterparties in other places, including New York. But the difference out here, I’m guessing, is that the studios have to appease all the people who made—and more importantly, paid for—these projects. Apparently an open bar and heavy hors d’oeuvres are the way they show that appreciation.

Like a damn fool, I’ve passed up on a few of these because I wasn’t living my life right and I didn’t pay attention to that one key word: “reception.” I also might not have even opened the emails. But no more. I will be rolling up to almost anything with the world “reception” attached to it and I would like to bring you all along with me.

Join me as I turn my critical eye for free food and alcohol towards Hollywood industry events. Along the way I will evaluate all the important factors of a good party, like food, gift bags, and valet parking.

For this first rundown, I attended two screenings and accompanying receptions. Excuse the lack of pictures: the idea to document all this only struck me halfway through the second event.

Event: A screening of Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs was fine—I would even say good. However, there’s no way I would have spent my own money to see this movie. It’s very Sorkin-y, which can be grating, and it feels more like a three-act play than a movie. But I was entertained and more importantly it was free.

Location: THE Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

Valet: Good lord, parking was a bitch. I know it’s LA, but still. Part of the issue is that I very much underestimated this entire event and the fanciness levels it would be conducted on. I attended as the guest of a friend, because apparently THE Academy doesn’t have my email—and when my friend sent me the invite, I did not notice we were going to THE Academy because if I had, I would have planned better. For example, I wore jeans, a white t-shirt and my Rihanna Puma creepers. It’s not that I had to dress up, but just that this event was looking bougier than me.

Anyway, we drove to the lot connected to the building and were informed that it was “VIP only.” We were directed to a second lot. At that lot, they directed us to another parking structure that was about three blocks from the theater. We should have called Uber.

Food: As we descending the carpeted steps from the theater and down into the reception area, that’s what I knew we had hit a jackpot. The spread was impressive just for the size alone. There were four different stations (all serving the same thing), a dessert area and two or three open bars.

The culinary theme for the evening was Mediterranean. The stations served grilled steak and chicken, as well as a beautiful display of grilled vegetables that became significantly less beautiful when I discovered that they were (deliberately) cold.

The dessert selection was excellent mostly because it included a variety of tarts. Tarts are great.

Drinks: The open bar was solidly adequate. I’m a brat and wanted sauvignon blanc instead of pinot grigio but free is free. I’m guessing that the large number of, eh, mature guests contributed to the fact that the bar rarely had a line more than two people deep.

Crowd: The crowd included of a lot of very old white people, aka members of THE Academy. And it wouldn’t be Hollywood without a few dudebros talking very loudly about how successful they are. We had the unpleasant experience of ending up at a standing table with three dudes who definitely all think they look like Adrian Grenier when they let their hair grow out. One of them was practically screaming about some animation project he was working on, while the other one bragged that his name was in the credits.

When we finished our food we left the table and they were all immediately behind us in the line for the bar and then were standing near us again in another room. The human warts of Hollywood.

Celebrities: Danny Boyle and Aaron Sorkin—who directed and wrote the film, respectively—began the screening with some remarks about the film, which I remember none of. Also, including Danny Boyle and Aaron Sorkin in this section clearly hinges greatly on your definition of “celebrity.”

Gift bag: Nope.

Overheard: “This is dinosaur food.”

This wasn’t really overheard, but said directly to me by a wonderful older gentlemen. My friend and I ended up talking to him and his wife until the event shut down. He kept saying this to me—that we were eating dinosaur food—and I laughed politely, not knowing what the hell he was talking about. I can’t remember if I outright asked him or not, but he eventually explained what he meant. Because Jurassic Park made so much money, the studio, Universal Pictures, didn’t care as much whether or not Steve Jobs was particularly profitable. Therefore, they were freely spending all their Jurassic Park money on an elaborate screening and fancy food. Ergo: the food we were eating was paid for by the dinosaur movie.

Film: “World Premiere Screening of BREAKTHROUGH

Breakthrough is a six-part series from National Geographic about different breakthrough innovations in various fields of science. The episodes are directed and narrated by fancy people like Paul Giamatti, Ron Howard and Angela Bassett.

We watched short clips from all six parts and then a full hour-long documentary about the Ebola outbreak of 2014. Let me tell you, with all due respect to the victims, this was disgusting. Ebola is a horrible disease characterized—I learned all too well—by massive amounts of diarrhea, vomiting and bleeding, whose quantities still don’t quite make sense to me.

As soon as we finished watching West Africans die of Ebola (and one white man survive because of course he did), we scurried off to a reception that was very welcome but also felt a bit weird considering what we had just seen. Although, in the spirit of fairness, I guess there’s no other way to organize that.

Location: The Pacific Design Center

Valet: I hate to sound effusive about something like valet parking, but damn this was a great experience. The line moved quickly and we barely had to wait to retrieve our cars at the end. Truly, a solid valet experience can set the tone for the whole evening.

Food: We were met with two taco stations with chicken, steak, pork AND fish options as well as a very impressive array of toppings. There were also two or three ceviche stations, with four types of ceviche and passed food. We had some barbecue pizza which was good because pizza is always good. I had some sort of chicken pot pie puff pastry situation that was average.

They really stepped it up with the passed desserts. There was one dud—a tiny piece of watermelon topped with feta and balsamic vinegar—but everything else was perfect. I treated myself to two cheesecake-type parfaits with a graham cracker crust and little balls of caramel. AND THEN WE FOUND THE PUMPKIN SPICE WHOOPIE PIES.

Now, I’m hardly a big pumpkin person. I generally draw the line at my grandmother’s pumpkin pie. But these. These beautiful little pillows of seasonal deliciousness almost made America’s nonsensical obsession with pumpkin-flavored things worth it.

I had six. Highlight of the evening.

Drinks: After walking in, we went straight to the bar but never had a problem getting drinks. That’s probably because these were some very large bars. The main bar in the middle of the patio was square and serving guests from all four sides. I love a bartender who almost dares you to exploit an open bar, and that was our dear friend serving up glasses of sparkling wine that were almost expensive enough to taste like real Champagne.

Crowd: There seemed to be a lot of industry people but with a younger bent. For example, there was a young man in attendance wearing fashion sweatpants. At one point, while we were still in the theater, a group of five or six white men all walked in and I swear to god they must have been sextuplets doubling down on the concept because why else would grown adults all be in basically the exact same haircut and outfit?

We also saw a man walking around in a pair of Google Glass (Google Glasses?) which I absolutely didn’t even realize was still a thing.

Celebrities: During the actual screening, we were spitting distance from Angela Bassett, who looks more resplendent and silky than any human has the right to be. Ron Howard was also there. I kept calling him Archie to my friend which is what I thought his character from Happy Days was named. Later I realized that I was thinking of a different redhead.

A handful of the scientists who appeared in the series also attended. Were I a better person, they would be celebrities to me.

Gift bag: There was a gift bag! I was not expecting a gift bag, which meant that my bar wasn’t set too high.

We received a sturdy tote that is already in the “free bags that I’ll never use” section of my closet. Inside the sturdy totes was an issue of National Geographic, a pair of earbuds, an episode of a podcast on some rather confusing credit card-like device and a copy of a book written by Brian Grazer. (He is an executive producer of the series.)

Overheard: “I used to work at Justin Bieber’s management company,” said a youngish man, who was there with the guy in the fashion sweatpants. This was his segue into asking a woman for her phone number.

And there it is. This, my friends is the wonder and excitement of Hollywood. I will continue to report as often as I’m allowed. Let’s see if they keep inviting me to these things.

Contact the author at [email protected] .

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