If Cinemacon was an essay, I was a measly comma. I was being shifted from sentence to sentence as if I was nothing more than a tool designed to accentuate the bold letters in the room. The bold letters were rich men in business suits and celebrities, such as Johnny Depp, Jerry Bruckheimer, Brad Pitt, Ben Stiller, Senator Chris Dodd, Michael Bay, Oliver Stone and Sandra Bullock, among others. Staff and event organizers made me and the other commas feel invisible.
This was Cinemacon in 2013, the annual four-day movie industry conference held at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Cinemacon 2014 is in full swing now. My friend Paula had a public-access television show, which drew as many viewers as the arctic glacier west of a polar bear named Fritz. Despite this, Cinemacon organizers provided Paula with two press passes to cover the affair. She gave me one.
Because I was Paula's guest, I somehow had the loony idea that I should behave myself. Like a slalom skier, I obediently maneuvered around the sanctioned poles for three long and dreary days. I was told to stand here, move there, wait for two hours and then go back to my hotel and try again on the following day. I was routinely promised access to celebrities so I could conduct interviews for an article I was writing, but because Paula and her TV show had no clout, we were automatically shuffled to the rear of the room with other media misfits. Only big-timers like Associated Press, TMZ, Entertainment Tonight and People magazine were allowed to question the actors, directors and producers.
Paula was indifferent to the disappointment and pervasive conformity, but I thought I would explode.
"Oh, well. I guess we won't get any interviews on this trip," Paula said with the intensity of a yawn.
"I'm sorry, but I am fed up," I replied. "I didn't come all the way to Vegas for this. I would have had more fun picking lint off my pink sweater."
"There's nothing we can do about it," she glanced at the conference program.
"Is that a challenge?" I asked. "You know how I love a good challenge."
"Okay. If you can get close enough to get a picture with a celebrity, I will cover the cost of your hotel room. If you don't get a picture, you pay for mine."
"You have a deal." I trotted down the convention hallway, relieved that the metal chains around my body had been snipped.
"Hey, if you get caught, pretend you don't know me," she yelled. "You're gonna get caught."
The fourth day of Cinemacon was my new beginning, a rebirth for the sassiest party-crasher on the strip. I hoped to wiggle into VIP areas with my usual poise and brashness, but I was unsure whether I could succeed. Paula was right. Security was tight, plus celebrities were controlled by highly manipulative publicists. These folks, who worked for the movie studios, told the actors, directors and producers where to stand, who to talk to and when to leave the room. The stars had their own kind of chains.
My first target was a VIP party, which I learned about while chatting with a woman named Sofie in the casino.
"I won an auction," Sofie said. "I paid $1700 so I could go to a special party with famous actors. It starts in 20 minutes in that room over there."
She pointed to an entrance blanketed by three security guards. I plotted my strategy. First, I had to decide whether to change clothes. I was wearing an unassuming black suit. I wanted to wear my green sequined gown, but worried that glitz might make gatecrashing more difficult. Black would blend in with the dark walls. It would make me less conspicuous.
Secondly, I searched the casino for alternative routes to the party room. Behind the poker section, I found a doorway, which led to a hallway, which took me to a kitchen.
"Can I help you?" a lady in a red suit startled me.
"I'm press. I'm supposed to cover a private party," I sounded convincing. "My producer told me to take this route."
"Oh, I think it's through that door," she pointed to the opening at the end of a passageway.
I entered the party room, but I was too early. The place was empty except for staff and event organizers. I looked like a big, fat red flag. I floundered for a few seconds until I saw salvation -- a ladies restroom. I ducked inside. A washroom attendant was eating a sandwich and chatting on her cell phone, behavior I thought was odd. But I was glad she was distracted because I needed to hang out until the party was lively.
Thirty minutes later, I strutted into the event, which was now filled with guests, and I found Sofie.
"I'm really upset," she said. "I was just told that I won't get to meet any of the actors. They're only going to be on that stage, way over there." She pointed to a platform surrounded by security officers. "Not down here with us. I paid $1700 and flew here from Canada. All for nothing."
I was disappointed as well. It seemed my kitchen maneuvers and unpleasant bathroom time had been in vain. The celebrities were paraded onto the platform by the manipulative publicists. They were inaccessible to the guests with the exception of a 20-foot, roped-off passageway that they traveled when leaving the room. This passageway was my only hope. I knew I couldn't get an interview. There wouldn't be time. But maybe, just maybe, I could finagle a photo; and at least I could win the bet with Paula.
One by one, actors, directors and producers were paraded onto and off of the stage, and then shoved down the partitioned passageway. There was a sense of urgency in the air. They did not stop to converse with guests on the outside of the ropes. Their escorts, the hawkish publicists, simply would not permit it.
I felt desperation mounting. All the frustration from the past three days had converged. I was a volcano, ready to erupt. I was irascible, weary and tired of feeling like a loser. I had to persevere. I had to get a photo. I knew I would have to be more controlling, more determined and more aggressive than those nettlesome publicists.
This is when I embarrassed myself in front of actor Owen Wilson. In fact, I was downright rude, and I felt really bad about it.
I had given my camera to a guest standing next to me on the outside of the ropes. He had agreed to snap a photo if I could get someone -- anyone -- to stop.
"I don't think it'll happen, young lady, but I'll be ready if you can swing it."
Owen had been on the stage with Vince Vaughn. Vince headed down the roped-off passageway first, along with a no-nonsense publicist. Owen trailed two feet behind them. That is when it happened. I grabbed hold of the collar of Owen's button-down shirt, and I simply would not let go. It was so incredibly rude, and I could not believe I had done it. It had been a reaction. There had been no forethought.
Owen was jolted backwards as if he'd been hit by lightning. His yanked-at shirt constricted his neck. Thankfully, it didn't rip. Owen was startled and stared at me in an inquisitive and surprisingly meek way.
I quickly learned something about Owen Wilson. He is one of the sweetest people in the world. If you think he is handsome, he is a million times better looking once you come face to face with his laid-back personality.
He was perfectly within his rights to slap me, and he should have been incensed. How dare I grab him like that? Who did I think I was? I had never been so inconsiderate and downright tacky in my life. I was embarrassed.
"I'm sorry. I've had a horrible three days." I begged. "Please take a picture with me."
"Okay. I will," Owen said. Maybe he felt a trace of sympathy as a former Wedding Crasher. He posed for a shot, while his angry publicist growled at me from afar. Then, he quickly left the area, while party attendees screamed for him to pose with them.
What I did not realize at the time is that I would come face to face with Owen again an hour later. Plus, I would find myself hobnobbing with Harrison Ford, Morgan Freeman and other actors.
I had accomplished goal number one, but getting a picture was small tomatoes for an heirloom gatecrasher like me. I hoped further opportunities for rebellion lay ahead, so I started constructing plot number two.
Where had Owen and the others gone? I learned they had been directed to a stage in an adjacent room for press interviews. As usual, the newspaper and television outlets were not permitted to get too close; reporters shouted their questions from a distance. Obedience and submission were still in full swing.
I used my press pass to gain entrance into the room. But, once inside, I stuffed it into my purse because I feared being shuffled to the roped-off "media section" and ordered to stand next to Paula and the other castaways.
Actress Aubrey Plaza of the show Parks and Recreation was onstage, answering questions from the press. In addition to the publicist, she had a five-person entourage waiting for her in the wings. I casually strolled over to her entourage and joined them. My goal was walk alongside Aubrey, the publicist and her five friends to their final destination, fooling security guards en route.
This is exactly what happened. The eight of us left the press room. We passed a guard. We went down a hallway. We passed another guard. We went through a ballroom. We passed two more guards. We walked down an atrium and passed another guard and then entered a green room. En route, the conversation mostly revolved around Aubrey's spiked heels, which were killing her feet.
"This is the secondary green room," the publicist said to Aubrey. "The main green room is backstage." I stored that information for future reference.
Aubrey took a seat next to actress Melissa McCarthy of The Heat and Bridesmaids, removed her shoes and rubbed her feet.
I sat on the other side of Melissa and struck up a conversation. She was bubbly and honored to be at the affair. She looked lovely in her black garb. She told me that she had been flown into Vegas for the day and that she was receiving an award at the main event that night. Actor Joe Gordon-Levitt joined our conversation.
"Time to head over to the show. Let's go. Right now." The publicist motioned for Aubrey and her group to follow.
I said good-bye to Melissa and jumped back into my role as an Aubrey Plaza insider. Joe Gordon-Levitt walked alongside our group; he and I continued to chat. We passed a number of security officers and ended up in the theater where the Cinemacon award ceremony was to be held.
Suddenly, Aubrey's publicist wheeled around and glared at me. "Who are you anyway? Are you an employee of Cinemacon?"
With an overly friendly, flight attendant voice, I replied. "Yes. May I help you?'
"No," she looked relieved. "I was just wondering. You've been following us all afternoon."
The "Aubrey entourage ruse" was at its end. I would have to move on to scheme number three, which needed to land me in the main green room. I exited the audience area and noticed a security guard at the stage right entrance.
"I'm supposed to go backstage," I said. "But I need to use the restroom first. I'll be back."
The guard nodded. I wanted to plant the "she is authorized to go backstage" seed in his head, so that when I returned, he'd let me pass.
"I'm back," I said 10 minutes later and strolled past the security officer.
I tiptoed down a darkened backstage hallway. In the distance, I could see important-looking people dressed in black walking to and fro and I figured they were executives with Coca-Cola because the company was sponsoring the event. I was glad I had not changed into my green sequined gown. I mustered up some courage and strutted into the area without a clue as to where I was going. I hoped I would not get ousted.
Suddenly, I noticed actor Morgan Freeman inside a curtained-off enclosure watching the award show on a monitor, and I knew this was the main green room. I saw actor Harrison Ford standing next to a couch. The room was small, and I wanted to be out of the way, so I planted myself in a two-foot by two-foot alcove located between a food table and a refreshment-filled refrigerator. I tried to be invisible. I needed to make myself a fixture in the room before taking a chance and introducing myself around.
The refrigerator door was defective. Two guys tugged at it. I helped them pry it open. From that moment forward, everyone thought I was part of the Caesars Palace catering staff, and I figured if that assumption could keep me in the room, I wouldn't contradict it.
"Aren't you going to offer Morgan Freeman drink?" a tall woman asked.
"Certainly." I approached the actor.
"Mr. Freeman, could I get you something to drink?"
"Not right now. Thanks." He barely lifted his eyes from the TV. I quickly darted back to my security blanket: the tiny alcove.
"How long have you been a food service employee?" the tall woman inquired. Harrison Ford was standing nearby and seemed to be eavesdropping.
"Not long," I tried to divert the conversation away from my fake career. "This is a nice event, isn't it?" She nodded and wandered out of the room.
Harrison Ford moved close to me, "Could you get me a drink?"
"Certainly," I replied.
Harrison was stiff and slow with his movements, and he waited patiently while I extracted a beverage from the fridge. He didn't seem to be in a good mood, and I was later told that he was angry at reporters for asking him trite questions in the press room. He wore one earring.
"A pierced ear on a man is very sexy," I said. I was not flirting. I said it in a matter-of-fact way, while handing him the beverage.
"You like my earring?" he asked.
"Yes, I do. Did you know the oldest pierced earring was found in a grave in 2500 BC?"
I quietly reprimanded myself for bringing up such a morbid topic and wondered if he thought I was calling him "old" or "ready for the grave."
"I didn't know that." He took a sip of his drink.
"Well, that's according to Wikipedia," I rambled on like a fool. "And who doesn't trust Wikipedia?"
"Thank you for the drink," Harrison turned towards the TV to see if it was time for him to go onstage.
Various actors, such as Armie Hammer and Chris Pine, came into the room, and I was able to chat with them.
However, when Owen Wilson appeared, I wanted to crawl inside the fridge. He walked over to me with a pensive expression. "You're the woman who got the picture."
"I was hoping you'd forget," I joked.
Owen remained serious. He seemed to be baffled. Perhaps he wondered why I had been so pushy at the party when I was going to see him an hour later in the green room.
I leaned over, "I'm really sorry. I don't know what came over me. You should have punched me in the face. But you didn't, and I think you're going regret it for the rest of your life."
I laughed again, but he still had a wistful expression. I said in a serious tone, "You're a really sweet guy."
It was then that Vince Vaughn pulled Owen away; it was time for their appearance on stage.
The award show ended, and I felt good about Cinemacon. The final day made the trip worthwhile. Although I got no interviews, I had fun and overcame obstacles -- albeit trivial ones.
I left Las Vegas with only one fear, and it haunts me to this day. Owen Wilson may never -- and I mean never -- forget that I'm the woman who got that darned picture. Hopefully, he can forgive because everyone knows gatecrashers and wedding crashers need to stick together.