Only In LA: Glitzy party for $500: beware cheap imitations

WHO WOULD want to take a holiday in Los Angeles? Answer: almost nobody. Ah, but who would give their eye teeth to go to a celebrity awards show, including the party afterwards? Answer: zillions of people.

That, at any rate, was the thinking that inspired the LA tourist authorities when they made their unorthodox offer to the public last weekend. Come to the unlovely City of Angels, they said, and we'll give you two nights in a downtown hotel, an invitation to the Emmy TV awards and the post- Emmy party, and a couple of tickets for the Dodgers versus Mets baseball game - all for $500 (about pounds 300).

It was a ground-breaking idea, not least because awards ceremonies have traditionally been considered off-limits to the great unwashed. And here was Tinseltown glitz at its finest - several hours in the Shrine Auditorium with the likes of Helen Hunt, John Lithgow, and Calista Flockhart of Ally McBeal fame.

But was it enough to divert weekend tourists from San Francisco, or the Yosemite National Park? The answer, it seems, was "yes and no". About 60 per cent of the 1,000 tickets were taken up - not a fiasco, but hardly a stampede. Arguably the biggest problem was that the kind of people who have $500 to spare would not want to go to an awards ceremony, unless they were on the official guest list in the first place. For the less affluent, another kind of logic was operating. Who'd want to shell out that kind of money for an event that's broadcast live on TV?

THE LOW-BUDGET cult horror flick The Blair Witch Project isn't just spawning imitations (though plenty of film crews are venturing into the woods with 8mm cameras to try to replicate its spooky sense of fear and foreboding). The box-office surprise of the summer is now inspiring parodists. Doing the rounds of studio offices is The Blair Princess Project, a video short concocted by Paula Goldberg, a young film executive. Instead of a film crew coming a cropper while tracking down the tale of a Maryland witch, The Blair Princess Project tells of three spoilt Jewish babes who get lost in Malibu while trying to find their friend Blair's wedding. The video footage they take, full of whining and screeching, is all that is ever found of them.

Parodies, it turns out, are quite the thing among a select group of Hollywood insiders. Last year, a video called Saving Ryan's Privates made its way to Steven Spielberg's office. It details the gruesome attempts to save the genitals of a soldier wounded on D-Day. More recently, there has been George Lucas in Love, a delightful mixture of Star Wars lore and the Bardolatry of Shakespeare in Love.

These parodies are more than just insider jokes; they can be the first step on a bona fide directing career. Sandy Bookstaver, who spent three years working as Jeffrey Katzenberg's personal assistant at DreamWorks, made a half-hour spoof called Scriptfellas, detailing in mock Martin Scorsese fashion the grim rise of a young production assistant who loses his soul to become a sleazy development executive. The execs at DreamWorks liked it enough to offer Bookstaver a TV directing job. Jeffrey Katzenberg may have lost an assistant but he has, as they say, gained a protege.

ELSEWHERE AT DreamWorks, Sam Mendes' film debut American Beauty, a darkly comic examination of a suburban marriage, starring Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening (pictured together), has received rave notices ahead of its opening later this week. It is DreamWorks' biggest critical success since Saving Private Ryan and a much-needed morale-booster after a flaccid year.

The more superstitious company executives will be hoping the actors and director don't fall foul of "the DreamWorks curse". High-profile participants in the company's productions have been dying off at an alarming rate. Oliver Reed died earlier this year on the set of a DreamWorks picture, Gladiator, directed by Ridley Scott. The actor David Strickland, found dead in a Las Vegas motel a couple of months ago, was in the Ben Affleck/ Sandra Bullock vehicle Forces of Nature. Two comedians used for voice- overs, Phil Hartman and Chris Farley, are also no more, as are the director of photography on The Peacemaker, DreamWorks' first release, and the lead singer of Morphine, which recorded on the DreamWorks record label.

There have been seven deaths - not quite one per film, but close. Whoever could be next?

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