The groupie's guide to Cannes

Jason and Chris may not be familiar faces among the glitterati but they've been to all the best parties.

By the time Chris Kostrzak and Jason Wagenheim had been in Cannes for four days they had already challenged Mark Wahlberg (formerly known as Marky Mark) and Leonardo DiCaprio, stars of The Basketball Diaries, to a game, been greeted like long-lost friends by the actress Lili Taylor, hung out until five in the morning with the producer of Pulp Fiction, Lawrence Bender, and chatted to the director Spike Lee.

Even the best-placed film executives or well-connected journalists would be proud of such networking. It is almost unthinkable for two fresh-faced, amusing Americans who have no contacts in the business. But then Chris, a 23-year-old Columbia Film School graduate, and Jason a 22-year-old film theory student at the University of South Carolina, know that there is nowhere like Cannes for rubbing a few celebrity shoulders. "It's a thousand times bigger than the Oscars," Jason enthuses. "This is the place to be in May."

Already the likes of Robert Altman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Dustin Hoffman, Stephen Frears and Kate Winslet have been strutting their stuff up and down the Croisette and more big stars are yet to come. Angelica Huston, Catherine Deneuve, Holly Hunter and Rosanna Arquette are all in competition later this week, along with Hollywood's next big thing, Liv Tyler.

Chris and Jason also have been making names from themselves as two of the most well-informed sources in town about the social scene. "I'm like a radar," says Chris, "I can pick up a party invitation from within seven miles." Every day, more and more party hopefuls make a detour to the festival's American pavilion in search of Les Deux Fromages (the two cheeses) as Chris and Jason rather incongruously like to call themselves. The question is always the same: "Can you get us tickets for tonight?"

Yet you don't have to beg, borrow or steal invitations in Cannes to get within spitting distance of your screen idols. You only have to walk up and down the Croisette with your eyes half-open and you'll find yourself bumping into a few. Every evening, the glitterati trot up the steps of the Palais in all their designer finery for the two official screenings and there is no big secret about where they all stay. For two weeks, the hotels Carlton, Majestic and Martinez become home to Hollywood and amateur groupies, armed to the teeth with cameras, who spend their days waiting outside to catch a glimpse of a Patricia Arquette or a Bernardo Bertolucci.

But Jason and Chris's philosophy is "Why star-spot from a distance when you can while the night away with the film world's finest over a few beers?" For this, you need to swiftly build up a few contacts. The town is swarming with producers and film executives who can either introduce you to the stars or offer you invitations to the parties that take place each evening on the beach.

Kamal, an aspiring English director, managed to wangle five tickets to the exclusive Miramax party last year when he started chatting to one of the company's vice-presidents after she had had a bit too much to drink. He spent part of the evening dancing with the Oscar-winning actress Marisa Tomei.

The Deux Fromages' networking technique is simply to make contacts in the bars of the main hotels. "If you hang out in them, you get invited somewhere before you know it," they claim. You simply need to arm yourself with a bit of confidence and wads of money - with bottles of beers at pounds 6, being a professional Cannes groupie is not cheap. "Talk to everybody," advises Jason, "and blow up their egos. If you find out that somebody did the lighting on Robert Altman's film, tell them that lighting's what you want to do."

Their party-crashing spree started in the easiest of ways. They just made a photocopy of an invitation to the party organised for Mark Wahlberg's film Fear. "We got the name of the press attache and told the bouncers that she had run out of invitations and had to resorted to making photocopies," says Jason. "We even signed them on the back 'OK, Carole'."

He managed to get into his next party (for I Shot Andy Warhol) by pretending that he was a journalist. "I said that I was with Screen in my best English accent," he laughs in his broad American brogue. Gatecrashing techniques employed by others in the past have ranged from dressing up as waiters and adjusting your clothes once inside to pretending you're Kate Moss's sister.

Chris had an easier time of getting past the bouncers at the Andy Warhol party. He was simply invited to it by the film's star, Lili Taylor. "She was going through the lobby at the Majestic and she looked over to me and said, 'Oh my God, how are you doing?' and started hugging me," he laughs. "I pretended to know her for about five seconds and then there was a silence. I said, 'I know how I know you, but just how do you know me?'." Even when Taylor discovered her mistake, she still told him to come over to the party where he rubbed shoulders with the stars of Reservoir Dogs, Steve Buscemi and Stephen Dorf.

Afterwards, he and Jason followed a group of people back to the Majestic bar and ended up chatting to Mark Wahlberg and Leonardo DiCaprio until the early hours. The conversation centered around basketball and the Deux Fromages challenged Wahlberg and DiCaprio to a game. "You just want to play us so you can say that you beat the guys who were in The Basketball Diaries," said DiCaprio, who only agreed to play for $500 stakes. They retorted by telling DiCaprio that he "dribbled like a girl". A friend then whisked Chris over to talk to Lawrence Bender, and he spent two hours trying to persuade the producer to read an outline of a script he has written.

The following night, Chris managed to get into a "sex" party in a villa overlooking the Mediterranean. "The place was surrounded by Ferraris and Rolls-Royces," he says, in awe, "and there was a pool and a hot-tub."

It all sounds like groupie heaven, but is there a downside to all this partying with the stars? "The bad news is that I haven't slept for three days," Jason complains. This is not exactly true, however, because after their night with DiCaprio and Wahlberg, they fell asleep at a bus stop on the way back to the flat they rent for the duration of the festival. "We sat down there to wait for a taxi," says Jason, "and when I woke up, it was already light and Chris was drooling on my shoulder." They had been snoozing there in their tuxedos for hours.

Their ultimate goal is to get into a party on one of the yachts in the harbour. "We're going to swim out there and tell them that we fell off their boat," says Jason. "Maritime law says that they have to pull us on board."

They are also looking forward to the Trainspotting party. "That's the party everyone's been talking about since I got here," says Chris. They are not trying to get their hands on any tickets, however. On Saturday night, they were refused entry into the Spike Lee party even though they had been given invitations by Johnny Depp's agent.

"It's so ironic. The only party we had an invitation for was the only one we didn't get into. You know, a beautiful woman is worth much more than a party pass."

GATECRASHING TIPS

Carefully follow the dress code for each party. Men should come armed with a tuxedo - "You get more respect."

The best place to network is the bar of the Majestic Hotel "because it's less spacious than the bars at the Carlton and the Martinez and so, it's easier to bump into people". Important film people generally turn up after the black-tie official screenings.

If you are not a good networker, then bring a lot of money. Party tickets can always be bought (tickets for the Spike Lee party cost Fr100, about pounds 13).

Brush up on your film knowledge. "You could get by knowing nothing about film, but it's much easier if you do."

You can see the stars of films in the parallel section, Le Quinzaine des Realisateurs, at press conferences, which are open to the public. They take place in the marquee in front of La Malmaison (next to the Noga Hilton). Steve Buscemi and Kate Winslet have already fended off questions this week. Nigel Hawthorne and Eric Stolz are still to come.

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