Jaci Stephen: I won't be going to the ceremony – but I still feel part of the Oscars

Way Out West

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Before I visited LA in November 2008 and subsequently moved here in April last year, I had visited the city just once, more than 20 years ago.

A national newspaper, which subsequently went bust, sent me there to cover a pre-Oscars party, and I was more excited than I had ever been about covering any other story in my early career. Certainly a great deal more excited than when the London Evening Standard dispatched me to Hampstead to dress up for a human chess game and I made a little girl cry when she was made to hand over her pawn outfit to me. And certainly more excited than when I had my hair bleached white-blonde and ended up looking like Myra Hindley's less attractive sister.

I said yes to everything in those days. New to London and living off chicken drumsticks stolen from the functions I gate-crashed and smuggled into my handbag, I was desperate for work. I once sobbed to my dear friend, the late Keith Waterhouse, that I really didn't want to do some god-awful piece I had been commissioned to write about dogs. "How much are they paying you?" he asked. "£200," I wailed. He whipped out his cheque book: "Then I will pay you £200 not to write the article!" The uncashed cheque still sits in my drawer, a salutary reminder not to say yes to things you hate.

The newspaper put me up in Burbank's Holiday Inn, a hotel without a hairdryer and miles from Hollywood where the party was to take place. When Warner Brothers heard that a member of the press was being treated in this way, they moved me to a suite at the five-star Beverly Wilshire at the bottom of Rodeo Drive, and there I stayed for four days, a reluctant evictee every afternoon at 4pm, when management begged me to let the cleaners in.

I did some interviews from the red carpet, including one with Joel Grey, who in 1972 had won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his portrayal of the Emcee in Cabaret. At the do itself, I sat next to Tom Hulce, who had played Mozart in the Oscar-winning Amadeus, but in 1985 lost out in the Best Actor category to F. Murray Abraham, who played the musician's rival, Salieri. I was new to London, new to Fleet Street, new to Hollywood, and I loved it.

As the city prepares for the 82nd Academy Awards on 7 March, I am reminded more than ever of the industry that is the heart of this place. Will it be Sandra Bullock or Meryl Streep for Best Actress? Will Katherine Bigelow's The Hurt Locker triumph over ex-husband James Cameron's Avatar, and will Bigelow become the first woman ever to win Best Director? Will co-hosts Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin pull it off? What will everyone be wearing?

At the moment, there is talk of little else, and at the pre-Oscars nominees' lunch at the Beverly Hilton last week, everyone put on a smiling face while clearly spitting blood about their rivals. The Bullock/Streep rivalry is barely out of the news, with Bullock joking about tripping up her rival if she beats her to the podium. Streep is maintaining a dignified silence. Bullock did not reveal what she will be wearing on the big night, unlike Victoria Beckham who, we have learnt, will be wearing a sophisticated, flowing gown of her own creation. Our own Piers Morgan and Amanda Holden will also be there, reporting from the red carpet.

So far, I have just one invitation to a pre-Oscars party. It's from my old friends, the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, who on Wednesday are holding a poolside event of "treatments, consultations and amazing gifts" from their own spa and associated companies, "to get you ready for the red carpet". Naturally, I will be there, and although I am not going to the actual ceremony, I already feel part of what is undoubtedly Hollywood's biggest event of the year.

It's hard not to be caught up in it, but in the big build-up it's also easy to forget what I have so far learned about the movie industry in my brief time here. It's tough. Incredibly tough. For actors, producers, directors, writers. Especially writers. It's cut-throat. Ruthless. It's an industry in which bullshit invariably triumphs over talent.

The movie-making process is a long and laborious one, a money-making machine that chews people up, spits them out, and moves onto the next course without so much as a backward, guilty glance.

But it's still Hollywood. And hey, as bullshit goes, it's still the best bullshit in the world.



To read Jaci Stephen's LA diary in full, go to lanotsoconfidential.blogspot.com

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