What it takes to entertain the entertainers at Hollywood’s biggest events

On Sunday evening, Feb. 26, the front of the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, CA, will glitter with the sparkle of camera flashes on sequins. Instead of asphalt, the street outside will be paved in plush red carpet, and inside, approximately three-dozen gold statuettes will sit backstage, waiting to be presented to their new owners during the 89th annual Academy Awards ceremony.

On Oscar night, millions of people across the country will see a celebration of the actors, directors, producers, costume designers, technicians, and many others who keep the world entertained all year long. What viewers at home won't see, however, are the countless men and women working behind the scenes to entertain the entertainers. For them, awards season isn't a time to celebrate: It's a time to work. Whether it's the Oscars, the Emmys, or any of the other award shows that grace Hollywood venues this time of year, the product of their work isn't just a glamorous evening for celebrities. It's a case study in blockbuster event planning that can help meeting planners across the country pull off A-list events for in their own fields, according to Ernie Carrillo Jr., director of food and beverage and special events at The Hollywood Roosevelt.

A hospitality veteran who has spent the last 14 years at the Roosevelt, Carrillo has helped plan and execute countless movie and television premieres, wrap parties, product launches, press junkets, and award show post parties, including after-parties for the Grammys, Espys, Oscars, BET Awards, and Emmys, to name a few. To find out what it takes to produce a successful Hollywood event, Successful Meetings asked him for a tour behind the velvet rope.

What is the events landscape like in Hollywood?

Hollywood is bustling with events. There are weekly events that occur and with theaters like the Hollywood Bowl, Dolby, Pantages, Chinese, and El Capitan located directly across the street, the Roosevelt is the preferred venue for many of these events. Common events are movie premieres, wrap parties, music releases, and fashion shows. But depending on the season, awards take over. For instance, we're currently planning for the 89th annual Academy Awards, where the hotel is the home to several entertainment outlets. The after-parties are a great way to network and market a movie. The parties allow for consumer and sponsors to experience something unique, rub elbows with celebrates, and always garner strong PR coverage both in print and broadcast. It is further promotion of the movie outside of just a step and repeat; it invites the guests to be part of the experience.

What is different or unique about planning an event for an entertainment-industry client?

There is no real difference in terms of the planning. With each event, we go through the same process of development -- menus, theme, décor, run of show etc. The difference, however, is with the talent and their riders.

Of course, all industries have VIPs that need to be taken care of. In the entertainment industry, though, some of the VIP/celebrity requirements can be challenging due to security measures, last-minute changes, specific rider requests, and in some cases the size of the entourage that accompanies the celebrity. We have a guest relations department that works directly with the client and me, and liaises with the hotel to ensure a seamless experience.

When does planning for a Hollywood event typically begin?

It all depends. For award-show events we begin the planning process six months out. For movie premieres or wraps it can be as short as one month.  

What do entertainment clients look for in a venue? What's on the "must have" list of features, services, and amenities?

Entertainment clients want a unique location, great food, good service, proximity from the theater or ease of getting to and from the venue, valet (parking is so important), and confidence in the venue's event team. Some other must-haves include: flexible load-in days prior to the actual event; venues that have a good amount of equipment, such as plates, chaffers, chairs, etc. (it's all about staying within budget, as rentals can be expensive); and power (electric power in-house is a must).

Let's talk about food and beverage. Hollywood types are notorious for fancy tastes and finicky diets. What does successful F&B for an entertainment-industry event look like?

It has to be flexible and creative! You need to be open-minded. For example, we need to be able to serve food that covers many dietary restrictions and still taste good. Having a culinary team that thinks outside the box and is not limited to a standard "catering menu."

Awards shows and after-parties are known for their swag bags. Is that an important part of a Hollywood event?

When I first started, swag bags were the talk of the town. Are they important to make an event successful? No. Are they nice? Of course. But as economies change, so do the budgets for each event. The events themselves are almost always exclusive, so to be part of one is a "gift" in its own way. It also depends on the type of event. I still see swag bags mostly in the product-based industries, such as shoes, phones, video games, sunglasses, beauty, etc. Advice for putting one together: Make sure you get sponsors/vendors on board first and emphasize quality over quantity!

A lot of people assume that Hollywood events come with big budgets. Is that always the case?

Not necessarily. They are not cheap, but this is one of the things planners look for in venues: that you are flexible and can be creative with prices.

The challenges come from the venue or vendors at times. When they hear the words "award show," "premiere," and "celebrities," they assume big budgets. This is where the negotiations begin. The planner's job is to get the best possible price.

If deep pockets aren't a given, how do planners create a big-budget feel without a big budget?

Lighting! In all honesty, I've seen events with very little décor, but the right lighting -- up lights, gel colors, and break out patterns -- will make events feel like a big-budget affair.

Something Hollywood events have that most other meetings and events don't is a red carpet. What makes a successful red carpet?

 A good step and repeat and the proper lighting. No shadows or parts of the carpet with lighting gaps. I also prefer the hard paneled step and repeats versus the vinyl tarp backdrop.

Many Hollywood events are filmed, photographed, and/or televised. What unique challenges does this create?

The challenges for events that are filmed or televised are all the pauses due to commercial breaks, set changes for performances, or the impromptu guest that wants their 15 seconds of fame. We also need to pull permits with the city and have a local fire marshal or safety officer involved when dealing with live shoots to ensure all rigging, exits, and equipment are safe for all.

By definition, the entertainment industry is theatrical. How do you inject "theater" into your events?

With décor. I have seen production take it to another level with 3D mapping, vinyl wrapping of walls, lighting, and physical pieces made out of foam and/or lightweight materials to transform a venue.

The entertainment industry is all about storytelling. How do Hollywood event planners tell a story?

Incorporating elements from the [film or show] you just saw is a great way to bring things around full-circle and tell a story. For example, when hosting a movie premiere or video game launch we'll pull parts from the movie or game that we can duplicate in reality. We've done this with food, décor, staff uniforms, a photo booth, and green screens with a backdrop from the movie/game or even a live performance. It's all about keeping the guest immersed in that world and bringing it to life.

Do Hollywood event planners typically work in close collaboration with filmmakers to plan their events so they reflect the entertainment product they're promoting?

Event planners typically work in close collaboration with the marketing/events team for a film studio. The executives have a say as to what direction to take the event in and it's the job of the production team to come up with ideas, renderings, and a theme. The marketing team makes sure all the moving parts are in line and the vision is executed.

For planners who don't have Hollywood clients, but nonetheless want to inject a taste of Hollywood into their events, what can they gain by infusing their events with a little bit of Hollywood. What are the easiest ways they can give their meetings and events some Hollywood flair?

The goal is all about the guest/client experience and their perception. Giving all guests the VIP treatment by making them feel special and recognized is what it is all about.

Some of the easiest ways to give an event Hollywood flair are to add some lighting, such as uplights and gobos with your company logo, and to incorporate some elements from the Oscars -- if you're giving out awards, for example, give out mini Oscars. Focus on service and the mindset of staff -- treat guests like rock stars! At the entrance for your event or meeting, add a red carpet with stanchions or, if budget permits, have a step and repeat with company logos. Use table props; a little extra flare goes a long way. Make sure there is entertainment. And finally: Have the event in Hollywood!

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