Sally Field confessed, "Yes, it’s true I’ve done love scenes with a pelican, but I’ve also done love scenes with Paul Newman." Richard Gere accepted an award with a haiku at the ready ("In front of movie screens there are no strangers," it began). A couple of thousand people, led by host Mary Hart, sang Happy Birthday to Bradley Cooper (he turned 38). And, oh yeah, Tom Hanks, Ben Affleck, Naomi Watts, Helen Hunt and Helen Mirren were there, too.
The Palm Springs International Film Festival awards gala is always the "highlight of the desert social season," says Harold Matzner, chairman of the board of the festival. Since it began 24 years ago, the festival has been held at the Palm Springs Convention Center every year except 2002. In its first year, 200 people attended. This year, on Saturday, Jan. 5, the convention center filled with 2,000 guests for cocktails at 5 p.m., followed by the awards dinner at 6 p.m.
Selling tickets is the easy part-at $350 to $2,500 or more, they sold out in four weeks. Everything else required extraordinarily well-coordinated logistics. Consider this: The Golden Globes, held eight days after Palm Springs, takes place in the Beverly Hilton’s International Ballroom, which measures about 19,500 square feet. "We use over 92,000 square feet at the convention center," says Richard DeSantis of Event Management Productions, which produced the Palm Springs gala. "That’s four and a half times the size. And the Hilton ballroom has an existing stage, lighting projection and screens." Not so for the convention center; instead, a theater has to be built pretty much from scratch. Over two and a half days, DeSantis led a crew of 140 as they created what became one of the country’s largest theaters. It included 130 contiguous feet of screen, 300 moving head lights-installed with a scissor lift that extends 25 feet in the air-and an orchestra pit for 28 musicians.
Outside the convention center, bleachers are built to hold about 100 winners of a local radio promotion. A red carpet long enough to accommodate 300 members of the press is laid down. ("We’re beamed everywhere in the world," says Matzner. "There’s not a syndicated entertainment show that doesn’t cover us.") Getting the far-flung A-list talent in front of those photographers takes, says Matzner, "a proprietary methodology that the studios accept and that I can’t discuss." Cooper, for one, took three planes to get from Prague, where he was on location, to the Palm Springs airport. Once the stars and other VIPs are in town, "every limo within 100 miles is rented," Matzner says, to get them to the red carpet in style.
A team of more than 300 people, led by Lynne Toles, catering director of Savoury’s Catering, prepared and served the three-course meal. More than 1,000 pounds of short ribs were plated for the main course, with vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, diabetic-friendly and kosher options available. A birthday cake was made for a major sponsor; a film industry heavyweight was poured his favorite wine. To provide that kind of service seamlessly, each of the 182 tables had a dedicated server.
One big challenge was gathering the 12,500 roses in six different shades of orange for the centerpieces. With the gala taking place four days after Pasadena’s Rose Parade, long-term planning was essential. Shari Kelley of Shari Kelley Events had placed an order for 500 bunches of flowers at the wholesale Mayesh Wholesale Florist, Inc. in June. The roses came from both far (Ecuador and New Zealand) and relatively near (the California cities of Carpinteria and Encinitas). On Dec. 31 through Jan. 2, Kelley brought in 20 people to process the flowers. "We pretty much set up a portable flower shop right there in the convention center," she says.
A few minutes after 9 p.m. on that Saturday night, the 10 award winners had been announced, and all the A-list stars were in their limos, on their way to private planes or, for most, the after-party at The Parker Palm Springs. Two days later, on Monday morning, Harold Matzner held a meeting to start planning next year’s gala.