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Galas: Film Fest

EVEN IN TODAY'S world of tight event planning, nine working days to create a custom-themed party for 700 seems like a punishing lead time. But David Merrell, president of Los Angeles-based An Original Occasion, says on-demand events are par for the course in the star-filled universe of Hollywood film premieres. “That's why we love these clients,” the energetic designer adds. For the February premiere of New Line Cinema's hospital drama “John Q.,” starring Oscar-winner Denzel Washington, Merrell and staff created a dramatic display of their own.


Merrell says his client didn't make specific design demands. “They basically said to us, ‘Go see the movie,’” he explains. “They gave us a screening and we worked from that.” Merrell and team drew on the image of galvanized steel from the film's emergency room scenes as their initial decor element.

Building on this steel foundation, An Original Occasion used its $42,000 decor budget to design galvanized steel buffets and matching steel lamp bases, which they topped with white shades. Four different textured fabrics went into the event's custom-sewn linens. Even the roses used in the understated arrangements were custom dyed a vivid cobalt blue.

According to Merrell, the event's cool color scheme — white, tan and shades of blue from ice to electric — was inspired not only by the film's palette, but by New Line's advertising campaign. Fortunately, the colors were already prominent in the lobby of the Hollywood-based Director's Guild of America, the event site — a venue Merrell calls “probably one of the easiest places in the world to work.”


While the venue may have offered many benefits — “they basically have been doing it for so long, they know exactly what to tell you about what you're allowed to do and what you're not allowed to do” — putting on a premiere at the Director's Guild was not without its challenges, Merrell says.

Because the client did not want the decorated lobby to be seen by guests or press during the “red carpet walk” prior the film screening, Merrell's staff faced a tricky setup. Load-in started at 9 a.m. and setup ran through the afternoon — but that wasn't the end of it. “We had to lay out the room, do lighting focus and make sure the fire marshal approved it ahead of time,” he explains. “Then it had to be torn down and put into a different room.”

By the time guests arrived at 6 p.m., the lobby had been stripped and all decor hidden in a separate room in the building. At 8:30, when guests entered the theater for the screening, the crew had an hour and 45 minutes to recreate their magic. “The guests come out of the screening and it's an entirely different room with all the decor and the buffets set up — a cool reveal,” Merrell says.

Re-entering the lobby, he recounts, guests found sleek daybeds, faux-leather-topped buffet tables and moving gobos displaying the film name and client logo. They mingled at high-tech buffets, enjoying a menu by Los Angeles-based Wolfgang Puck Catering that included roasted lamb with garlic and cumin, horseradish-crusted potatoes, and field greens salad with warm herb goat cheese.


Merrell says computer-generated sketches of his proposed designs helped give New Line a good idea of how the reception would look in its finished form. Now that the event is done, he plans to pair those sketches with photographs of the final product to bring new clients into the picture.

“With almost every presentation now, we have two or three examples of before and after — during proposal and during event — to show them how it translates,” he says. He calls this method “one of the most powerful tools that we have for presentations,” and says it gives prospective clients “confidence that they're going to get exactly what is in that proposal.”

Quick-turnaround events like the “John Q.” premiere may be a challenge, Merrell says, but the example they provide is vital to his before-and-after proposal approach. “We've been doing this for the last eight months,” he says, “and it's brought our closing percentage to about 95 percent.”

Turn to page 64 for a list of resources for this event.

Celeb Station

Field Greens Salad with Warm Herb Goat Cheese and Balsamic Vinaigrette

Grilled Marinated London Broil

Pan-Roasted Chicken with Garlic Sauce

Horseradish-Crusted Potatoes

Chino Farms Vegetables

Wolfgang Puck Breads and Lavosh

An Original Occasion
5850 W. Third St., Suite 350
Los Angeles, CA 90036-2860

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