What follows is an article I wrote for a “Win a Chance to Live In NYC for 6 Months” contest for the Time Out magazine site. The requirements were to write about a local experience in the city in which you live. As it turns out, what they were really looking for was listicles but hey, since I put the effort in, I figured I might as well publish the piece myself.
9 Tips for Attending Cinespia
So you’ve never heard of Cinespia, you say? Well put your feet up and let me tell you about it. Cinespia, simply put, is a series of outdoor movie screenings at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.
No! Don’t freak out about it! It sounds creepy but it’s really not. As you might imagine for an outdoor movie screening there is a big grassy area, the Fairbanks Lawn, where you will sit and picnic. The lawn in question has no dead underneath it but Douglas Fairbanks and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. are both buried at the perimeter of what is the event area. The movies ARE projected on a mausoleum wall so we’re not totally out of the creep factor here. OK fine it is a bit creepy. But it’s SO COOL. But not like tragically too cool (though there are definitely some people in attendance that will fit that description).
In summary: a ton of people (many of the hipster variety) come see a movie in this cemetery in the middle of Hollywood on a Saturday or Sunday night in the summer and picnic, drink and bask in the glory of old/new/cult/indie cinematic history. I’m going to be bold and presume that you’re going to say yes to attending (how cheeky of me) and you need to know what you’re in for.
You want to get into the cemetery? My advice is don’t take chances. Back in the day that was the standard – you WAITED in line and you took a chance at getting in. And you committed to that waiting several hours earlier than the time it opened because it was very likely that the show would sell out and the tail of the queue would get sent packing. (Ironically, taking chances in life might get you into the cemetery early.)
So TIP ONE: Going to Cinespia is not like going to the movie theater (unless we’re comparing it to a midnight screening of the latest dystopian young adult adaptation). You don’t show up late to skip the trailers, you don’t pick your seats in advance and you don’t wait until the last moment to show up. You know going in that this is a full night affair and it’s best if you pre-purchase your tickets on Cinespia‘s website as soon as the movie is announced. Even with pre-purchased tickets you’ll still want to get there early for good picnic spots and decent parking.
Which brings us to…
TIP TWO: Cinespia offers limited parking on the cemetery grounds and has also added some new parking options in the form of Paramount Studio parking lot agreements and those spots can be purchased in advance as well. Planners rejoice! There CAN be a certainty. But for those of you who like to live by the seat of your pants or don’t mind stretching the legs you can still find private paid lots and free neighborhood parking (with a little luck). Also consider taking an Uber or a Lyft but allow yourself a little extra time as the traffic around the cemetery near the time of gate opening can be pretty tough to get through.
My personal suggestion is to buy a ticket for on grounds parking. It’s a little more expensive but you can drive your picnic materials closer to the lawn instead of having to lug them around and you can leisurely drive around until about a half hour before “gates open” at which point you’ll want to start working your way to Santa Monica Blvd. so that you can approach the entrance. (Get on Santa Monica Blvd. heading west for easiest entry.) This is basically great! However be aware that the people who park off site and line up early to get in will PROBABLY get a better seat than those who opt for cemetery parking. Liner-uppers can zoom in and claim their picnic areas fairly quickly. This is actually fine though (read on to find out why).
TIP THREE: Sitting on the ground for two plus hours with no back support = kind of dying a slow death. I recommend getting a low chair (I’ve discovered the best are called “sand chairs”), a buddy or a date, a big pile of discarded blankets and coats, one of those giant stuffed bears or ANYTHING to lean on that can support your back. (The most ingenious thing I’ve seen in terms of setting up a picnic area is a group that brought an inflatable pool. They blew it up and immediately had a built in mini-fence protecting the boundaries of their area, not to mention a wall that kept in all of the little items one tends to lose during the movie AND it provided a small semblance of back support.)
TIP FOUR: Now if you get onto grounds late most of the available picnic spots will now be on the perimeter. But this is perfect! If you have a tall chair you’ll have to sit on the outside or in the back anyway (but at least you’ll be comfortable). You WANT to sit on the perimeter or just in front of an aisle, in my opinion, because you WILL have to go to the bathroom at some point in the middle of the movie. It’s simply inevitable because it is dark and gross and you’re drinking wine and that is just how things go. (Note: I said “in front of” an aisle. If you’re just BEHIND the aisle, your movie viewing will be obstructed by everyone else getting up to go to the bathroom.)
TIP FIVE: As SOON as you get in and seated I suggest you break right into that wine (or whatever your poison is) if that is part of your dining plans. If you get in when gates open you’ll have about an hour to two hours to settle down, break out your picnic, chat, visit the new vendors that have popped up in recent years and eat. Eat before it gets dark and before the movie starts. Don’t be that person with your flashlight on looking for the hummus lid during the movie. BUT I SPECIFICALLY SAY drink as soon as possible because a movie is not as long as you think it is. If you’re drinking DURING the movie, it will end about 80 minutes after it started and you will be too buzzed to leave. Then you’ll be THAT person watching the palm trees spin after everyone else has left. Or in THAT group dancing in front of the DJ booth trying to keep the party alive because they didn’t appropriately time their alcohol consumption. Look – there is, indeed, a DJ and sometimes they use music to magically create an atmosphere that perfectly envelops the movie on deck BUT the cemetery is not a night club nor is it a music festival.
If you do linger past the movie’s end, there’s no shame in it. You won’t be allowed to stay TOO LONG after the credits roll but if you sit and take your time it’ll be easier to find all of your miscellaneous things and it’ll give the traffic time to breathe and space out. We’d ALL prefer you not jump back on the road if you’re the driver anyway.
The other reason to drink (and finish your drink) as soon as possible when you get on the grounds is because the sooner you finish it off, the sooner you’ll have to pee. The sooner you have to pee the more likely it is to still be light out (read: easier to find your way to and from the bathrooms), the more likely the bathrooms are to still be fairly clean and the more likely that there will still be water left in the Port-o-Hand-Washing-Sinks. (Yes, the water is not limitless and hand sanitizer will only take you so far.)
TIP SIX: Bring a flashlight! You’ll need it to try and find that damn wine screw top (you gave up on the hummus lid) AND you’ll need it when you stray from your group when you do that prophesied trip to the Port-o-Potties. I would recommend a smaller flashlight. Something you can grip in your mouth so you have both hands free when you do enter the dimly lit (are they even lit at all?) honey bucket. Note: Don’t barge in with your flashlight in your mouth because the trajectory of the beam will then be aiming directly into the mystery hole and no one wants that. Use your guiding light to make sure that there are no surprises on the rim then quickly aim the light away and take your seat. (Or if you’re one of those hoverers… I suppose you can hover.)
TIP SEVEN: DO the photo booth! So I say photo booth and you picture a literal booth that spits out 4 black and white photos on a strip (or those more modern ones with stickers and what not) but in Cinespia‘s case it is a seriously well art directed set with a pro photographer standing by to take FREE photos of you. This may be the only time in your adult life that you’ll stand in a near movie quality set with a photographer at your disposal so DO IT. Go by yourself if you have to. Cosplaying is WELCOMED and also, I would say, smart. They do now offer these photos for sale right after you’ve posed but, not so secret “secret,” they put up most of the pictures on Facebook and their site in the week or two following the event. This is a little bit of a gamble if they’ve taken more than one photo of you because only one will be going up in their album. But hey did I mention? It’s FREE!
TIP EIGHT: Go often. Cinespia likes to draw out their movie announcements. Maybe it’s because they are teases or maybe they are still addressing legalities and guest appearances and don’t want to break anyone’s hearts but whatever the reason – you will not know what else they are going to be screening when the first movies are listed. If you see something you’re mildly interested in, go to it. Don’t wait to see if something better will show up on the schedule because sometimes it just doesn’t. (I’ve been waiting for BARBARELLA for the past 9 years and every year…disappointment.)
ESPECIALLY GO when it’s a horror movie screening because the cemetery can deliver the full effect of its ambience on those nights. And I also suggest that you go with a variety of different people because, you know, sometimes someone new brings a bucket of chicken or a trough of mac and cheese or a beautifully organized Tupperware filled with different salamis and olives and the different tastes of your picnic food and different drinks and a different DJs playing music from a different era while different vintage movie posters are projected on the wall makes each experience a brand new future memory.
I have felt transported by the sensory experiences at a Cinespia screening and that is why I’ve gone year after year and will continue to go in the future.
FINAL TIP: Always respect the movie. Don’t bring your overly chatty friends that talk throughout the screening. They’re not welcome. That’s another great thing about the programmers of the season – they don’t just fill the calendar with the same yearly crowd pleasers, they fill it in with cult classics, legit classics and some occasionally off the wall experiences. I love the variety and the honor with which they treat each film. And I love that so many people with a similar appreciation for the craft will go sit on the ground surrounded by the dead who made the deal to be in Hollywood, Forever.
So, what do you say?
TL;DR: Cinespia is an outdoor movie screening in a cemetery. Buy your tickets in advance. Bring cheese, a flashlight, wear a costume and don’t be a dbag when the movie’s playing.