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Standing room only

You do the math: 45,000 cineastes, 23,000 beds. Nothing is too intimate to share at Sundance's annual survival of the fittest.

January 13, 2008|Monica Corcoran | Times Staff Writer

STRAGGLERS crash on couches, while assistants bicker over who takes up more space in a twin bed. Colleagues who never discuss weekend plans are suddenly complimenting each other's pajamas -- over bowls of Lucky Charms. Or fighting over who finished the soy milk. For Hollywood types, Sundance is like camping without the s'mores.

You could join in and hop a flight to Park City, Utah, for the Sundance Film Festival later this week. Too bad there'll be no place for you to stay.

Come Thursday, about 45,000 parka-wearing people will flock to this tiny, former mining town nestled in the Wasatch mountains. But according to the visitors bureau, there are only 23,000 "pillows" for all those well-coiffed heads. And these lopsided lodging logistics cause more confusion and headaches than the altitude sickness.

"You know how important you are by the size of your bed in the company condo," says Jose Martinez, a publicist with Fingerprint Communications who's also known for his wit and gilded Rolodex. "And if you're sharing a bed with a co-worker or a fax machine, you're really low."

To avoid pecking-order uproars or interoffice peccadilloes, most studios, such as New Line, HBO and Miramax, rent large condos that can be divided among colleagues. Ideally, everyone gets a private bedroom. Ideally.

"We're going to see movies from 8 in the morning until midnight every day for six days," says Guy Stodel, senior vice president of acquisitions and co-productions for New Line. "People get cranky. People start crying. We don't share bathrooms."

For those with less equitable accommodations, nabbing the primo room in a company condo is tantamount to bringing enough business cards. The general rule dictates that the highest-level employee commandeers the master bedroom with private bath. Rooms with fireplaces and king-size beds go to the next level. You can trade your hot tub privileges for an upgrade to a corner room with a balcony. A bedroom with a big plasma TV trumps most amenities.

"The interns and first-timers usually get the sofas," says Jeff Vespa, cofounder of photo agency Wire Image, who booked condos for his staff of 85, making sure his bed count exceeds his head count. "It's not good for morale if people are sleeping on the floor."

But when no hierarchy prevails, the natives get ruthless. "I once worked at a studio where people were booking earlier flights to arrive first and get the master bedroom," says Arianna Bocco, vice president of acquisitions and production for IFC Entertainment. "You get there and you stake your claim right away."

That totem pole mentality -- the bigger the title, the bigger the bed -- trickles down to other household functions. Even in a remote mountain town, Hollywood functions as predictably as a complex marine ecosystem. No one wants to be taking a bath when the CEO wakes up and needs a shower. The less powerful agent knows he can't hog the outlet to charge his BlackBerry.

Sometimes, however, a rogue organism disrupts the flow. "I had a co-worker who wanted to throw after-parties at our condo every night," says one film publicity executive, who asked to remain nameless. "I was like, 'It's almost 4 a.m. Are you making breakfast for people?' "

Like contestants on "Survivor," the colleagues glowered behind her back and arranged for a tribal meeting. "Frat girl" -- as she was secretly called by her roommates -- was told to stop playing hostess to the hangers-on.

House rules, or anything goes

Other domestic disputes haven't ended with such civility. One publicist recalls suitcases being thrown out in the snow. An ex-producer says he heard about an agent who stoked a fire with a rival agent's down parka.

In short, a house needs to decide unanimously on its status as a work bunker or a destination for blowouts. Word of a party at Sundance spreads quicker than a nasty flu in a sweat lodge. The most exclusive fetes -- think live music and ruggedly handsome bartenders -- happen at private chalets leased by talent agencies such as Endeavor or companies such as Ray-Ban. Invitations go out weeks beforehand, but on that night, anything goes.

Stories abound of inebriated and/or amorous revelers overtaking couches, bearskin rugs and bathtubs as impromptu sleeping quarters. Rumor has it that Paris Hilton showed up with a suitcase a few years back and crashed in a different condo every night, leaving a trail of forgotten makeup in her wake.

Jeff Hill, head of International House of Publicity and a seasoned Sundance vet, recalls the one year when he hosted a bash in his company condo. "We couldn't get the door open to a closet in the morning because a couple was still in there," he says. That may have been the same year that someone broke the bed. "I don't think we got our deposit back that year."

But it's not all horror stories. The forced democracy and domesticity has a sweet, folksy upside too. Usually, the first co-workers to arrive hit the local Albertsons supermarket to stock up the fridge and pantry in the company condo.

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