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COLUMN ONE

Hollywood party crasher's grand slam includes Oscars

Scott Weiss and his cohorts sneak all the way up to the Academy Awards, capturing their feats on film. Now they're sharing their security-breaching tricks with awards officials.

February 20, 2009|Chris Lee

Scott Weiss could barely suppress his panic. Perspiration glued his tuxedo shirt to his back. The forged all-access badge and tiny digital camera hung like weights around his neck as he approached the loading dock entrance.

The theater at Hollywood and Highland crawled with local cops, high-priced security guards and federal agents: FBI, sheriff's deputies, LAPD bomb squad specialists and SWAT team snipers, all on high alert.

Weiss knew he could be charged with criminal trespassing -- if he got caught.

But there in broad daylight, at last year's Oscars, while the eyes of the world were fixated on a massing constellation of stars on the red carpet, Weiss headed straight for the only entry point to the Academy Awards that did not have a computerized badge-checking device. A team of co-conspirators filmed Weiss' every move from the balcony of a nearby apartment building.

Approaching the entrance, he pretended to be engrossed in a cellphone conversation. He carried two notebooks containing fake call sheets. In his head, the bearded, slightly portly party crasher ran through the spiel he had concocted to explain his presence. He was sure a guard would question him at some point.

In the summer of 2007, Weiss, a former actor who had a small part in "Robocop," was regaling his longtime friend Ron Magid with stories from his glory days as a party crasher. He even had photos.

Weiss had paid $1,000 in the early 1990s to take a seminar in gate-crashing from a man who produced a public-access show called "The Party Crasher." There, Weiss had mastered the art of sneaking into glitzy events to hobnob with the likes of Clint Eastwood, Courteney Cox and even Prince Charles.

"There were times I said to myself, 'On the entire planet, this is the place to be,' " said Weiss, a 48-year-old West Los Angeles real estate appraiser. "Great food, exciting people. There is an exhilaration you get from doing this."

But after four months, he decided to retire. "I moved on with my life," Weiss said.

It was Magid, a freelance journalist who sells and trades rare movie memorabilia, who came up with the idea of filming Weiss in what they imagined would be a cinema verite comedy of an inept party crasher.

It would be "breaking into Hollywood so we could break into Hollywood," said Magid, 48.

He enlisted director Larry Torro -- a freelance artist-filmmaker and former set painter for Warner Bros. who would only give his age as "in his 40s." Magid had seen his feature film debut, "Jimmy 9 Lives," at the Hollywood Film Festival in 2006.

The filmmakers hatched a plan to infiltrate all of Hollywood's major awards shows. Weiss would be the face man. Magid and Torro would be his backup team. They would call the documentary "Crasher."

They kept their expectations low. "We thought the movie was going to be 90% him getting turned away and getting humiliated," said Magid, who has contributed freelance articles to The Times.

As a dry run, in July 2007, Weiss tried to crash a celebrity-packed party at the Geffen Contemporary museum that Tom Cruise threw for soccer superstar David Beckham. On his first attempt, Weiss was turned away by security. But by pretending to be a lost guest, he bluffed his way in and used a small camera to take "grab shots" -- photos of him mugging next to someone famous -- alongside Queen Latifah, Beckham and his wife, Spice Girls singer Victoria Beckham.

Weiss was now ready for his first major event -- the Emmys in September 2007. But this time, the filmmakers got organized. They outfitted a Chevy Suburban with party-crashing aids and props: wine glasses, a police scanner, colored paper for parking passes and clipboards, and a laptop computer and laminating machine to gin up fake badges.

Outside the Shrine Auditorium, Magid surreptitiously photographed one of the event's production badges, and within 20 minutes Torro had Photoshopped a convincing fake in the SUV they had parked nearby.

With his necklace-cam recording his view of the caper, Weiss cruised into the auditorium and grabbed a seat. Later, at the event's Governors Ball, he posed for grab shots with celebrities, including Sally Field, Hayden Panettiere and Stephen Colbert.

The photos serve as more than just souvenirs: They are proof of Weiss' conquests.

The filmmakers began to believe there was no stopping them. Which is precisely why they got busted.

The next big event -- the Golden Globes -- wasn't until January 2008. Doing reconnaissance, Weiss posed as a "Star Trek" convention organizer interested in renting the Beverly Hilton ballroom. That's where the Globes would be announced at a news conference (the celebrity-studded show was canceled because of the Hollywood writers strike).

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