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Closing the door to gate crashers

Assemblyman Anthony Portantino's bill aims to thwart intruders at high-profile events — but might it backfire?

August 14, 2010|By Chris Lee, Los Angeles Times

A proposed law set to go before California's Legislature this month would make one of Hollywood's cherished utterances — "You're not on the list" — carry grave new consequences. It's a measure aimed at making the act of party crashing a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail, a $1,000 fine or both.

The author of the legislation, Assemblyman Anthony Portantino (D-La Canada Flintridge), said crashers at high-profile events like the Academy Awards and other awards shows pose a threat to public safety that warrants a law in addition to the 25 sections of trespassing code already on California's books. Portantino acted at the request of the Screen Actors Guild after some crashers breached security at the SAG Awards in January but were released because of legal loopholes.

"At some awards shows, folks were there without a ticket or credentials; they were asked to leave, and they didn't," Portantino said. "The question was raised whether current trespassing laws were written in a way that covers that sort of situation. We're trying to bring clarity to the whole issue so law enforcement knows how to and has the discretion to handle it."

But should the bill pass into law, retired party crasher Alex Mamlet, whose exploits were captured on the VH1 show "Kid Protocol: Party Crashing in Cannes," envisions a decidedly different outcome.

"In Hollywood, it's pretty clear that people are willing to bite the bullet for fame," said Mamlet, who infiltrated the Cannes Film Festival in 2006 by dressing as a chef with a live lobster. "There's no better way to get attention and press than being the first one punished when this bill goes into effect. So it might do exactly the opposite of what the writer of the bill intended. This bill might end up backfiring."

Scott Weiss agrees, and he should know. In 2007 and 2008, Weiss sneaked his way into a "grand slam" of glitzy Hollywood events: the Oscars, the Grammys, the Emmys, the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild Awards, chronicling the process in an independently produced 2009 documentary called "Crasher." He even went so far as to screen the film for the SAG Awards security team last year and consulted with the guild's legal counsel on how to better secure the event.

Like Mamlet, though, Weiss envisions the anti-crashing measure acting as a gauntlet thrown down to enterprising gatecrashers. "It'll deter a few people," Weiss said. "It's also going to bring a lot of people who never conceived of doing it into the crashing business."

SAG representatives declined to comment for this story. But in a statement, the guild said it hopes to "strengthen protections around widely attended events" such as the SAG Awards.

"Trespassing by its very nature puts people at risk," SAG said.

Other awards presenters agreed.

"Anything that enhances our ability to enforce our security procedures, generally speaking, we're in favor of," said Academy Awards spokesperson Leslie Unger. "We want to make the best use of whatever legal options are at our disposal. If this bill can expand them, all the better."

Neil Portnow, president of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, said: "Event crashers haven't been a chronic problem for the Grammys. But having more tools in the tool kit to deal with them can only be a positive thing. Trespassing laws as currently constituted do not speak to the specifics of this situation."

Reaction by media observers and those in the crasher community, meanwhile, has been downright snarky. "We can think of a bunch of other more pressing Hollywood issues for the bill's author … to throw his weight behind, like keeping film and TV productions in California," columnist Matthew Belloni said in the Hollywood Reporter.

But Portantino, who previously worked as a filmmaker and as a TV series art director, defended his bill.

"It's natural for me to figure out how I can help and what needs to be done. I represent large venues like the Rose Bowl and the Pasadena Convention Center and have to be cognizant of how important it is to have tourists who come to our county — my district — going to large-scale events safely," he said.

The bill is pending in the Senate and, if passed there, will return to the Assembly for concurrence.

Regardless of whether it becomes law, Weiss sees the bill as a kind of personal validation, arriving some 17 months after his exploits were first detailed in a front-page Los Angeles Times story. And the bill's journey through the California Legislature is sure to provide a new ending for his documentary, which still has not found theatrical distribution.

chris.lee@latimes.com

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