28 North guitarist Taylor Netzler performs at Street Food Cinema, a mix… (Lisa Rose )
When it comes to outdoor summer movie screenings, Cinespia at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery has been Los Angeles' go-to experience for more than a decade. But there's plenty of room for more screenings in this company town, and now Street Food Cinema has stepped up with an alternative take involving a movie on the lawn near the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, a big gathering of food trucks, and live music and audience games to get the evening started.
Seeing movies under the stars just got a little easier, and maybe a little more interactive.
Only in its first year, Street Food Cinema is the brainchild of Hollywood event planner Heather Hope-Allison and her husband, screenwriter Steve Allison, a couple of movie biz professionals who began screening films every Saturday night in Exposition Park on May 26, and will continue through Sept. 1, using the vast lawns next to downtown's historic Coliseum. Each Saturday, six to 12 food trucks surround the park offering options that include Vietnamese food, Mexican, fusion, crepes and diner-styled food, from trucks such as Kogi, Dogtown Dogs, Rounds Burger Truck and Ludo Truck.
Prior to the screening, bands play live 30- to 40-minute sets, programmed by the Viper Room. Finally, before each film, an audience competition takes place — past competitions include a "Napoleon Dynamite" dance-off judged by the film's very own Shondrella Avery, a "Mission Impossible" Tom Cruise impersonation contest and a "Rocky Horror" costume competition. This Saturday's screening of "Avatar" will call for audience members to participate in an intricate obstacle course, testing their physical skills.
"We try to create a communal vibe that is engaging on multiple levels. We don't want people to just come and sit, as if they're going to a movie theater," says Steve Allison. "We speak in front of the audience, we introduce ourselves, we introduce the band, we give shout-outs to audience members who are having birthdays and have the whole crowd sing "Happy Birthday" and in every show, we'll engage the audience in a contest that's themed around the movie."
Steve and Heather strive to give Street Food Cinema the feel of a festival, teaming up with such big-name sponsors as Moviefone, Yelp and Chevrolet. Several of their sponsors provide audience members with free giveaways: 76 provided free gas cards, Naked Juice provided free bottles of juice and Ben & Jerry's plans to give away free frozen treats during the Aug. 4 screening of"Bridesmaids."Before each feature film, sponsor Funny or Die also entertains audience members with a comedic short.
"We love outdoor movies and obviously Cinespia has been a cornerstone in Los Angeles, but it's kind of its own niche thing," explains Hope-Allison. "[Street Food Cinema] is definitely more family friendly — we do try to select titles that are diversified throughout the summer, so that we do have some family friendly titles."
Summer titles includes "Avatar," "Little Miss Sunshine," "The Lost Boys," "Alice in Wonderland,""Iron Man,"as well as a double-header of"Sixteen Candles"and "Valley Girl."
Hope-Allison added, "We also really work on creating more of a festival experience. On a whim, if we feel like something works for the night, and for the feature and the music, we will integrate it and be open to anything."
This nimble and open-minded attitude has not only drawn in large crowds (on average 1,000 to 2,000 attend per night), but also interesting hosts. For example, the July 14 screening (and 25th anniversary celebration) of "The Lost Boys" will be hosted by Corey Feldman, who will also play a set from his band.
Street Food Cinema has created an eclectic and multifaceted experience that keeps audience members feeling engaged not only with their hosts, but also with their fellow audience members.
Elisabeth Caren, an avid fan of Street Food Cinema, explains, "I'm an L.A. native and I find that you don't get a good sense of community very often in Los Angeles. There is a wonderful energy and vibe that happens at Street Food Cinema."
Caren says, "There is also definitely diversity within the crowd, which is also great because that's what Los Angeles is: Los Angeles is such a diverse place but you don't necessarily always see diversity in one big group. It's a very special experience."