My LA: John Wyatt
Current Gig: Founder of Cinespia. Wyatt turned a trip to the cemetery into one of Los Angeles’ pre-eminent summertime cultural events. On weekend evenings from May through September, roughly 4,000 people show up at the gorgeous Hollywood Forever Cemetery to have a picnic, drink a bottle of wine and enjoy classic films that range from "Dazed and Confused" to "It Happened One Night." Cinespia wrapped its tenth season this past Saturday evening by showing a crowd-favorite, "E.T.".
Neighborhood: Mount Washington
Years there: Twelve.
In honor of this decade-long run, we caught up with John Wyatt to discuss life in the movie capital of the world. How did the cemetery screenings get started?
Ten years ago, I started looking for a place for us to screen our own films, and my friend worked at the cemetery. They had done a tribute to Rudolph Valentino on the Fairbanks lawn, so I asked if could show a film out there. They were a little skeptical, but they said "Okay, let’s try one."
I screened "Strangers on a Train," the Alfred Hitchcock film. I put it out to the film club, and all these people showed up. When the filmed reached its climax and got really scary, everyone was screaming, I thought "Wow, this could be really popular."
The screenings have become a cultural mainstay in LA. Did you anticipate that, and why do you think people have taken to the event the way they have?
I didn’t really see it coming. By the third screening we were getting over a thousand people. Now, I feel like people really want to have a community event and be together and be experiencing these films in a large crowd setting. I feel like that’s how these films were meant to be seen, especially the classics. They’re meant to be seen on the big screen, and meant to be seen with a lot of people in the audience, emoting and screaming and laughing.
One thing I really love, that has restored my faith in Los Angeles, is the fact that there’s all these people together. You’ll have an aspiring actress next to a household name actor and somebody who’s trying to become a writer next to a famous producer and a film geek next to a starlet.
A lot of people move here to get involved in movies. There are a lot of movie lovers, and for so many Angelenos, the screenings get back to something that we all came here to do. The most basic part of this whole process is that we all love films.
What do you love about LA?
I think it’s a tough city to just sort of arrive here cold. If you don’t know where to go, or if you don’t know anyone, it’s easy to be at a loss as to what to do. In a way that makes it a little more special - in that it’s a little more hidden and behind the scenes. You do have to put in a little effort.
I think LA is having its great moment right now. There’s more going on now than ever before. There are great repertory theaters, great shows and bands. The city has such a great energy right now, and I’m very happy to be living here at the moment.
What’s your number one bummer in LA?
I don’t like that I’m in the car all the time and on the freeway. The urban aspects here are particularly harsh, but then I can drive twenty five minutes from my house and go into the Angeles National Forest into complete wilderness and see redwoods and waterfalls and deer. The nature is so close. We’re the last major metropolitan area built in western civilization; we’re at the very edge. I go on beautiful hikes so close to the city and I don’t see anyone and then come down the hill and see a super rare movie. That is one of the marvels of LA to me.
Where are your favorite places to see a movie?
My favorite place to see movies are the Cinefamily and Silent Movie Theatre -- full disclosure, I am on the executive board there -- but I’m on the executive board because it’s the best programming in the country, if not the world. It’s an absolute miracle what those guys pull off and how rich they’re programming is.
Where are your favorite places to eat?
I go to El Prado a lot. I like El Cid. To tell you the truth, some of the places I love the best are Dan Tana’s and Musso and Frank Grill or Lucy’s El Adobe. I love the old Hollywood thing. All of these old movie stars and people who worked on movies went to those places. Lucy’s El Adobe had a telephone connected to the studio just for John Barrymore. They’d be ready to go with a shot, and he’d be no where to be found. They’d pick up the phone at Lucy’s El Adobe and sure enough he’d be there getting drunk. I just love all that history. I love the Chateau Marmont. I go to Dan Tana’s probably more than I should, even if it’s just to get a drink.
I think the food’s getting better in LA. People are stepping up their game. Café Stella is great. I go to Nature Mart to get my fancy juice, and it’s great that we have all the vegan and raw places like Cru and Flore. You can’t get a good juice in New York. You really can’t. They try.
Have you ever been star-struck?
I did a screening of "Pee-wee’s Big Adventure", and through a friend, I got in touch with Paul Reubens. He really hadn’t made any public appearance since his arrest. It had been at least a decade.
It took about a year of coaxing, but he came out for the screening. It was really the first time he had been in front of a crowd after that ordeal. And there was really this moment when an incredible wave of love came from the audience. I brought him out as a surprise, and I just saw his face change from being a little frightened to feeling the love.
A huge coup for me was getting Kenneth Anger, the experimental filmmaker, to come down and show a bunch of his films and appear in person. It was really difficult to get him to appear, but he finally agreed. He did this wild speech and sent me a FedEx package the morning of the screening with two CDs in it and a handwritten note saying, "this is my entrance music and the music I want playing when I go off the stage." They were actually Jonas Brothers CDs. I had a world famous DJ playing, and I had to tell this guy to stop playing music to put on the Jonas Brothers. Anger came out and had this kind of weird kid with him that he had met that day who had a giant Lucifer tattoo on his chest. It was a really wild, strange interview, and then we showed his films, which are so beautiful. To a lot a of film geeks, he’s very famous, but a lot of the people had never seen his films, so to be able to bring that stuff to people and have so many people see that great art for the first time was really gratifying.
What’s the last thing that made you say, “I love LA.”
The Saturday that we screened "Psycho" for a packed house and everyone was appreciating the movie so much and there were these tense moments of suspense –there were 4,000 people there and you could hear a pin drop, completely silent—and then the next second everyone was screaming. I just love that everyone could appreciate that. I like being around all these Angelenos. They’re so well behaved and so appreciative and they love great movies. They’re not shallow. They love great art.
Check out photos from past 'Hollywood Forever' screening events: