This Sunday, the 95th Academy Awards will be preceded by a champagne-colored version of the red carpet procession, where celebrities are ushered down the aisle by their publicists to show off their hair, makeup and designer looks for photographers and give their best sound bites to a row of entertainment reporters.
In Hollywood, the red carpet is often a professional and exclusive scene. But have you ever looked at the crowd of fans behind the barricades and wondered: How did they get there? How long did they wait? How did they get close enough to ask for the autograph or snap that photo?
Some Los Angeles locals like to pretend they’re too cool to get starstruck. And some of them really are. But there’s no shame in admitting that there are certain celebrities whom you would totally fangirl or fanboy over. Even Oscar nominee Ke Huy Quan has proved himself to be the master of the fan selfie.
And the Oscars are hardly the only chance to see them. Los Angeles is one of the easiest places to encounter celebrities because many people who work in the entertainment industry live here. You might see a familiar face at a coffee shop or go to a brunch and realize your sister’s roommate’s cousin is childhood friends with that guy on that TV show.
A coffee shop or dim sum restaurant, however, is probably not the appropriate place to scream, freak out, ugly cry and cause a scene. But there are plenty of premieres, TV tapings, awards shows, conventions and other Southern California events where a celebrity is there to be a celebrity. This includes showing appreciation to their fans, who are instrumental to their success as entertainers.
Michelle Ares, the creator of the website and podcast L.A. Dreaming, was born in Southern California but raised in Tennessee. When she moved back, she wondered if she could actually meet the actors she loved watching in film and on TV. She made it her mission to do the research and figure it out.
Early in her exploration, she won a contest to be one of the fans in the red carpet bleachers during the 2013 Oscars. There’s a lottery that opens up months before. That year, she heard that 20,000 entered and 700 were chosen.
The Oscars are still one of the more difficult events to get into as a fan, she said, adding, “I have no idea how I got so lucky.” Even though she didn’t get to meet any A-listers, it’s still the place where she saw the most stars in one place.
There are much easier awards shows to get into, she said. Soon after her Oscar lottery win, she applied to be a seat filler for the Emmys and the People’s Choice Awards.
Once Ares understood the process, she wanted to share the information with other fans. She wrote the e-book “The Ultimate Guide on How to Meet Celebrities in LA” and now hosts a private Facebook group where she often shares links on how to get tickets to red carpet premieres.
Here are some of the best tips she shared with The Times — as well as some words of caution from Basil Stephens, chief executive of the celebrity personal protection company Close Range International, on how to keep fan encounters safe.
Where to look for red carpet events
Sites like 1iota.com track these events and give out free tickets to many celebrity-rich environments, including premieres, music festivals and specialized fan experiences. It might be too late to get into the Oscars this year, but you could request tickets for the After Oscar Show with Kelly Ripa and Ryan Seacrest live at the Dolby Theatre, where the Oscars ceremony has taken place since 2001, or E!’s Oscars brunch with Laverne Cox and other celebrity guests.
It’d also be wise to join specific fan groups like D23, Disney’s official fan club, that often have the inside scoop, Ares said. There are clubs for fans of Star Trek, Marvel, K-pop and more — and companies will often offer tickets exclusively to those groups.
But one of the lesser-known ways to get tickets to premieres is through local radio stations, Ares said. “You don’t even need to call in,” she said. “Normally they have forums where you can enter to win tickets to the premieres.”
What to do when you get there
Show up early.
This is especially true for red-carpet premieres, Ares said, where you often aren’t guaranteed a seat, even if you have a ticket. Red-carpet-hopping hobbyists know that if the instructions say the premiere starts at 7 p.m. and the doors open at 5:30 p.m., it’s best to show up around 2 p.m., she said.
As a younger adult, she used to have more free time, but now she has to pick and choose which ones are worth her while. To help pass the waiting time, which often stretches to four or five hours, Ares recommends making it a group activity.
But these fan zones are also a good opportunity to meet like-minded fans. Over the years, Ares met fellow celebrity enthusiasts who now share tips when they hear of future celebrity sighting events. “There’s always so much going on in L.A., it’s impossible to try to keep tabs on everything,” she said.
How it works
There are different rules for different events. For awards shows, the fans are usually kept separated from the celebrities, Stephens said. Even if you are a seat-filler, Ares said, you’re told not to talk to the celebrities unless they talk to you.
But tickets to red carpets of movie premieres often allow you to watch the films with the stars, so once fans are ushered inside the theater, they’re often trying to figure out where and when to strategically loiter, Ares said.
She usually hangs out near the restroom or waits until the film is just about to start to go to the lobby and pretend to refill her popcorn. She’ll also try to catch celebrities when they sneak out in the last few minutes of the movie or right as the movie ends.
But you want to be careful about that, she said, because there’s often security threatening to kick fans out if they don’t follow directions.
And for good reason. Stephens’ team of private investigators often deals with threats, stalkers and restraining orders. “A good security person’s job is to spot the people who are just lurking, waiting to get near your client,” he said.
So while many celebrities may be happy to interact with fans, Stephens said, when you go up to them, don’t touch them. “If you surround them, then that’s a big problem,” he added.
And if the security guards tell you, “Not right now, sorry,” listen. It’s their job to be the buffer between celebrities and those who may make them feel uncomfortable.
More low-key ways to meet celebrities
Ares recommends following local movie theaters and cultural organizations like American Cinematheque on social media. There are a lot of film screenings in Los Angeles where actors will come do Q&As with the audience.
Film festivals are also a great way to find celebrities. One year, Ares said, she bought a ticket to see a shorts program at a local film festival, which got her access into the after-party. She said that often celebrities at film festivals are trying to get the word out about their independent project, so they’re more generous about their time and more willing to engage with fans in those settings.
When Ares first started researching ways to meet celebrities in L.A., she had a list of people she wanted to meet. Though it’s been 10 years since Ares started chasing stars, she said she still gets the same thrill every time she goes to these Hollywood events.
There’s only one star on her initial wishlist that she hasn’t yet crossed off: Leonardo DiCaprio.
“We’ve been in the same room twice, and we’ve made eye contact once, so I’m getting close,” she said.