[Interview] John Wyatt for CINESPIA
When I moved to Los Angeles about eight years ago from Pennsylvania, I knew nothing about the city and not a soul in it. However, I luckily stumbled upon Cinespia’s vampire-themed all-nighter/slumber party event that very first summer, thanks to it screening my beloved The Lost Boys in the opening slot. And I’ve never looked back.

Every summer, I eagerly await their “Slumber Party”-style screening, in which they show multiple films, based around a theme, at the iconic Hollywood Forever Cemetery. All outdoor screenings are a blast to me, but there’s something special about a Cinespia screening at Hollywood Forever – and I’m not just talking about the unbelievable photo ops.

The atmosphere of watching a classic horror like Psycho, in the same cemetery in which Alfred Hitchcock is buried, is kind of indescribable. I instantly felt connected to a community of film lovers, horror lovers, and just the creatives in Los Angeles that reminded me that even though I felt new and like a total outsider, I do belong here. I’ll never forget that feeling, and Cinespia has never let me. Whether a 22-year-old noob or a full-on LA resident in her 30s, I still feel the same connection and joy with every screening they do.

That’s why when I saw they were doing Scream and Scream 2 at this year’s Slumber Party, it was a no-brainer. My favorite horror movie screened by my favorite organization… at my favorite venue? It’s also perfect timing for Scream stans, as it’s also great preparation for the highly-anticipated upcoming Scream sequel, due out January 14, 2022.

We were lucky enough to get to chat with the creator of Cinespia, John Wyatt, ahead of this 10th annual celebration. Wyatt filled us in on the origins of this Los Angeles staple, what goes into choosing the films they screen, and, of course, the background on those killer photo booths.

Photo Taken at Cinespia

I realize I’ve been going to Cinespia screenings since the year I moved to Los Angeles, but I don’t know anything about the origins of my favorite event. How did this all get started?

John Wyatt: I had a film club, and we went around to repertory theaters and watched old movies together, had a dinner after. The cemetery was interested in doing events so it worked out perfectly to join forces.

Hollywood Forever is such a beautiful place, and creates such a specific ambiance that you can’t get at other screenings. How did you land on the location?

John Wyatt: There’s so much Hollywood history at the cemetery, and the movie palaces in Downtown LA. In some ways, seeing movies in these places connects us to that past, and lets us revel in it for a while. Also, doing screenings outdoors seemed like a great way to entice people to go out to the movies. We were the first outdoor movies in LA, the only ones, for about ten years.

You have a great mix of trendy, cult classics, and even childhood favorites, so that any type of movie fan can find something they want to watch. How do you choose the films you are going to screen?

John Wyatt: We try to do something for everybody, from the feel-good rom-com fans to splatter hounds. If the film is well-crafted, holds our attention, and is going to be fun with a crowd, it’s in!

This is, of course, kind of a big, complicated question, but – how has Cinespia changed due to the pandemic?

John Wyatt: We did a pivot last year, partnered with Amazon Studios, and did a series of 40 or so drive-ins in Griffith Park. Once California opened for outdoor events, we were able to restart the cemetery screenings just in time for our 20th anniversary.

Do you have any favorite screenings or events you’ve put on with Cinespia – or just particularly memorable ones?

John Wyatt: Playing the original Alien was an incredible experience. The crowd was rowdy when we started the movie. Halfway through, you could hear a pin drop – with a crowd of four thousand people. The entire crowd would jump at a scare, and they erupted in applause at the end. Great cinema can still take everyone on that ride.

Everyone loves Cinespia’s amazing photo booths. I love that people are encouraged to dress for the theme, and it’s always so fun seeing everyone’s outfits. Have you always done those with all of your screenings – if not, when did that start?

John Wyatt: We started the photo booths about 11 years ago. Alia Penner, my partner, and creative director, dreams up the photo booth concepts. She dresses and styles a couple people to be our featured photo. That encouraged a lot of our fans to bring it to the dress-up department. We do a slide show at the end of the night with the best photos. Everyone who takes a pic gets a free copy to remember the night by.

I also love that no matter how many events I’ve gone to, there’s always a fun, new experience, like the whole fantasy village you guys set up for the fantasy slumber party (featuring: The Neverending Story, Legend, and Labyrinth). Do you have anything like that in the works for future screenings?

John Wyatt: We did a haunted house maze with our screening of Halloween at The Ace Hotel and Theatre. Actors, effects, pneumatics, puppets – we built a whole story, and people loved it. People could walk through before and after the film. We’d love to do something very scary again.

Clearly, you’re a movie fan. What are some of the movies that have impacted you – whether they always make you laugh when you’re feeling down, or resonate with you on a deeper level?

John Wyatt: Sunset Blvd is the ultimate Hollywood Cemetery movie. Its own meta-view of the movies takes on a new layer in a place steeped in old Hollywood history. Norma Desmond is calling out the names of the actors whose final resting places are all around us, a few, like Cecil B. Demille, are in the film itself.

In the end, when she looks at the camera and says, “Just us, and the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark,“ the whole audience feels like she’s addressing them. It’s terrifying, hilarious, and heartbreaking all at the same time. When the camera goes in for her close-up, the audience is shrieking. A great cemetery moment.

For more information on Cinespia screenings, head here.

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