It may be set in a graveyard, but there’s nothing morbid about Cinespia. What began as a humble film club—founded by John Wyatt in 2001—has grown into a summertime tradition that draws as many as 4,000 movie lovers a night to Hollywood Forever every weekend for several months a year.
“There’s nothing more exciting than watching a big crowd be drawn together by what’s on the screen,” says Wyatt. “I started a film club in 2001. The first one was me and my friends; we got about a hundred other people to come to classic films, then go out to dinner. I had this friend who worked at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery and the owners were interested in events. As soon as we did the first one there, I knew it would work. We were the only ones in town doing outdoor screenings for ten years.”
Over Labor Day weekend, they’ll wrap up the summer with a screening of Boogie Nights on September 4 and The Breakfast Club on September 5 (neither is sold out yet, remarkably). The movies are always the main draw, but it doesn’t hurt that the events also feature DJs and elaborate photo booths—plus they’re BYOB.
Then there’s the setting. Meticulously groomed and full of big names of yesteryear, Hollywood Forever isn’t just suited to horror movies. Famous (albeit, unwitting) attendees at every screening include Nelson Eddy, Douglas Fairbanks, Victor Fleming, Judy Garland, Joan Hackett, John Huston, and Jayne Mansfield.
Of course, plenty of living A-listers are regulars too. “Because we’re across from Paramount, there are so many actors and entertainers showing up,” Wyatt says. “Billie Eilish was here last weekend, so were Tori Spelling and Kristen Stewart. A few weeks ago, Lily James, Beck, and Margot Robbie. We can actually make it so that they can blend into the crowd and nobody realizes they’re there. Last week, a group of women realized they were sitting right next to Harry Styles and Olivia Wilde. But their security wasn’t far; no photos are ever allowed. But some celebs will actually pose with fans after the movie.” In years past, Minnie Driver, Eddie Izzard, Drew Barrymore, Jon Voight, and Demi Moore have joined the crowd under the radar. “Elizabeth Berkeley introduced Showgirls—it was the first time she’d talked about it, 20 years after it debuted,” Wyatt says.
Nowadays, attendees need to bring proof of vaccination or a negative test result, and blankets on the grounds have to be spaced a bit apart. “Doesn’t mean they don’t dance to Dirty Dancing,” says Wyatt. Masks are allowed to come off when patrons hit their blankets.
In two decades, Cinespia has come a long way. “Generations of people attend,” says Wyatt. “A couple came recently who had their first date here. Now they’re married and brought their twelve year old. There’s no one of any age who doesn’t love an outdoor movie, a beautiful field, fun food, themed drinks, and singing out loud whenever they can.”
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