It's a Long Time to Go for a Movie Far, Far Away

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Six weeks before the movie battle begins, Daniel Alter and Lincoln Gasking arrived on the front lines of "Star Wars"-mania.

Both young men have been camped out since Wednesday afternoon--Alter in front of the Mann Village Theatre in Westwood and Gasking in front of Mann's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood--in hopes of being among the first to buy tickets to the first screening of "Star Wars: Episode One--The Phantom Menace," which doesn't open until May 19.

Both have pitched pup tents, both are huge "Star Wars" fans, and both have become the centers of a veritable media circus. The similarities pretty much end there.

Alter, a burly 17-year-old from Tarzana, is an avid moviegoer who frequently queues up early for new movies at the Village. The reason? "This is the best theater in the world and I have to get my favorite seat; Row P, Seat 107." His pit crew consists of his mom, Debbie Escow, and his pal, Sam King, 14.

Gasking, a strikingly handsome 22-year-old entrepreneur from Melbourne, Australia, has been planning his "Phantom Menace" strategy for over a year. He and two others, Tim Doyle of Toronto and Phillip Nakov of Los Angeles, created "the ultimate fan Web site" (http://www.counting down.com), which has become the cyber headquarters for a legion of "Star Wars" enthusiasts around the world.

The "stand-a-thon," as Gasking calls it, is actually part of a charity event to benefit the Starlight Foundation. Gasking hopes to raise $100,000 for the charity, which grants wishes for children with terminal diseases, a favorite of actor Mark Hamill, who portrayed Luke Skywalker in the first three "Star Wars" films.

Already, dozens have worked their "shifts" with Gasking on Hollywood Boulevard. The volunteers, mostly men in their 20s--although there is a smattering of young women--are required to get sponsors, sign waiver forms and log their hours so that on opening day the tickets can be distributed fairly.

Gasking is nothing if not organized. He has a permit from the Los Angeles Police Department to camp out for the next six weeks, and a hefty insurance policy from the Acord Insurance Assn. for any mishaps that might happen while his crew is on line. He also has a Web-cam set up in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel across the street so that "The Line" can be viewed from his Web site.

So what is life in "The Line" like?

Nonstop media interviews for one thing. Virtually every local radio station has interviewed both Alter and Gasking as well as entertainment reporters from Entertainment Tonight, the E! Channel and CNN.

"Friends from Australia have been calling me saying they've seen me on the television news," says Gasking, who has commandeered two pay phones on Hollywood Boulevard. (The phone numbers are posted on the Web site.)

Thanks to the Dell laptop (which Dell computers donated to the group), Gasking is able to conduct his business as usual--selling short-term real estate over the Internet--as well as watch DVDs, donated by DVD Express.

For Alter, who graduated from the Crossroads School in Santa Monica at age 16, waiting in line is his life. "This kid has always loved movies," says his mother. "He's been getting Variety and the Hollywood Reporter since he was 12."

Not surprisingly, the teen, who will apply to USC and UCLA film schools, wants to be a film director.

When pressed about who actually was the first in line for "Star Wars" tickets, Gasking concedes that Alter beat the CountingDown group by a few hours but insists, "It's not a competition. We're here for the movie and for the Starlight Foundation."

The teenager from the Valley, however, may have trouble holding his spot. On Thursday evening he was told by police that he could not camp out on the sidewalk. The manager of the Village gave him permission to sleep on their property temporarily, but the question of whether the higher-ups at the Mann Theatre Corp. will let him sleep there for the next six weeks is still up in the air.

"I think they'll let me stay. All the Mann people know me because I'm always here. And if they ask me to move, the people at Y107 radio station are going to start a campaign to make them let me stay."

Ironically for Alter, Gasking and the dozens of others who have joined them in line, there's a chance that "Star Wars: Episode One--The Phantom Menace," may not even open at the Village or the Chinese. No theater chain, including Mann, has yet made a deal with 20th Century Fox and LucasFilms to show the film.

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