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‘Twilight’s’ tent city: Hundreds of campers await L.A. premiere

For the last six months, Jessica Peachman’s husband worked overtime at his car mechanic job so he could help send his wife on her dream vacation.

The $8,000 that the couple eventually cobbled together wouldn’t deliver Peachman to the shores of Fiji, the Eiffel Tower or DisneyWorld. Instead, the money allowed the 25-year-old to fly 7,500 miles from her native Australia to downtown Los Angeles, where this past weekend she and hundreds of others spent four nights sleeping in flimsy tents anxiously awaiting Monday night’s world premiere of the fifth and final “Twilight” movie.

“Being around thousands of people who get you and your weirdness makes all of the effort and money so worth it,” said Peachman, who wore a tank top emblazoned with the Australian flag. “There’s no other fan base that’s like this. We’re all family.”

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Monday’s premiere marks the culmination of a franchise that became a pop culture phenomenon among teenage girls around the world. Since the first film based on Stephenie Meyer’s bestselling novels exploded onto the big screen in 2008, the series has racked up more than $2.5 billion in global ticket sales, amassing 80 million fans on its Facebook page and 167 million views on its YouTube hub. Meyer’s four books, meanwhile, have sold 116 million copies worldwide.

Unlike the “Harry Potter” or “Transformers” movie series, which also owe their success largely to young moviegoers, “Twilight” appeals to a heavily female audience. Roughly two-thirds of the fans — known as “Twihards” — are women, many of whom say they are drawn to the material primarily because of the melodramatic love story at its core and fantasy punctuated with intense danger, bloodletting and revenge. Kristen Stewart’s character, Bella, falls so desperately for the sullen vampire Edward (Robert Pattinson), that she risks her life to become one as well.

“The fact that ‘Twilight’ was such a female-oriented experience was really what set it apart,” said Rebecca Williams, a lecturer at the United Kingdom’s University of Glamorgan, where she studies “Twilight” fan culture. “‘Twilight’ fans have been victim of the stereotype that they are just hysterical young girls that scream uncontrollably and need to get a life. But for many of these young women, the fan community is somewhere where you have a place and can work out who you are or who you want to be.”

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Peachman was one of nearly 2,000 fans who have descended on L.A. since late last week to celebrate the arrival of “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 2" and watch Stewart, Pattinson and fellow star Taylor Lautner walk the red carpet outside the Nokia Theatre.

Fans, contending with wintry temperatures, decorated their tents and sleeping areas beneath a big top with handmade posters, glossy pages ripped from teeny-bopper magazines and photographs of themselves with “Twilight” cast members.

Peachman, who flew to America with two other Aussies she met on Facebook, said she is devoted to the series because of its inspirational message.

“Stephenie Meyer dreamt up this fantasy world and it became a huge success, and that just proves dreams can come true,” she said, hours before one of the films’ stars, Jackson Rathbone, signed her wrist — an autograph she planned to turn into a tattoo. “Plus, the story has everything. It’s a love story, but it’s got tragedy and triumph and babies and bad boys.”

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The series’ melodrama also extends off-screen. Since the franchise’s inception, its fans have been closely following the real-life romance between the two stars, whose relationship was tested this past summer. Paparazzi caught Stewart, 22, and 41-year-old Rupert Sanders, who directed her in “Snow White and the Huntsman,” in mid-embrace, and the pictures were splashed all over the cover of Us Weekly in July.

Stewart and Pattinson have since appeared to reconcile, though some skeptical fans think their relationship is nothing more than a well-orchestrated publicity stunt to sell more movie tickets.

Huddled around their tent Thursday evening, Garden Grove natives Jasmine Henslee, 26, and April Yepez, 27, discussed their feelings about Stewart.

PHOTOS: Summit Entertainment’s ‘Fan Camp’ at L.A. Live

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“I wish she wouldn’t have been so naive to think no one would catch her. But I think it was a one-time thing — Rupert was older, and he wooed her,” Yepez said.

“I wish Rob didn’t take her back,” her sister Henslee piped in with a sigh. “He’s the kind of guy who wants to stay in and watch a movie and she’s, like, reading ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ and raring to go.”

Beyond the intrigue of their relationship status, Stewart and Pattinson have come to represent the teenage awkwardness many of the fans themselves feel. The intensely private pair have never shared much about their personal lives and typically appear physically uncomfortable on talk shows.

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“I think the fact that both of them are authentic to who they are has been the key,” said Nancy Kirkpatrick, president of worldwide marketing for Summit Entertainment, which releases the films. “Who you see is who they are — they are kind of quiet and awkward, and many fans can relate to that.”

Though the crowd at fan camp appeared to be about 90% female, a few men turned out, including Iraq war veteran Denis Oliverio. The 43-year-old Floridian, flanked by his service dog, decided to travel to fan camp as a thank you to his wife, Kate, who helped nurse him back to health after he was shot in combat.

“‘Twilight’ has always put such a smile on her face that this was the only way I could think to pay her back,” he said.

Another guy, Jamie Aaron Kelley, a Pattinson impersonator, wandered around the tent city posing for photographs with fans. He had journeyed to L.A. from Iowa and brought with him five outfits modeled off the British star’s get-ups in the movies. Among them, a $200 jean jacket, gold contact lenses and the same makeup base he said is used to make Pattinson appear vampiric on screen.

The presence of Kelley and the other fans far outweighs the $1 million-plus that “Twilight” producer Summit Entertainment spent for the fan camp, premiere and after-party planned for Monday night, according to the studio.

“The fandamonium is worth tens of millions of dollars to us,” said Eric Kops, Summit’s senior vice president of publicity. “Instead of having a step-and-repeat with the film’s logo in the back of the pictures of Kristen and Rob, we use the fans as the backdrop. That frenzy adds to the mystique of the franchise.”

Fans have been lugging their sleeping bags to premiere night since the second “Twilight” film was released in 2009, when Summit took note of the fan fervor and tried to capitalize on it. This year, the studio began planning for “Twilight” fan camp three months in advance, running elaborate maps and plans by the city, the fire department and AEG, which owns the entertainment center property known as L.A. Live. Security teams were placed on site to set up a protective fence around fan camp and monitor check-in. The studio even paid for a precision weather service to predict hourly forecasts.

By Friday morning, the “Twilight” camp was already littered with empty pizza boxes and crumpled chip bags.

Yepez looked weary and said she had not gotten much sleep, because people at the nearby Staples Center had been heckling the fans into the wee hours of the morning.

Asked what she will do now that “Twilight” is over, the mother of two didn’t shed any tears.

“It’s bittersweet,” she acknowledged. “But now we can move on to other stuff. Like ‘Catching Fire,’” the sequel to another young female, book-driven movie franchise, “The Hunger Games,” controlled by Summit’s parent company, Lionsgate.

amy.kaufman@latimes.com

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