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Roger Neal Ramps Up His Oscar Party Thanks To A Chinese Connection

With fresh funding the annual black tie Academy Awards viewing party moves to the Hollywood Palladium, hosting twice as many attendees, adding an after party, and featuring over 140 stars, who will each receive gift bags worth at least $20,000

Roger and Lynn Neal

On Sunday, Roger Neal and his wife Lynn will host their 4th annual black tie Academy Awards Viewing Party in a much larger venue (the Hollywood Palladium), with twice as many attendees as last year, the addition of an after-party with live entertainment and more than a hundred current and past movie, TV and music stars attending, each of whom will receive a gift bag worth over $25,000.

Some of the stars Neal will present with Icon Awards this year include Loretta Swit (MASH), Bernie Kopell (Love Boat), Ernie Hudson (Ghostbusters) and Robert Forester (Jackie Brown).

To accommodate the larger venue and about 700 guests this year – up from 326 last year - the budget for the event swelled to over $200,000 - which was made possible by the Neal’s new Chinese connection.

Neal sold a half interest in his Academy Awards sit-down viewing party, after-party and gifting suite to Maryanne and Thomas Lai, now his partners in the annual events.

“They've come to the dinner the last several years,” explained Neal, “and they wanted to partner with us.”

The Lai’s, pictured here in a publicity photo from when the partnership with the Neal's was announced in January, apparently prefer a low profile. Neal said he could not provide any photos of them at his past parties.

He said they will have no involvement in other businesses - public relations, producing and personal management.

The amount that the Lai’s paid to become his equal partners on Oscar night is confidential, according to Neal, who added: “Let’s just say I’m very happy.”

In his new role, Lai was instrumental in arranging for the sale of a one-time presenting sponsorship for this year estimated to be valued in the hundreds of thousands of dollars to the World Zhitian Art Finance Co., LTD, where Lai is president and Chief Executive Officer.

World Zhitian Art Finance, a Chinese company that also has office in Los Angeles, was formed last fall after its parent company, Hidden Forest Acquisition Corp., was acquired by a group led by (Chairman) Zhitian Deng and Lai, who Neal said have their headquarters in Beijing.

According to a bio of Lai on the company website, Zhitian Art Finance is a “block chain platform for use by the company with built-in artificial intelligence, social media, e-commerce, online auction, and financing to run on”

“Block chain” is a digital transaction ledger that is most often used with transactions involving cryptocurrency bitcoin.

The company’s business plan, according to its website, is the “conversion of art and other valuables into an asset class investment for sale as a security on the equity market.”

Neal said that his partners also plan to launch a new film festival in Los Angeles for independent movies from around the world as soon as this fall, with Neal helping organize and run it. He said it is in the early stage of development.

Neal said it was the Lai's idea to make the annual party much larger.

“When they came on they said, ‘listen, we want, let's take it to a bigger venue,’” said Neal. “And I said, ‘I agree.’ For me it's always been about the we can pay for everything. The Zhitian Art Finance company from China just stepped up to become the presenting sponsor this year in a big way.”

A montage of guests at past Roger Neal viewing parties, created by his publicist Edward Lozzi

The Lai’s are not taking an active role in management. Neal, his wife and their adult children continue to plan, produce and operate the annual event. “Having them come in as partners gave me the financial wherewithal,” added Neal, “to make the move to the much bigger venue.”

Maryanne Lai, who appears to be a driving force in this transaction, has a background in Chinese martial arts and is an advocate for the benefits of Tai Chi, a gentle Chinese martial art used as a system of exercise. Here is a video of her.

Maryanne Lai at last years Roger Neal Viewing Party at the Hollywood Museum.

Image by Clinton Wallace

To make its presence known at the Oscar party, Zhitian Art Finance will display a 45-foot long, hand-painted piece of what Neal describes as “fine art.” Neal said it will tell the story of one of the Chinese dynasties. “It’s an exact replica of the original piece hanging in China,” added Neal.

Zhitian Art Finance joins about thirty other sponsors, most of whom have worked with Neal in past years. Each one pays from a few thousand to $100,000 per year to participate. That doesn’t include the complimentary gifts at least 18 vendors will provide to the stars in attendance that range from Emerald Hare Wine, to Monte Cristo Cigars, to, GM Collin Skincare Paris, to Mascarpone Cheesecake from Chef Turok and Glamour Bombonier Chocolatiers.

The single most valuable gift being given to each star is from the Belleeck Castle Ballina Ireland. A complimentary stay there is valued, according to Neal, at over $10,000, and that does not include air transport to get there.

Neal said he has “locked in” a deal for the use of the Palladium for five years. He said this will be the first time it has hosted an Oscar party in half a century. In the 1950s it was used by major studios for parties.

The Hollywood Palladium is operated under a long-term lease by Live Nation

Since 2007, the Palladium, which is an official historic landmark, has been operated by Live Nation, which completed a major renovation in late 2008.

For the last three years Neal’s party was held in the Hollywood Museum, which has a wonderful collection of show biz memorabilia, but could only seat just over 300 guest last year.

Along with nearly 300 seats that are comped to more than 140 stars (each with a guest), another two hundred seats or so go to sponsors and dozens more to media invited to attend the dinner (other press work a red-carpet line at arrivals).

The last approximately 200 seats are sold to the public for $1,000 each. Neal says each buyer is vetted by people he trusts for security reasons. “I know who everybody is,” said Neal. “I know the name of every person, who they are, what they do. I make it my business to make sure that all of my guests are in a safe environment and just going to have fun.”

There are a number of parties on Oscar nightbeyond the Governor’s Ball after the Academy Awards. The biggest stars usually can be found at parties put on by Vanity Fair and Elton John, among others, that are by invitation only, or are high end charity events.

Neal’s evening is the place to find lots and lots of vintage stars with familiar faces. Last year, Neal benefited when producer Norby Walters ended his annual “Night Of 100 Stars” for economic and health reasons, after more than a quarter of a century. That sent many of those famous faces rushing to Neal’s party. Some already knew Neal from the Oscar gifting suite he has run for a dozen years.

In addition to his Icon Awards, Neal also presents checks to several charities from the proceeds each year. They include Environmental Charter Schools, Love From Music City, the Hollywood Museum and the Robert H. Lorsch Foundation.

Guests at last year's Roger Neal Oscar party included (l to r) actor Hal Linden (Barney Miller), singer/songwriter Carol Connors (co-writer of Gonna Fly Now, the theme from Rocky) and Oscar winner Louis Gosset Jr. (An Officer And A Gentleman)

The Neal’s have a staff of about 100 people this year, which includes celebrity wrangler, increased security and personnel to operate the enhanced video and lighting presentation, used to watch the show, for presentations and for live music at the after-party, which will include a performance by pop singer Roger Neal Jr.

“I have a big staff,” he added, “so they make it much easier for me. I do work a lot on this but I still have my regular clients during the business day. I am up until 11 or 12 at night, then in the office at 5 a.m. It just demands a lot of time.”

Neal is excited about the rapid growth of his Oscar evening but says “it’s a little scary.”

“If I think about it too much,” he added, “I go, ‘how am I pulling this off?’ But I really don’t think about it like that. I just think, ‘Hey, I’m getting a lot of my celebrity friends to come and we are going to have a great time, raise awareness for some great causes, give a spotlight to some great brands that don’t get a lot of media attention and be able to give some money to charity.”

“My goal is always to have people walk away and go, ‘this was the best one Roger’s ever done.’ That makes me happy.”

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