Ellen Fisher was in for a surprise.
Determined to avoid a repeat of last year's Newport Beach Film Festival opening night — where she arrived a half hour before the start of the film — the Orange resident made her way to Edwards Big Newport with two hours to spare Thursday.
"We were almost late," the 70-year-old recalled. "We were way down the street in line."
Although Fisher and her husband, Bill, 66, expected to be quite a ways down the road, they found a spot right at the top of the queue.
"Ta-da!" she remarked.
The 15th annual Newport Beach Film Festival kicked off with a world premiere of "Lovesick," an independent romantic comedy starring Matt LeBlanc, Ali Larter and Chevy Chase, with guests once again filing in from around the block.
While the film's leads were absent from the red carpet, producer Josh Goldstein, director Luke Matheny, writer Dean Young — who admitted he didn't anticipate such a large turnout — and other behind-the-scenes talent attended the event.
Carsen Warner, who plays Larter's nephew and is the key to LeBlanc's accessing his newfound crush, made his way down the red carpet, expressing his joy at having snagged the role of Timmy Clark.
"It was so much fun," he said. "Matt is definitely a professional actor. It's a great honor to work with him. It was also so great to work with the director. He was so nice and entertaining. It's a great cast. I loved it."
The screening, which was scheduled to be followed by a gala at Fashion Island, also drew the likes of Laura Kelly from "Goddess," the festival's Australian Spotlight, Matt Mercer and Chris Bouffard of "You or a Loved One," Giulia Nahmany, writer, actor and producer of "Love by Design," and even Tre Cool, best known as the drummer of Green Day.
Meanwhile, "The Real Housewives of Orange County" was represented by Peggy Tanous and Lydia and Doug McLaughlin.
City officials — including Mayor Rush Hill, Mayor Pro Tem Ed Selich and council members Mike Henn and Tony Petros — attended, flanked by their wives.
"The festival is a great cultural enhancement to Newport Beach," Selich said. "It's a good economic venue — it brings people from out of town to stay in our hotels and dine in our restaurants. It provides an ambience to the city that befits it being by the ocean. It's a terrific event."
To Hill, the festival's appeal lies in the opportunity to choose from among 400-plus films — features, shorts and documentaries alike. He's made it a point, he said, to be part of every festival since its inception.
"It adds to the quality of life, to the opportunities we provide to our residents, to go to these kinds of events and not have to drive to Los Angeles or San Diego or get on an airplane," he said. "I also contend that those who come here never knowing what Newport Beach is about leave saying, 'We're going to come back.'"
"Swelter," a modern Western featuring Josh Henderson, Alfred Molina, Jean-Claude Van Damme and others and slated for Sunday, was represented by director Keith Parmer and actor-producer Daniele Favilli.
"Even though it's an action movie, our film is a little unique, so it's good for us to get people that will understand what we were trying to do to see it and put the word out," Parmer noted. "It's not a typical Van Damme movie. It's very different from what he usually does — it's an acting role for him."
"Commencement," a feature with A-listers such as Amelia Rose Blaire, Marin Hinkle, Arye Gross, Bryan Dechart and Rachel DiPillo, gleaned support Thursday from the bulk of its cast, as did "Standing Up," a documentary on the local stand-up comedy scene, which is part of the Orange Coast College showcase on Sunday.
Director, screenwriter and producer Kayci Zukowski got in line before being whisked away to the red carpet along with fellow producer Ryan Patrick Jones and their friend Oscar Ussery, who submitted a short titled "The Art of Beer" to the festival in 2013. To them, the Newport event represents a strong anchor for filmmaking in the community.
"It's nice to be recognized and be part of all these filmmakers and on a level equal to them," said Jones, of Costa Mesa. "We're all just trying to make films and trying to make it, you know?"
For her part, Zukowski, an avid fan of LeBlanc's character Joey Tribbiani from "Friends" who commends LeBlanc's comedic timing and easy-going personality, was eagerly counting down to the after-party.
"Free food — honestly," she quipped. "I brought a purse so I can take snacks."