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This story comes courtesy of LA Weekly
By Siran Babayan
"It seemed like something somebody would make up," author Nancy Jo Sales says on the phone from her New York home. "If you had pitched this as a movie, nobody would've bought it. It would've been too unbelievable." But the story of a bunch of young suburbanites who burglarized a string of celebrity homes in 2008 and '09 did happen. And somebody did buy it — director Sofia Coppola, whose upcoming film "The Bling Ring" (out June 14) is inspired by the Hollywood crime spree. It's also the subject of Sales' new book, likewise titled "The Bling Ring."
Coppola hired Sales as a consultant on the film after optioning her 2010 Vanity Fair article, "The Suspects Wore Louboutins." Realizing she had enough material on the case for a book, Sales started writing "The Bling Ring" last summer. It hits bookstores next week.
The Bling Ring, a nickname coined by the L.A. Times, was made up of six kids mostly in their late teens, who stole more than $3 million in merchandise from the homes of Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Orlando Bloom, Rachel Bilson, Brian Austin Green, Megan Fox, Ashley Tisdale and The Hills' Audrina Patridge, as well as a few non-celebs. They were arrested in 2009, and all pled no contest.
Rachel Lee is currently serving a four-year prison sentence. Nick Prugo served a little more than a year and was released last month. Alexis Neiers served 29 days. Diana Tamayo, Courtney Ames and Roy Lopez Jr. each received three years' probation. And Jonathan Ajar, who acted as the fence for the stolen goods, is currently in jail.
Sales is no stranger to the star beat, having written profiles on everyone from Angelina Jolie to Taylor Swift. Her 2000 Vanity Fair feature on the young Hiltons, famously shot by David LaChapelle, irreversibly put Paris, then just a party girl, on the map as the patron saint of celebutantes.
Sales' book, however, isn't concerned as much with celebrity as it is with celebrity worship and how it breeds entitled star-wannabes who demand, and sometimes steal, a piece of the pie.
That includes Prugo, who, along with Lee, was the plot's alleged mastermind. The two were best friends, a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde obsessed with designer clothes. They'd pick their targets by checking their whereabouts and travel schedules on Twitter, TMZ and celebrityaddressaerial.com.
Prugo and Lee decided to make Hilton their first victim because, as Prugo told Sales, they were looking for a famous person who wasn't "that bright" — or, to be precise, someone dumb enough to leave her house key under the mat. They robbed Hilton's home multiple times, taking cash, clothes and topless photos of Hilton. They even snorted her cocaine.
They had similar luck sneaking into the other stars' digs, either because the homeowners had forgotten to turn on their security alarms or because the burglars simply found ways to break in without arousing suspicion. In the course of a year, Prugo, Lee and various Bling Ring members walked away with bags containing everything from Bloom's Rolex collection to Green's handgun.
After Prugo, Lee and others were caught on camera breaking into Lohan's home, their luck ran out. Thanks to too much bragging at parties, and anonymous sources who tipped off the LAPD, the police went after Prugo and Lee. Prugo would confess to the other robberies, implicating the rest of the Bling Ring.
None of them really needed the money. In fact, nearly all the members, who lived in and around Calabasas — Kardashian country — came from well-to-do families. But that hardly mattered.
"They mostly stole to have and to wear," Sales says. "They wanted to own these things like trophies. This was not mainly for money. They wanted the proximity to these celebrities. They wanted this fantasy and lifestyle."
Unsurprisingly, some of the kids wound up tasting the same tabloid fame as their victims. Prugo's followers even created fan pages on Facebook.
" 'Oh, they have so much,' " Sales says. "Allegedly, according to Prugo, that was Lee's rationale. And I can understand. At a time when there's an inordinate disparity in wealth in this country and very, very few people have control over the wealth, it's very frustrating. So they look at people with a lot of money and celebrities and say, 'Oh, they deserve it.' "
Perhaps no one in the story exemplifies how infamy begets infamy better than Neiers. At the time of the burglaries, she was just another Hollywood party girl and model. She was also a part-time pole-dancing instructor. Now she's being portrayed in Coppola's film by "Harry Potter" star Emma Watson, who speaks some lines of dialogue straight from Sales' article: "I'm a firm believer in karma, and I think this situation was attracted into my life because it was supposed to be a huge learning lesson for me to grow and expand as a spiritual human being," Neiers told the journalist. "I see myself as Angelina Jolie, but even stronger, pushing even harder for the universe and for peace and for the health of our planet. ... I want to lead a country, for all I know."
In the book, Neiers and her clan spout a lot of hippy-dippy, New Age–y nonsense, yet they're just the kind of fame-hungry family you'd watch on E! — and that's exactly where they landed. The day she was arraigned, Neiers brought along an E! camera crew, which was filming her for the short-lived reality show "Pretty Wild."
Sales interviewed Neiers for hours, including on the show's set. (Sales describes producers feeding the performers lines, making the not-so-big revelation that reality TV is indeed scripted.) In the show's most comical episode, Neiers phones Sales after the Vanity Fair piece is published and tearfully berates the writer for saying she wore 6-inch Louboutins to court — they were 4-inch Bebes. E!'s "The Soup" voted that scene the best reality show clip of 2010.
Even the supposed good guys were eager to go Hollywood. Brett Goodkin, the lead detective on the case, currently is under investigation for failing to properly inform LAPD and the L.A. district attorney that Coppola had hired him as a consultant. He makes a brief appearance in the film, a big blunder, considering the case was still open at the time of filming.
As the ironies keep unfolding, it's clear "The Bling Ring" isn't about just a group of thieving teens but a whole web of crooked characters looking for their 15 minutes.
"One thing that the majority of the people in this twisted tale have is the desire to be famous," Sales says. "There's a lot of jockeying for the camera on the part of these people."
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This story comes courtesy of The Hollywood Reporter.
By Shirley Halperin
Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre (ne Andre Young) have joined together to open the USC Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young Academy for Arts, Technology and the Business of Innovation. The longtime friends, collaborators and business partners -- Iovine is currently chairman of Interscope Geffen A&M Records; he and rapper-producer Dre also co-founded Beats Electronics -- are putting in $70 Million to create the Academy.
According to a release issued by the University, the aim of the school is to give USC students "a unique undergraduate experience" that will span such fields as marketing, business entrepreneurship, computer science and engineering, audio and visual design and the arts.
Said USC President C. L. Max Nikias in announcing the new program: “The vision and generosity of Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young will profoundly influence the way all of us perceive and experience artistic media. ... We are committed to encouraging our students to use their intellectual and creative resources to effect change in all segments of society. Our goal is to ensure that the academy is the most collaborative educational program in the world.”
The curriculum -- focused on four areas: arts and entrepreneurship; technology, design and marketability; concept and business platforms; and creating a prototype -- will emphasize technology and include faculty from the USC Marshall School of Business, Roski School of Fine Arts, Viterbi School of Engineering and Thornton School of Music. A selected group of students will be offered an integrated, four‑year interdisciplinary course of study capped off in the final year with an experiential setting called the “Garage," which will challenge the students with a year-long project.
"The curriculum was created to take full advantage of a newly designed, revolutionary educational space that will offer students very powerful tools," said Erica Muhl, dean of the USC Roski School of Fine Arts, who will serve as inaugural director of the USC Iovine & Young Academy. "Academy students will have the freedom to move easily from classroom to lab, from studio to workshop individually or in groups, and blow past any academic or structural barriers to spontaneous creativity."
The academy's inaugural class will enroll 25 students in fall 2014. Iovine is scheduled to deliver USC's commencement address this Friday, May 17.
Find more Hollywood Reporter stories here.
This piece comes to us courtesy of Stateline. Stateline is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news service of the Pew Charitable Trusts that provides daily reporting and analysis on trends in state policy.
Americans have been brewing beer in their homes since colonial times—both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were home brewers. Even so, a recent explosion of interest in the hobby has created tricky questions for state alcohol regulators.
As of July 1, home brewing will be legal in all 50 states. But many states still prohibit home brewers from transporting their beer to club meetings or competitions. Some states also limit the amount a home brewer can produce in a year.
The remaining restrictions rankle home brewers, who say swapping samples and competing with other brewers is what their culture is all about. “You could just drink your home brew at home, but you’d be missing out on a large part of the community,” said James Spencer, who hosts a popular podcast about home brewing.
Some states have been lax in enforcing such rules, but the hobby’s popularity and the growth of home brew supply stores is making it harder to justify a hands-off approach. About a million Americans brew their own beer at least once a year, according to the American Homebrewers Association. The group now has 37,000 members, up from 8,700 in 2005.
The tension has sparked legislative fights in several states. In 2010, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission shut down an annual home brew competition at the Oregon State Fair that had been held for 22 years. In response, the Oregon legislature scrapped state restrictions on where home brew can be made and consumed, and legalized fees and prizes at home brew competitions. Oregon home brewers also can engage in small-scale professional brewing at pubs.
Other states have taken similar action. Wisconsin lifted many of its restrictions in 2012, after the Schooner Home Brew Competition was spirited to a nearby city to appease uneasy city officials. And this year, Georgia and Iowa approved laws allowing home brewers to take their beer out of their homes. State lawmakers in Illinois and Missouri also are considering measures that would allow home brewers to participate in public festivals and competitions.
But the American Homebrewers Association advises its members to proceed cautiously in state capitols. “If it is technically not legal to share home brew at a club meeting in your state, but there has not been any enforcement of that law, it may not be worth exposure of home brew club activities, when changing the law is not guaranteed and could end up taking years,” it says.
In some states, home brewing restrictions have deep cultural roots. The last two states to legalize home brewing were Alabama, which legalized it on May 9, and Mississippi, where it will be legal starting July 1. The legislation wasn’t an easy sell in either state—in part because both still have dry counties and memories of moonshine.
“We’ve been working on this for five years,” said Craig Hendry, president of Raise Your Pints, which led the campaign in Mississippi. “One year it was an election year, so of course they're not going to touch alcohol legislation then."
Alabama’s debate was filled with filibusters and heated debate about the morality of allowing people to make their own beer.
“We’re just completely opening up the whole state to alcohol— every family, every home, every block," Republican Rep. Arthur Payne said during a lengthy debate on the House floor. "I represent a district that has a strong family unit, and we don't want to flood our neighborhoods with alcohol."
Alabama’s anti-home brewing attitude was clear last fall when agents of the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board visited Hop City, a craft beer and home brew supplier in Birmingham.
“They came in and raided us and said that we can’t do any home brewing business,” said Spencer Overton, a former commercial brewer who was hired to be the store’s home brew manager. According to Overton, the agents threatened felony charges and confiscated $7,000 worth of merchandise. “They took some books about home brewing, which was very Fahrenheit 451 of them,” Overton said, referring to the futuristic Ray Bradbury novel in which fire fighters torch homes containing books.
Since home brewing was legalized, Hop City has stocked up on home brew supplies and Overton will be teaching home brew classes.
State Sen. Bill Holtzclaw said he pushed for the Alabama bill because many of his constituents are NASA scientists who were risking felony convictions—and their top-secret security clearances—by brewing at home.
"It was easy for me to get behind this as an individual rights issue, and as an economic development opportunity," said Holtzclaw, a Republican.
He noted that many craft brewers started out brewing at home. “Rather than see it as threat, (craft brewers) see it as a way for folks who are really serious to leave the hobby realm and move over to the professional realm," he said.
Swapping or Selling?
During some of the state debates, local beer distributors have cautioned against allowing home brewers to act too much like commercial brewers without paying for licenses.
But most home brewers say they are determined to keep their craft distinct from the brewing business, even though the required equipment and ingredients are expensive. “The spirit of home is not to make it to sell,” said Spencer, the podcast host. “The spirit of home brewing is to make it to share.”
Sometimes this involves walking a difficult line. At a recent home brew competition in Washington, D.C. sponsored by craft brewer Samuel Adams, participating home brewers were required to cover their own costs, and all proceeds of the sold-out event were donated to charity. “The beer is free, and Sam Adams is even providing some free snacks, but if you want to come you have to donate to a great local charity,” the invitation said.
Josh Hubner, who heads DC Homebrewers, said his group negotiated a corkage fee with the hosting bar under a District of Columbia law that allows consumers to bring their own alcohol to a restaurant for a small fee. “If someone came and they said ‘we want to drink the beer,’ we’d have to give it to them,” he said. “People are doing this totally for the love of home brew.”
Hubner said he doesn’t want it to be legal for people to sell home brew. “All I’d really want would be a general acknowledgement that this is something that people do, and that it is beneficial to the community,” he said.
Nevertheless, home brewing has become a training ground for craft brewers, which is why brewing companies such as Samuel Adams and Sierra Nevada have become huge supporters. Samuel Adams sponsors an annual national home brewing competition and mass produces the winning beers.
According to data from the Brewers Association, craft brewing sales have been increasing dramatically and taking over a greater share of the domestic beer market. Total craft beer sales grew 17 percent in 2012 and 15 percent in 2011.
Jim Koch, who founded Samuel Adams, started as a home brewer and created the first batch of Samuel Adams Boston Lager in his kitchen.
“Most craft brewing came out of home brewing,” Koch said. “This activity that used to be illegal everywhere has created 100,000 jobs in the last 30 years and probably encouraged the responsible consumption of flavorful beer. From the state point of view, the home brewer that you just legalized might be the employer of people in your state in the future.”
Koch’s advice to state lawmakers is to give home brewers the benefit of the doubt while putting reasonable safeguards in place: “Home brewers have an enormous amount of respect for the dignity of beer, so cut them a little slack,” he said.