Behind The Scenes

You’ve debated the merits of the nominations, maybe chanced a few quid on the outcome, even devoted several sleepy hours to watching the show, but do you know what it actually takes to stage the greatest show on earth? (Well, the longest show at least…)

For starters, the Oscars used to drift from venue to venue – LA’s Shrine Auditorium and Dorothy Chandler Pavilion being the most popular – but since 2001 they’ve been held in the $94 million Kodak Theater, purpose-built on Hollywood Boulevard. Seating 3,600 people, it comes complete with its own TV production facilities – handy, when you’re hosting the world’s largest annual live broadcast. The theatre is owned by the city of LA, with various concerts and shows being held there throughout the year. The Academy rents it for an entire month in preparation for the ceremony.

The statuettes come from the RS Owens foundry in Chicago, where they’ve been manufactured since 1982. It takes three to four weeks to cast, plate and polish 50 new awards and any sub-standard ones are destroyed. Perfect specimens are given a serial number (stamped behind Oscar’s heels) and are shipped down to LA.

Spare trophies not presented on the night go into storage until the following year – extra statuettes are always put aside because, until the ceremony, even the Academy doesn’t know exactly who will win and how many people need one.

To keep the winners secret, the final count is done by six Pricewaterhouse Coopers employees, each given random votes for each category, which are added together secretly by a further two accountants. Two winner’s cards are printed up for every nominee, with all but the eventual winners’ cards then destroyed. Two sets of envelopes are then stored in a safe until being chauffeured – separately – to the ceremony.

Practice makes perfect – well, mostly

Hosts can spend months before the show working on material, with the aid of writers who remain on-hand throughout the ceremony for any 11th-hour rewrites. Rehearsals are lengthy, with performers of the musical numbers expected to put in long days for the fortnight before the show. Countless run-throughs are held, with stand-ins reading out mock acceptance speeches, and the cameras practice panning across to specific seats – each pre-marked with the name and photo of the star who’ll be sitting there on the big night. There’s no swapping seats if guests don’t like who they’re sitting next to, but the awards organisers try to be sensitive, avoiding putting divorced couples or rivals together.

Even celebrities need to pee, so to avoid obvious gaps in the audience during the hours-long telecast, the Academy use a large number of ‘seat fillers’ who drop into vacant spots until the rightful owner returns. It’s not a paid job and not everyone can volunteer – you usually have to work for either the Academy or Pricewaterhouse Coopers – but the lucky few could get the chance to share an armrest with their favourite star.

Even after months of preparation, things can – and do – go wrong during the show. In 2003, a giant spinning ball was rigged above the stage; it worked perfectly in rehearsals, but stubbornly refused to turn on the night. Workmen were still desperately trying to fix it after the cameras had started rolling, resulting in one of them dropping his walkie-talkie on to the stage, narrowly missing host Steve Martin.

From prep to paparazzi 

Some 14,000 square feet of red carpet is rolled out in front of the Kodak Theater in the days leading up to the event, with outsized Oscar statues lifted into position by cranes before being given a last-minute coat of gold paint from an army of stage hands. Bleachers are erected around the main entrance to allow fans (who are now allotted places on a first-come, first-served application basis) to see the nominees and their guests close-up as they talk to the assembled press. Invitees are advised to arrive early – more than 1,100 cars turn up and most guests will wait for hours in their air-conditioned limos en route. And they better not leave their invites at home – tickets are like goldust and attendees are solely asked along by the Academy.

Security is always tight, but the fear of terrorist attacks means that preparations have been beefed up in recent years. These days, police marksmen are positioned around adjacent rooftops, the surrounding area is declared a no-fly zone and even the local manhole covers are welded shut.

Every year the Oscars try to clamp down on long, boring speeches. This year, the producers are only allowing winners 45 seconds before they are escorted offstage by glamorous starlets – Pam Grier and Victoria Principal killed time between acting jobs doing this in the past – and taken up to the press room for interviews and photographs.

Once their conference is over, winners are shepherded back to their place in the audience, where they can boot out the seat filler and watch the rest of the show.

And finally, the big schmooze

After the last award, for Best Picture, is given out, the parties kick off. The biggies are those hosted by Elton John, Vanity Fair and the studios behind the night’s big winners; guest lists are arranged to ensure that only A-listers are allowed in early and liggers have to wait.

The one that comes first – chronologically, at least – is the Governors Ball, held in the Grand Ballroom within the Kodak Theater. Toting their ‘goodie bags’ – nominees and presenters can expect gifts of watches, jewellery and state-of-the-art gadgets worth $15,000 in total – 1,650 of the biggest names in attendance enjoy an evening of eating, drinking and, literally, rubbing shoulders with the stars. Food has come courtesy of celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck for the past decade, the highlight of which is dessert – a chocolate mousse in the shape of an Oscar statuette, dusted with edible gold.

So, when the final curtain goes down, how much does it all cost? Well, even 2003’s scaled-down ceremony (because of the Gulf War) weighed in at a whopping $41 million. Hooray for Hollywood, eh?