Behind the scenes on Oscar day
Unlike sports stadiums, the Kodak Theater doesn’t have a press box for reporters to view the proceedings from above. We’re at the Oscars, but we’re not AT the Oscars—-we’re actually backstage in banquet rooms at the Renaissance Hotel, where we watch the proceedings much like you do, on television.
The difference is, we’re all sitting at long tables, hammering away at our laptops or jabbering into microphones. (If you’re doing that at home, we need to talk.) And while the telecast is going on, the winners are hustled backstage to take questions and to squint against the flashes of two hundred cameras. (When Halle Berry won for Best Actress, she came backstage and ran into Roger Ebert’s arms. I was like, hey, I liked the movie TOO.) So, while the Best Screenplay award is being handed out, the winners of the Best Documentary are meeting the press backstage. The Q-and-A session is broadcast over the speakers in the press room, and we can continue to listen to the televised proceedings via headsets. (We have to hand over our driver’s licenses before they’ll loan us a headset. I guess that’s to prevent us from walking off with a headset that would have absolutely no value outside that particular room.)
There’s a real traffic jam during the last half hour of the broadcast. The winner for Best Actress will be backstage talking to the press, and she’ll stop and say, “Wait, I want to see this,” as they announce Best Actor or Best Picture. Then she’ll have to go back to answering some inane question.
Most years I was seated between my Chicago Sun-Times colleagues, Roger Ebert and Bill Zwecker. We had a lot of fun commenting on the show as we filed our stories. I’ve had the pleasure of sitting near some of the best reporters in the business, as well as some real idiots and characters. One year, the ancient gossip queen Cindy Adams was across from me, and she spent most of the ceremony saying, “Who’s THAT?” and, “Oh, I don’t care for him.” Great, thanks for stopping by.
They feed us well backstage. A lavish buffet of sandwiches, shrimp cocktail, various kabobs, lasagna, salad, coffee, soft drink, bottled water and desserts. No booze though. You don’t want a liquored-up press corps hurling questions at Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.
As it is, the questions range from the obvious to the stupid to the ridiculous. One of my favorite moments was when a reporter asked Cate Blanchett if winning the Academy Award would change her life and she deadpanned, “Absolutely, you asshole.”
Or how about this exchange between a reporter from E! and Thelma Schoonmaker, the editor who had just won an Oscar for “The Aviator”:
Q. “Hi, Ted from E! TV. The plane crash was just phenomenal. But forgive me, I do want to ask. Will the DVD have any more great shots of Leo’s backside?”
Q. “Not one?”
Or from the Clint Eastwood press conference:
Q. “Yes, Mr. Eastwood…you’ve got two [Oscars] in your hand. They match the two you had 13 years ago. How do you top yourself again? Where do you go from here? What are you going to be thinking about tonight in terms of future projects?”
A. “I can’t answer any of those…”
And just last year, a reporter noted that parts of “No Country For Old Men” and “There Will Be Blood” were filmed in and around Marfa, Texas, and asked Daniel Day Lewis: “How did that inform your role and how did that inform your performance?”, to which the Oscar winner replied, “In absolutely no way whatsoever.”
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As soon as the Oscars would end, I’d hustle across the street to the historic El Capitan Theater for the two-hour post-show on KABC, which consisted of recaps, reports from the parties, LOTS of talk about the fashion choices (that was Randolph Duke’s forte, not mine), and an insane number of commercial breaks.
By then I’d be on about hour 13 of wearing the tux and the shiny shoes. Around 11:30 p.m. Los Angeles time, I’d finally be done working for the night and I’d hit the parties for a couple of hours, usually with a very understanding date who had spent the evening getting ready and watching the Oscars on TV somewhere and was finally getting to go out.
Here’s my description of the Vanity Fair party from a couple of years ago:
As always, the Vanity Fair event is like a Mad magazine sketch of a party. You cannot take two steps without encountering a famous somebody, from (deep breath) Donald Trump to P. Diddy to Usher to Halle Berry to the Hilton sisters to Reese Witherspoon to Chris Rock to Adam Sandler to Alan Alda to Cate Blanchett to Penelope Cruz to Tom Cruise. It’s fun to see Cruise-Cruz within yards of each other, but it’s cooler to talk to Michael Madsen while his “Kill Bill” nemesis David Carradine is just behind me. We’re a Daryl Hannah away from Tarantino heaven.
Also, chick singers are everywhere: Beyonce. Jessica Simpson. Christina Aguilera. Gwen Stefani. Mandy Moore. Janet Jackson.
Refreshments include booze, cigarettes and In-N-Out burgers.
Or as I like to call it, the breakfast of champions.
Another year at the VF party, an Oscar winner kissed me. Three times. I’m not saying who it is, but all I can tell you is, I’ll never watch “Good Night, and Good Luck” the same way again. (KIDDING.)
A couple of years ago I wound up at a post-post-post party at some ridiculous mansion. They had massage tables set up in one room, blackjack tables by the pool, open bars everywhere. Britney Spears’ dad was making omelets for everyone. By the time I left that party, still in my tux, I had to go straight to a TV studio to file the first of several reports for Chicago and East Coast outlets. Then I had to do some radio interviews and file a column—-and by then it was about 2 p.m. and I had to start getting ready for a taping of “The Tonight Show” later that afternoon.
So yeah, it’s a ridiculous amount of fun to be at the Oscars. Also a little bit of work, and sleep comes later in the week.