The Politics of the Oscar Red Carpet: Where to Stop, Stand and Schmooze
This story first appeared in the March 1 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
"You’re like a ringmaster trying to get interviews done,” says Entertainment Tonight co-anchor Nancy O’Dell of the Oscar preshow circus. Red-carpet vets say because it’s the final awards-season event, anything goes: “We asked people their Oscar-day routine, and Melanie Griffith said, ‘I had sex with my husband,’ ” recalls omg! Insider co-anchor Kevin Frazier. No matter how nutty the vibe, no one cuts the line, not even Sacha Baron Cohen, who as “The Dictator” poured ashes all over Ryan Seacrest on live TV last year. “He picked the perfect person,” says E!’s Kelly Osbourne. “I would have head-butted him.”
The second golden rule? When you show up speaks volumes. “No one arrives early other than the live shorts and animation guys,” says a PR guru. A-listers who arrive late, as nominee Tommy Lee Jones probably will, are “indicating they’re not going to be doing press along the line.” The rep adds that how much time stars take on the carpet “depends on what stage you’re in: Helen Hunt knows how fickle the business can be and probably is happy to be involved. Jennifer Lawrence -- someone that young who has had success that soon -- is just done because it’s all too much.”
1. Publicists Pen
No matter if they are a personal rep or with a studio, all publicists are kept in a “pen” at the top of the carpet, from which they get pulled to meet dropped-off talent -- their own or whomever the Academy assigns to them. “When you work the Oscars, you are basically a representative of the Academy,” says one studio rep. Some admit there are ways to avoid being called on, such as pretending you’re on the phone or hiding out in the back of the pen. Overall, “it looks like bedlam, but it’s really very organized,” says a PR vet.
2. First Stops
Still photographers greet talent with an ocean of flashes, then publicists must navigate among 283 press outlets. PR pro Stan Rosenfield says it’s easy to prioritize: “The event usually does it for you,” he says. “They place the outlets on entry that are, in their minds, more important,” including national broadcast outlets, with Entertainment Tonight in the coveted first position. This year’s big gets, says ET senior producer Sharlette Hambrick, are “youngest nominee Quvenzhane Wallis and oldest nominee Emmanuelle Riva because they are making history. Of course, Bradley Cooper, Barbra Streisand and Adele would be huge!” For journalists, nimble juggling is required to avoid losing A-listers to a nearby outlet. “I try to balance my interviews to prevent anyone from waiting too long,” says E!’s Giuliana Rancic. “Peripheral vision comes in handy on the red carpet.”
3. Bottleneck Begins
With more than 3,000 people attending, the carpet gets congested as talent and publicists make it past the security tent. Broadcast, select print outlets like THR and international media jostle for time with talent. HFPA doesn’t get its own credentials, says an Academy rep, but the value of international box office is such that foreign press gets their due course. “To be recognized overseas sells movies” and can make or break a long career, says Liza Anderson of Anderson Group PR. In general, some reps are averse to making talent wait for interviews; others say even industry legends must restrain their egos on Oscar night. When Mickey Rooney walked the carpet in 2009, he got knocked into the hedges. Recalls a rep: “He’s a pro; he carried on.”
4. Fan Bleachers
Seven hundred camera-wielding fans are chosen by lottery and given front-row seats, where stars direct smiles and waves (the bleacher height makes autographs harder to come by).
5. Live Shots
Live broadcasts often make appointments with publicists beforehand to control the flow of talent into their booths. For ABC’s official live preshow, which more or less lands interviews with everyone, there are three platforms: at the start, in the middle and on the turn before the carpet heads into the theater. But some outlets, including E!, play it loose. “It’s tight quarters, you’re throwing elbows, but it’s so much fun,” says E!’s Ross Mathews, “because it’s live, and could go horribly wrong.”
6. Online and Print
Around the corner, 36 bloggers and print journos are seated in separate, smaller bleachers that serve as a platform for snagging nominee quotes.
7. End of the Line
Finishing the carpet can take 45 to 90 minutes. Executives should budget extra time for THR’s photo position at the base of the stairs. Personal reps who aren’t guests don’t get to rest their high heels: They finish up their tour of duty in the press room, where they wait for their client’s name to be called. If their talent wins, the rep meets them after the speech at a previously designated backstage meeting spot. Other reps deposit their talent at the theater door and head back to the top of the carpet to do it all over again.