From Limo Wrangler to Voice of God: Meet the Behind-the-Scenes Oscar Fixers

6:30 AM 2/21/2019

by Mia Galuppo and Benjamin Svetkey

Backstage and in the bleachers, The Hollywood Reporter profiles six unsung heroes of the Academy Awards: "Our job is to have butts in the seats when the carpet opens and make sure nobody dies."

Illustration by: Nathan Hackett

  • The Limo Wrangler

    On Oscar night, some 700 limousines pull up to the Dolby Theatre. The man in charge of making sure they don't pile up in a gigantic fender bender is Norm Kinard, or "the limo wrangler," as he's known at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. "We have teams to greet each car," says Kinard, 49, explaining how the Swiss clock-like operation runs. "The attendants get training in a specific way to open the doors and greet the guests, but they're taught to keep any interaction to a minimum. Supervisors monitor the situation — myself included," adds the wrangler, who has been overseeing Oscar's drop-offs and pickups for more than two decades. "Once the guest gets off-loaded, the limos get sent to the Hollywood Bowl," where a pavilion in the parking lot houses the drivers. "We try to make it comfortable," says Kinard. "Seven hundred drivers are fed pasta and unlimited coffee. There are TVs, and they all watch the show: Their passenger may not win and may want to go home right away."

  • The Master Builder

    "There are only a couple of jobs when the phone rings that you say yes to and figure out how to do later," says David Korins, who has assented to designing sets for Hamilton, Fox's Grease Live! and Lady Gaga concerts. This year, Korins replaces longtime Oscar set designer Derek McLane and will emphasize an asymmetrical look, with no right angles, by referencing nature patterns. Says the designer, "The awards-show format is simple — list nominees, award excellence — but the Oscars are the biggest show in town, and the production design gets to make a statement."

  • The Bleacher Queen

    "Our goal is clear," says Cynthia Hill, who oversees the fan experience at the Oscars — the bleachers overlooking the red carpet where hordes of ardent devotees greet stars as they arrive. "Our job is to have butts in the seats when the carpet opens and make sure nobody dies," says Hill, 49, who with her team performs background checks on the 700 or so people selected. Most get there by winning magazine or airline contests. "Some people show up in ball gowns, and we're like, 'OK, but you'll be cold,' " she says. The bleachers start filling at 8 a.m., and the crowd receives boxed lunches and also can look their best by hitting the makeup station. Arrivals end at 5 p.m., after which the entire mob heads across the street to El Capitan Theatre for a live telecast viewing and a buffet dinner. Says Hill, "The food is actually quite good."

  • The Touch-Up Artist

    There is no one more carefully studying the stars' faces on Oscar night than Bruce Grayson, the makeup artist who does last-minute touch-ups on the nominees, winners and presenters, often at the curtain's edge. While everyone else is looking up at the stage, he's scanning the audience for tears and running mascara. “Heartfelt speeches can turn my job into something special,” says the Oscars’ resident makeup artist. “For the in memoriam, I am always watching very closely.” Grayson and his team are on the alert for everything from running mascara and streaky foundation to nerve-induced red blotches and lipstick marks on cheeks. He explains, “You are like a referee. You are watching the interaction between celebrities very closely.” Since the 2001 ceremony, Grayson has been the last stop for talent before they take the stage. Sharing a space with wardrobe, the make-up department sits in a “cave” that is usually used to house electronics. Due to the tight quarters Grayson must pair down what he carries in his kit. “It’s impossible to anticipate whose coming in, wearing what,” explains Grayson, who contacts the makeup artists of the presenters ahead of the telecast and keeps up with the trends via fashion dailies in order to make educated guesses. Grayson sometimes has only 45 seconds to make an A-lister — whose makeup was applied hours before — camera-ready. His most stressful Oscar memory? In 2013, when both the film stars and stage actors of Les Miserables performed a musical number. "We had 25 makeup artists backstage at the Dolby," he recalls.

  • The Voice of God

    A month before the Oscars, Randy Thomas starts training. "I do a lot of meditating," she says. "I drink a lot of water to stay hydrated. I eat lightly. And I avoid sugar because if you're in a stressful situation and have had too much sugar, your immune system can drop." For the voice of the Oscars — the announcer who introduces commercial breaks and recites stats about winners — even a bit of throat-clearing would be heard 'round the world. This year marks Thomas' 10th turn, starting with her first gig in 1993, when she was the first (and still the only) female to land the job. "Gil Cates [who produced 14 telecasts starting in 1990] thought women sounded better," she recalls. Thomas spends most of the ceremony in an electronics-stuffed trailer behind the Dolby, never rubbing elbows with the stars, though "once I introduced myself to Oprah!"

  • The Wardrobe Mistress

    While the Dolby contains seven wardrobe stations to keep everyone zippered-in and stitched-up, Katja Cahill is right offstage with her kit and flashlight. During her off-and-on tenure since 2008, she has scrubbed bronzer from white couture gowns and fixed a heel that snapped 30 seconds before a presenter was due onstage. "We'll have four sewers looping a Chanel or a Dior back together," she says. Last year, she "had a $2 million necklace snap while the actress was upstairs doing a bit" with host Jimmy Kimmel. “We look down and a major sapphire had dropped off.” Luckily, Cahill had a jewelry designer on hand and a fix was made before the talent returned to her seat. Cahill also assists and designs the outfits used in the telecast’s musical numbers (a personal favorite is Beyoncé and Hugh Jackman's opening number from the 2009 show). While it's not in her job description, Cahill has also calmed the nerves of performers. "You suddenly go from wardrobe to mother, asking, 'What tea can we get you?'"

    This story first appeared in the Feb. 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.