“They Got the Wrong Envelope!”: The Oral History of Oscar’s Epic Best Picture Fiasco
One year after the craziest, most improbable and downright embarrassing moment in Academy Awards history, 29 key players open up (many for the first time) about the onstage chaos, backstage bickering and who's really to blame for Envelopegate and the two minutes and 23 seconds that 'La La Land' beat 'Moonlight.'
Since the first Academy Awards ceremony in 1929, Hollywood’s biggest night has produced its share of drama. But nothing — nothing — can hold a candle to the otherworldly insanity that unfolded at the very end of the 89th Oscars on Feb. 26, 2017, when the wrong best picture winner was announced. Ahead of the one-year anniversary of “Envelopegate,” THR spent months interviewing dozens of key players from that ceremony to document the incredible series of events that led the teams behind two films, Moonlight and La La Land, to collide on the same stage. A few of them said they would prefer to leave that awkward (and, for some, painful) night in the past; many, however, were willing to look back and laugh at an Oscars that neither they, nor anyone else, will ever forget.
*All subjects were interviewed for this story with the exception of Beatty (whose comments were on The Graham Norton Show), Gosling (Entertainment Tonight), De Luca (KCRW’s The Business), Bening (Jimmy Kimmel Live!) and Natoli (The Wrap).
1. THE COUNTDOWN
A few weeks before the show, Oscars producers Michael De Luca and Jennifer Todd recruit Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway to present the best picture Oscar.
JENNIFER TODD, Producer, 89th Oscars Being that it was the 50th anniversary of Bonnie and Clyde, we thought, “These two people would be so spectacular to get!”
PEGGY SIEGAL, Publicist, hosted events for La La Land and Moonlight Warren and Faye have not had the greatest relationship over the years. This is common knowledge. It’s a strained pairing because Faye is impossible.
Brian Cullinan and Martha Ruiz of PricewaterhouseCoopers, the accounting firm that has overseen the Oscars since 1934, are brought back as “balloting leaders,” a role that includes tabulating ballots and handing presenters envelopes. Concerns are raised even before the show.
TENI MELIDONIAN, Managing director, publicity and corporate communications, the Academy I met Brian four years ago when he first became a balloting leader. Very dedicated, loved the Oscars, enjoyed being there. Sometime that week [of the show], my department had told PwC’s PR department that Brian was not allowed to do any social media backstage because he was very engaged with social media during the week leading up to the show.
DAWN HUDSON, CEO, the Academy It was brought to my attention.
TODD I had several exchanges with PwC about them wanting to know how much we could feature them during the broadcast. Brian did a bit at the end in the Neil Patrick Harris year , so he was curious to see if there was anything on the show this year.
JIMMY KIMMEL, Host I think the primary issue at rehearsal — and this was something that was in my head when that envelope moment happened — was how well [Beatty and Dunaway] could see the teleprompter.
GLENN WEISS, Telecast director I’d just call it “an interesting dynamic” between the two of them.
LISA TABACK, Awards consultant, worked on both La La Land and Moonlight campaigns I saw Faye the day before the Oscars at the Sally Hershberger salon on La Cienega. She’d been driving the staff crazy for the past three days, trying to get her blond hair just right. When I walked in, the staff was ready to throw her out the window.
2. THE BIG DAY
By the day of the ceremony, almost all indicators pointed to a big night for La La Land.
TODD On Sunday morning, our three art deco tower set pieces fell down. It sounded like somebody set a bomb off. We had to bring in 60 stagehands to repair everything before the show. We had to push the opening of the theater — they usually open the doors at 4 p.m., but we didn’t open them until 4:45. And we never got to rehearse the back half of the show.
MELIDONIAN We were thinking, “OK, this is the worst that it’s going to be. We’re good.”
HUDSON “Blue skies from here.”
The show starts with a performance of “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” by Justin Timberlake, followed by Kimmel’s well-received monologue.
HUDSON Everyone in that whole theater was dancing. Things couldn’t have gone better.
KIMMEL If you get through the monologue successfully, you’re like 75 percent of the way there. It went very well.
NICOLETTE AIZENBERG, Executive at A24, which financed and distributed Moonlight Mahershala [Ali] won best supporting actor early on, and I was so happy for him. Then Barry [Jenkins, Moonlight‘s director and co-writer] and Tarell [Alvin McCraney, who also wrote the play upon which Moonlight is based] won best adapted screenplay. Those were the two awards we were expected to win.
TABACK I was sitting next to [La La Land director] Damien [Chazelle]’s parents, so I had to play it cool when La La Land lost a number of categories it was expected to win. They kept saying, “Is this a bad thing?” [But] after Damien’s win [for director], I was able to relax. I was sure that La La Land was going home with best picture.
CHERYL BOONE ISAACS, Then-president, the Academy Mike and Jen did what they said they’d wanted to do — an incredibly entertaining show that moved along.
TODD [ABC] likes you to hit the last commercial before midnight [ET]. When Emma Stone walked offstage [with the best actress Oscar] and it went to black and we cut to commercial, it was 11:59:59, so we were like, “We made it!” Somebody put a glass of champagne down in front of me.
3. THE FINAL AWARD
BUSY PHILIPPS, Actress, guest of nominee Michelle Williams We almost missed it. Michelle and I almost left early because we really had to pee — because we’re veteran Oscar attendees, we know that the line right after the ceremony is insane for the women’s room. But we stayed. Thank God!
MARA BUXBAUM, Publicist, guest of Casey Affleck We were sitting right in front of Matt Damon and his wife. She moved because Jimmy was going to close the show doing a comedy bit with Matt.
KIMMEL Matt said, “What are you gonna say?” I hadn’t quite figured that out, but I was just going to recap the fact that he didn’t win any awards.
BUXBAUM Because Jimmy was seated behind us, there was a stage manager with a headset standing right next to Casey on the aisle.
Beatty and Dunaway walk out.
JORDAN HOROWITZ, Producer, La La Land We [the La La Land producers] had drawn straws very early on [to determine the order in which we would speak if we won].
JOHN LEGEND, Actor/songwriter, La La Land I had a good feeling about our chances to win.
Beatty opens the envelope, sees the card and hesitates.
KIMMEL I thought, “Oh, maybe they can’t see. Maybe that’s the problem.”
HOROWITZ I remember there being a really long pause and thinking it was a gag.
SIEGAL I thought, “Oh my God. He’s milking it. What is he doing?!”
WEISS It really didn’t occur to me that anything was out of order.
Beatty squints, looks flustered, briefly peers offstage and hands the card to Dunaway.
WARREN BEATTY, Actor and presenter I thought, “Well, maybe this is a misprint.” And then, “I shouldn’t foul up the show just because someone made a little error.”
HUDSON I thought he was being chivalrous and he was showing the card to let Faye read the winner.
Dunaway takes the card and exclaims, “La La Land!”
MELIDONIAN I sipped my champagne. We felt the evening had been so successful.
HOROWITZ I remember being really excited and cheering, and then looking at my wife. She gave me a kiss and said, “Just take a breath.”
CHRISSY TEIGEN, Model and Legend’s wife John stood up. I gave him a kiss. I was so excited and proud. I immediately grabbed my phone and took to tweeting.
PwC’s balloting leaders are required to memorize the winners and spring into action if a wrong name is announced. Cullinan quietly tells a stage manager, John Esposito, that he thinks the wrong winner has been announced, but does nothing further. Esposito then shares this information over his headset, prompting head stage manager Gary Natoli, crouched beside Kimmel, to instruct another stage manager to have PwC’s Ruiz (who has not reacted to the incorrect announcement) open the second best picture envelope and confirm which film won.
WEISS I hear on the headset, “The accountant says he thinks the wrong winner was announced.”
BUXBAUM All of a sudden, the stage manager next to Casey [Natoli] was saying, “Get them off the stage! Moonlight won!” The stage manager left and went up there.
PHILIPPS I could hear him say, “Moonlight is the winner!” We clearly heard him say, “Moonlight is the winner! Moonlight is the winner!”
Meanwhile the three La La Land producers take the stage and begin giving their acceptance speeches. Horowitz goes first. Then while Marc Platt is speaking, Horowitz and Fred Berger notice Natoli, wearing a headset, rushing toward them.
GARY NATOLI, Head stage manager John [Esposito] was trying to get Brian to go onstage, and he wouldn’t go. And Martha wouldn’t go. We had to push them onstage, which was just shocking to me.
HOROWITZ As I stepped back, I noticed that somebody with a headset was running onto the stage, and you could just feel something starting to turn.
KEVIN O’CONNELL, Sound rerecording mixer, Hacksaw Ridge There’s a guy who stands in front of the teleprompter, wearing white gloves, who tells everybody when to wrap it up after 45 seconds. And this guy was trying to stop everything.
TABACK I thought there was a police action or something, maybe a terrorist attack happening.
RYAN GOSLING, Actor, La La Land I felt like someone had been hurt. I thought there was some kind of medical situation.
PHILIPPS Then I’m like, “I’m sitting next to Ben Affleck — he can stop the show because he’s fucking Batman!” I kind of grabbed his arm — we’re not friends, but I was like, “You have to do something! Do something!”
JUSTIN HURWITZ, Composer/songwriter, La La Land A stage manager came up onstage and grabbed the envelope out of my hand — I was holding the envelope for the score award [one of two Oscars he won that night]. When he took it I said, “That’s my envelope.” And he said, “I need all the envelopes!”
HOROWITZ That person was going around saying, “Where’s the envelope? Where’s the envelope?!” And I said, “I have the envelope.” This was while Marc was speaking. He came over to me, opened the envelope and it said Emma’s name on it. I knew Emma had her envelope because I’d seen it. I remember thinking that someone had somehow, like, stopped time.
LEGEND Then people start whispering, “Moonlight won.” For some reason, I thought they were saying it was a tie between Moonlight and La La Land and we were sharing the award.
TODD I put my headset on and I heard Glenn, the director, saying forcefully, “They got the wrong envelope! It’s not the right winner!”
MELIDONIAN I said “It’s OK, we’ll fix it.” Because I’m thinking it’s a misspelling on the graphics.
TODD I said, “Oh, my God, we’re having the Steve Harvey Oscars!”
MELIDONIAN We’re all like, “Fuck!”
KIMMEL I said to Matt [Damon], “What’s happening up there?” He said, “I think they announced the wrong winner.” I started laughing because that was ridiculous.
MAHERSHALA ALI, Actor, Moonlight I looked up on the monitor. When I saw that people at home could see security onstage, I literally said, “Oh. We won.” I don’t know what made me think that. Honestly, I can’t tell you.
MELIDONIAN I remember saying, “Oh my God, I have to get on that stage. I have to do something.”
KIMMEL Then it hit me that I was the only one wearing a microphone, and I should probably go up there to sort it out.
Among those who follow Natoli onto the stage, in full view of the audience and TV cameras, are Cullinan, Ruiz and Melidonian.
DAVID OYELOWO, Actor and presenter When [Cullinan] came on, he looked like Matt Damon, so I thought it was all part of Jimmy Kimmel’s bit.
KIMMEL They do look a lot alike.
MELIDONIAN Brian was just kind of staring through me, and I remember tapping him and saying, “Hey, Brian — what’s going on?!” Remember, we’re on air! And he was not responsive. So then I approached Gary, the stage manager, and he said to me, “Go to Warren and get the envelope.”
TODD It was disappointing that the accountants froze and didn’t do any of the protocols, but I’m not surprised. Gary was more equipped to deal with the problem.
WEISS I couldn’t be more proud about how quickly Gary acted.
MELIDONIAN I approached Mr. Beatty and asked for the envelope. He said, “You may see the envelope. You may not have the envelope.” The envelope clearly said, “Emma Stone, La La Land.” And I’m thinking, “Oh God. How did this happen?!”
TODD I wasn’t upset. I was just captivated by it. It was like bad reality TV.
WEISS Instinctually, when something’s not going as you expected, your years of television experience say, “Go wide. Cover up.” But my instinct this time said, “You need to do the opposite.”
Everyone — including Horowitz, Berger and Beatty — is watching Natoli as he hunts the stage for the correct envelope. An unaware Platt finishes his speech and insists Berger give his. Berger hesitantly steps up to the mic while Cullinan, behind him, appears to realize what he has done and mouths, “Shit.”
HOROWITZ I remember looking over at Warren and he’s holding another envelope, and he says, “This is the [actual] envelope!” And then the stage manager goes over to him, and I follow behind, and he opens it and sees it’s the best picture card. It says “Moonlight.”
Berger, looking dejected, closes by saying, “We lost, by the way.” Two minutes and 23 seconds after Dunaway had declared that La La Land was the best picture Oscar winner, Horowitz jumps back to the mic — just in front of Beatty — and says, “Guys, guys, I’m sorry, no. There’s a mistake. Moonlight — you guys won best picture. This is not a joke. Come up here.”
AIZENBERG I just started screaming, “What the fuck is going on?!” We were all in shock. We started hugging each other, but we were just stunned.
ANNETTE BENING, Actress, wife of Warren Beatty I was at home watching the show with my daughter. It was sort of like a dream, and my daughter and I both just started screaming, basically. We were stunned.
ALI Probably the most awkward moment in Oscars history.
TEIGEN I was laughing hysterically because I just thought it was the funniest thing.
TABACK Now I stand up and Damien’s parents are looking at me with confusion: “What should we do? Now what?!” I said, “Don’t worry — Damien got his Oscar. It’s OK. I’m going backstage.”
A photograph snapped by Al Seib, which runs on the front page of the Los Angeles Times the next day, captures the mouths-agape reaction of those sitting in the front rows as they process what is happening.
PHILIPPS That picture’s incredible. I actually do have it blown up and framed. My husband bought it from the photographer — he got one for me and one for Michelle.
MICHELE ROBERTSON, Awards consultant, Sully There was a rush of those expressions throughout the whole auditorium. Everyone looked like The Scream.
As the audience gasps in disbelief, Beatty is fiddling with the correct card. Horowitz grabs it and holds it up to the audience. A TV camera zooms in on it as he reads aloud: “Moonlight, best picture.”
WEISS I said, “OK, Camera 10 [operated by David Carline] — I just want you to go onto that card and stay there until somebody holds it up.”
HOROWITZ I think people needed real, tangible proof — because I needed it, too. I remember looking out at that big broadcast camera in the back and thinking, “I hope this cameraperson knows what to do.” And then I grabbed the card and held it out.
WEISS In my head, that shot was the most important thing of the night at that point.
Most of the audience rises to its feet in applause and disbelief. Samuel L. Jackson whips out his smartphone to record the moment. Onstage, Kimmel says to Horowitz, “I think you guys [from La La Land] should keep it anyway,” before adding to the audience, “Guys, this is very unfortunate, what happened. Personally, I blame Steve Harvey.”
STEVE HARVEY, Comedian/TV host, announced the wrong Miss Universe in 2015 I was watching live and I probably knew what had happened before anybody else — ’cause I saw the panic-stricken look on the producer’s face. When he walked out there and snatched that card out of Warren’s hand, that’s when I knew redemption was mine. I was finally off the hook. Yeah, OK, I had to live that down: “Oh, how could he,” “That’s a bonehead,” “Nobody’s ever done that in the history of Miss Universe.” But the Oscars is the biggest night in Hollywood, and when they did it, I lit a cigar and drank a glass of scotch and celebrated. I was free! Thank you, God!
Horowitz replies to Kimmel, “I’m going to be really proud to give this to my friends from Moonlight.” Kimmel says, “That’s nice of you. That’s very nice.”
HOROWITZ I remember the Oscar being really heavy. In the moment when I realized we hadn’t won, I remember it got even heavier. And then I remember handing it to Barry.
HUDSON Jordan Horowitz had a beautiful moment of grace onstage.
The shocked Moonlight team hesitantly make their way toward the stage.
NAOMIE HARRIS, Actress, Moonlight Our producer Jeremy Kleiner actually came and lifted me out of the seat and was like, “Come on, Naomie!”
HUDSON I was just thinking, “How could this possibly happen?” It would be as crazy as if everyone were suddenly floating.
KIMMEL I shouted something to the effect of, “Warren, what did you do?!” Because I still had it in my head that Warren’s vision wasn’t great and maybe it was his fault.
Beatty asks Kimmel, “May I say something?” He addresses the audience, “I want to tell you what happened. I opened the envelope and it said, ‘Emma Stone, La La Land.’ That’s why I took such a long look at Faye and at you. I wasn’t trying to be funny.”
KIMMEL Denzel Washington did a little bit of traffic-cop work from the audience. I think he looked at me and pointed at Barry, motioning for us to let Barry speak, and I thought, “Oh, yes, he’s right. That should happen.”
Moonlight director Barry Jenkins and producers Adele Romanski and Jeremy Kleiner give short speeches. Jenkins shouts out the La La Land team: “My love to La La Land, my love to everybody. Man.”
HARRIS I thought [the Moonlight team was] so elegant and gracious and loving, in keeping with the people I came to know on this whole journey. They remained centered, thanked the people they needed to thank, and were also inclusive of the people from La La Land.
ALI It never quite felt like we won, even though we won, in part because we were so connected with the La La Land people. In that moment, I don’t think we could be as joyous. It wasn’t what it should have been.
KIMMEL It was very awkward, but I revel in awkwardness. I wrapped up the show and left Matt Damon sitting alone in the audience.
4. THE AFTERMATH
TODD The Moonlight and the La La Land people walked through the backstage, kind of arm-in-arm.
HOROWITZ I hopped off the stage and my wife was standing there. There was heaviness everywhere.
KEVIN BROCKMAN, Executive vp global communications, Disney/ABC No one died. But barring anything terrible happening to a person, this was probably the worst thing, just situationally, that could have happened.
TODD I didn’t realize I was going to be talking about Brian from PwC for the rest of my life.
TABACK I must have looked like a ghost, because in the lobby, they were like, “Are you OK?” [Netflix vp global creative marketing] Steve Bruno said, “At least Harvey [Weinstein, their former boss, who was behind best picture nominee Lion] wasn’t involved.” Which made me laugh.
HOROWITZ My wife was like, “What do you want to do?” I was like, “I want to go to the Governors Ball. I want to see Barry and Adele and Mahershala.” I remember wanting to find them to talk about what happened. I was in a daze.
Meanwhile, Beatty begins to take steps to ensure that he will not be scapegoated. Backstage, an investigation is quickly launched.
KELLY BUSH NOVAK, Publicist, repped Beatty’s 2016 film Rules Don’t Apply When they said “La La Land,” I got up and left. As I exited the garage my phone started ringing. I learned what had happened and that Warren had the envelopes in his hand and wasn’t giving them to anyone. I just counseled, “Everybody needs to get into the producers’ office immediately to figure out what happened.”
BROCKMAN It was like, “OK. We’re going to have to issue a statement. But we can’t say anything until we know the truth.”
TABACK I went backstage, and I see a security guard with Warren Beatty. Warren is really tall, and he was holding his arm up as high as he could — which must be about seven and a half feet off the ground — because in his hand was the envelopes. He was saying into the phone, I believe to his wife, “I’m not giving it up to anybody!” It was dead quiet.
BENING My impulse was to call him right away. And I did. And he picked up the phone. And I said, “Oh my God. You did a great job, but what happened?!” And he said, “I have the envelopes, and I’m not giving them to anyone!”
BUXBAUM I was backstage with Casey and there was a logjam by the elevator. I don’t know if it was the PwC people, but they were trying to get the envelopes from Warren, and he was like, “No, I need to make sure that everybody knows what this envelope says.” Warren is really smart, and he’s the first to be careful for new narratives to take over, so he would not let go of the envelopes.
KIMMEL I walked backstage with Mike and Jen and Gary. Warren, I think, was already backstage, and Faye was gone — she was probably at home sleeping by that time. She wisely got the hell out of there.
HUDSON I said, “Let’s go to the green room.” Someone said, “Bonnie left, Clyde stayed!”
MELIDONIAN It was ABC people, too — [ABC’s vp communications] Richard Horrmann. It was a bunch of us.
Dunaway actually goes to the Governors Ball, where she tells THR, “I’m not going to speak about it.”
BOONE ISAACS We were like, “What happened, dudes?!”
MICHAEL DE LUCA, Producer, 89th Oscars Like a Murder, She Wrote.
KIMMEL Brian kind of stood in the corner and watched it all play out. I think maybe he was secretly hoping that this would get blamed on Warren.
TODD Warren had both of the envelopes, and was explaining what happened. This was probably 10 to 15 minutes after the show had ended.
WEISS Jimmy took charge of the conversation. It was a little bit of making light, making fun. We weren’t there to lynch anyone. We just wanted to know what happened.
MELIDONIAN Jimmy tried to convince Warren to be on his show.
KIMMEL Warren said, “That would be great — for you.” Cullinan looked guilty.
HUDSON I think he said, “Warren somehow got the wrong envelope.” Warren was saying, “I have what was given to me right here.”
Each accountant has one envelope for each category, as a backup, and so presenters can enter from either side of the stage.
MELIDONIAN The lead actress envelope, which Leo [DiCaprio] handed to Emma Stone, came from Martha, so it made sense that Brian would have had the extra lead actress envelope. The protocol was that he would have it out until the winner was called, and then he would put it back in his suitcase — which he failed to do because he was distracted by tweeting [the photo that he had taken of Emma Stone backstage with her new Oscar].
TODD Glenn came with an iPad and showed us a photo of the wrong envelope in Warren’s hand [when he was on stage]. Then we knew what happened.
HUDSON I was like [to Brian], “Your one job was to give Warren the right envelope.” He was in such shock that he just said, “No.”
NATOLI I’m sure they’re very lovely people, but [the accountants] just didn’t have the disposition for this.
DE LUCA We didn’t, in our wildest dreams, think we had to have a conversation about what if the worst thing that could ever happen, happens. I think they said the same thing about the Titanic and icebergs: “It’s never gonna happen, don’t worry about it.”
TODD A bunch of them went off to draft a PwC apology, and I went to the Governors Ball and then the Vanity Fair party. I needed a drink very badly.
WEISS Did I go to the Governors Ball? Yes. I felt like a sports guy limping off the field after taking some hits, even though he won the game.
Newly minted Oscar winners from La La Land and Moonlight now find themselves together backstage, trying to figure out how best to approach the rest of the night — from the press rooms to the Governors Ball and other parties. In the interview room, Stone pushes back against Beatty’s claim that he had been handed the best actress envelope, not realizing there were two. (“I don’t mean to start stuff, but I had that card — so I’m not sure what happened.”)
TABACK [La La Land songwriters] Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who had Oscars, and Justin Hurwitz, who had two, said something like, “Is it OK if we’re happy?” Emma Stone was there, and she said, “I have my envelope!” Everyone was very concerned with having their envelopes. It felt like a game of Clue. Then I saw Damien. He was white as a ghost.
ALBERT TELLO, Publicist, works with Taback There was a weird energy in that room.
TABACK All of the La La Land and Moonlight people were huddled with their personal publicists. Nobody from the Academy was there to help, except for a woman who runs the backstage named Dina Michelle [the Academy’s director of talent relations].
AIZENBERG We went up to the Governors Ball. We just started drinking, to be honest with you.
TABACK I strongly encouraged Jordan and Barry to make an appearance at the Governors Ball — to walk in together — because that would allow everything to move forward. Once that moment happened, everything seemed OK. There was a release.
HOROWITZ I remember going inside and seeing Barry and Mahershala and hugging them.
SIEGAL I was standing at the entrance to the Governors Ball when Warren walked in with the envelopes. I said, “So, what happened?” His phone rang, and I could hear that it was Annette’s voice, and she said, “Come home! Warren, come home!” And he said to her, “I did nothing wrong.”
TODD I was walking around in a haze. People were like, “Great show! Sorry …” I felt like, “Ugh.”
KIMMEL When I came up for air and realized that the screw-up at the end was going to be the headline, I was a little bit bummed out.
TABACK I went from the Governors Ball to the La La Land party [hosted by Lionsgate] at Soho House. A lot of people were carrying around Oscars, but it was a little subdued. There were lots of conspiracy theories.
HURWITZ I was mostly in the corner with my family eating because I was so hungry. I put one of the Oscars down on a blue cheese crumble and then all I could think about was going home to clean the felt on the bottom so that it wouldn’t smell like cheese.
HOROWITZ I remember being awake at like 4 a.m. in the hotel room, just looking at my phone. I had a million emails and 2 million text messages. It was emotional — a lot of stuff I had never felt before.
As the parties go on as planned, the Academy leadership grills PwC into the night.
HUDSON We all decided we’d better get out of the green room and go where it’s more private — into the bowels of the Dolby.
MELIDONIAN Brian and Martha wanted to see video of what happened, so we pulled video.
HUDSON Brian was still in shock — he looked red-faced, glazed-over. And Martha looked worried.
MELIDONIAN Brian’s wife was there for a bit. And Martha’s husband. Just hanging out. Then they left.
HUDSON Brian kept saying, “I couldn’t have given him the wrong envelope.”
MELIDONIAN We were working together to get a statement from PwC. It took a while. The first version of their statement was not an accurate description of what had transpired.
BROCKMAN It was maddening. We woke up their press person. They weren’t paying attention because they never had to.
MELIDONIAN Tim Ryan [PwC’s U.S. chairman and senior partner, who had been at the show] eventually came down and took charge.
The PwC statement, posted to the Academy’s website at 12:30 a.m. on Monday morning, reads: “We sincerely apologize to Moonlight, La La Land, Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway and Oscar viewers for the error that was made during the award announcement for best picture. The presenters had mistakenly been given the wrong category envelope and when discovered, was immediately corrected. We are currently investigating how this could have happened, and deeply regret that this occurred. We appreciate the grace with which the nominees, the Academy, ABC and Jimmy Kimmel handled the situation. — PwC”
HUDSON I went home and we all kept talking all night. I have no memory of thinking of anything else for the next month, basically. It was a terrible time.
Over the next few days, Cullinan is front-page news: The New York Daily News features a photo of him on its cover alongside the headline “And the Loser Is …” The long-married father of three comes under a media microscope — it is discovered that he had hosted a party the night before the Oscars — and The Daily Mail posts a photo of his home, prompting PwC to hire security for him and his family.
HUDSON People were following his wife to doctor appointments, and his kids. It was quite awful.
HARVEY Oh nah, the dude at Pricewaterhouse — he ain’t endured nothing. See, the mistake I made was against a country named Colombia. They have some people down there — they are in a different business — so when you get threats, you gotta take it a little bit differently.
Everyone else tries to get on with their lives.
HOROWITZ Warren and I spoke on the phone. We had a really lovely conversation. Jimmy was awesome in the aftermath of it. He wrote me a note; I think he wrote everybody a note.
HUDSON Brian did not come in here [to the Academy headquarters], but Tim Ryan did. He canceled his plane and came in the next day.
Photographs emerge showing Cullinan on his phone just before the envelope screw-up.
HUDSON Scott Miller, our attorney, looked at backstage footage over and over. We talked a lot with Tim Ryan about Brian and Martha. We said, “That trust has been broken,” and Tim said, “We understand. They will not be balloting leaders going forward.”
A couple of weeks later, Cullinan reaches out to the Academy.
HUDSON Brian said, “I’m so, so sorry. I’m so sorry I did this to the Academy.” I said, “I know, I know.”
MELIDONIAN I have not seen Brian and Martha since.
BENING [Warren] took the envelopes home, but he gave Barry Jenkins his for winning for Moonlight. [As for the other one,] I don’t know. Maybe it’s still in my house.
On March 28, the Academy’s board of governors extends Hudson’s contract for three years and decides to continue to work with PwC, opting not to sever an 83-year relationship over a human error, provided Cullinan and Ruiz do not return to the ceremony and stricter protocols are installed. On May 12, news breaks that Boone Isaacs will not seek reelection to the board or presidency. And on Sept. 12, Weiss wins an Emmy for outstanding directing for a variety special for his work on the Oscars telecast, saying, “My hat is off to every single person on headsets in the Dolby Theatre that night.” Kimmel, Todd, De Luca, Weiss and Natoli all are set to return for the 90th Oscars on March 4.
TABACK In retrospect, it feels funny to be making such a big deal out of an envelope. We’ve been through so much over the past year, when you think about my former boss [Weinstein]. #MeToo and Time’s Up feel so much more important.
HOROWITZ I affected that moment, but that moment affected me, too, and both of those things are very positive. I’m not glad that it happened, but I’m glad that that’s the result of it happening.
HARRIS It makes me have faith in the voters and the system.
KIMMEL To this day, there are people who think I caused that envelope problem. Hopefully history will be kind to me in that regard, because one thing I definitely didn’t screw up was that.
MELIDONIAN It’s one of the greatest moments on live television. Ever.
This story appears in the Feb. 28 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.