It takes a village

A group effort is required to prepare for the Emmys

It's days before the 61st Emmy Awards and Joachim Splichal's life should be in chaos. Making a meal for 3,500 guests isn't easy, even if you're an award-winning chef who's choreographed the Governors Ball dinner for the past decade. But Splichal, the owner of Los Angeles restaurant Patina, is calm under pressure. He's planned his menu almost a year ahead of the big night by having tastings with TV Academy officials and he's confident in his choice of vendors and staffers -- 1,200 in all, including 20 executive chefs, 177 kitchen chefs and 45 bartenders working 22 food stations, two ice bars and two wine bars -- for what is recognized as the largest annual formal dinner in the U.S.

Three days before the show, Splichal begins prepping raw foods at a commercial kitchen. Before midnight Saturday, refrigerated trucks will start bringing that food to his workspace at the L.A. Convention Center, where the ball takes place and where he will serve filet mignon, polenta ravioli with cauliflower and vadouvan butter, whole roasted zucchini blossom, Bloomsdale spinach and pinot noir sauce.

About 10,000 pieces of china will be used and 2,500 champagne flutes will help bubble champagne onto the lips of his guests.

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Through experience, Splichal has learned to expect the unexpected. The year he has spent coordinating each tiny detail -- like having runners at nearby supermarkets to fetch the unforeseen -- pays off. (He still winces at the memory of a last-minute dessert request by a guest at a previous gala -- a portion of Jell-O, which is served in little plastic boxes. Nevertheless, "We got it," he says with satisfaction.)

"Everything has to run like a Swiss watch," Splichal says. "You can't be late. If you are, everything else is affected. This is minute-by-minute-by-minute."

Welcome to the Emmy Awards, where the stress, pressure and potential last-minute changes could challenge a saint, let alone the cadre of florists, caterers, jewelers, stylists, event photographers and hard-boiled producers for whom this night is one of the highlights of their year.

Many of these specialists have months preparing for the celebration -- like Lisa Gregorisch, senior executive producer of "Extra," who has booked 15 camera crews to cover the event. She'll also use streaming video to connect 700,000 fans, registered as "friends" of "Extra," to the red carpet and other Emmy venues where some will be able to talk to stars like Alec Baldwin.

"It's friends with benefits," she says. "We want to bring our friends to the stars."

Veteran event photographer Scott Downie, owner of Celebrity Photo, will have made a last-minute Saturday trip to Samy's Camera for extra equipment such as additional high-speed flash cards or renting a back up for his Nikon D3 and, perhaps, a faster Nikon zoom to augment his 18mm to 200mm lens that, all together, would bring the bag he'll lug to nearly 30 pounds.

For Mark Steines, the co-anchor of "Entertainment Tonight" who is about to spend his 15th year chasing red-carpet arrivals, the most important part of preparation has been getting into the right mental state much in the same way an NFL halfback psyches up for the Super Bowl.

"It's so difficult to feel 100% ready on the carpet," he says. "You don't know who will show up with whom, or what they will wear -- like the outfit Lara Flynn Boyle once did (in 2003, a critically panned pink ballerina-style dress, more suitable for "Swan Lake" than the Oscars). It's difficult to relax."

Mob journalism isn't easy, especially with security personnel to deal with on the red carpet or 175 screaming fans expected to crowd into bleachers on the plaza outside downtown's Nokia Theatre. Even with "ET's" high ratings, there's always the chance that a major star will slip away to a competitor like "Extra." There are also other media outlets to handle, which, like Steines, will be cordoned off in a crowded media zone. Some of those reporters and photographers are less than polite, yelling for VIP sound bites and photographs just as he's about to do an interview.

Steines will go to bed early Saturday night and try to sleep Sunday morning to avoid a burnout at the Emmy celebration and ensuing parties. When he arrives at the "ET" outpost at the Nokia on Sunday, he'll avoid eating lunch. He might snack along the way to the show's one-on-one interview room, but he's been meditating on just what to avoid along the way. "Stay away from garlic," he quips. "Breath mints are a must."

While Steines has been thinking of garlic, Kevin Lee -- a floral artist with L.A. Premiere Flowers -- has been thinking of his designs for the Governors Ball, which will include nearly 9,000 orchids, 20,000 roses, 3,000 peacock and pheasant feathers and about 600 colorfully painted Manzanita branches, all set in a silky tent-like setting to conjure the exotica of a sultan's place.

"(Academy officials) were tired of looking at the same thing," he says. "They wanted something with impact in color and decor."

The floral theme is an homage to interior designer Tony Duquette, whose dazzling interiors and sensual set designs made him a Hollywood favorite until his death in 1999. Lee has turned to natural materials to create 300 centerpieces at the ball, using multicolored orchids and exotic succulents set into vases made from branches, moss and even feathers.

To do this, Lee has had to supervise a near-military operation, airlifting flowers from around the world -- tulips from Holland ($7 each), roses from Columbia and Equador ($5 each), greens from Italy, cymbidium orchids from New Zealand ($30 each) and the exotic Orange Mokara orchids from Bangkok ($5 each). These, he considers, the masterpieces of his arrangements.

"Orchids are hearty and hold up in any climate," he says.

Once the gala is over, the arrangements will go to local children's hospitals and facilities for senior citizens. But that still seems like the distant future. For now, Lee is dealing with the day itself.

"We don't sleep for 24 hours," says Lee, who has a staff of 50. "We work all night from 7 a.m. past midnight."

So may Beverly Hills dermatologist Jessica Wu. "A stress-related pimple can show up," she explains. "My patients all have my cell number. A cortisone injection can take care of it in a few hours."

Wu's clients book ahead for skin treatments, sometimes weeks before the Emmys and even longer for chemical peels and laser treatments. "As soon as they know they may be attending the Emmys or are going to be onstage or on the red carpet, we get calls," she says.

Wu notes that actresses on the red carpet secretly dread one thing even more than pimples: Perspiration. Luckily, she has a treatment that freezes the sweat glands under their arms. "They don't want to show these blotches on a borrowed dress splashed across the world," Wu says. "They want to look cool, calm and collected. And they do."

The tab? $1,500 -- but the treatment lasts six months.

And the economic boost will last even longer.

Jack Kyser, the head of Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp., estimates that the Emmys will bring in about $25 million this year, though still a far cry from Pasadena's Tournament of Roses Parade and annual New Year's Day Rose Bowl game at $240 million and the $140 million generated by Academy Awards. The Golden Globes ceremony brings in $62 million and the Grammy Awards add $26 million, only slightly more than the Emmys.

In a down economy, the worker bees at the Emmys feel an even greater need to deliver, perhaps aware that future work may depend on it.

"The Emmys are very important because they showcase Los Angeles and tourism is the largest industry," says Mark Lieberman, president of L.A. Inc.-L.A. County Tourism and Visitors Bureau. "There are 456,000 people involved in it. During these hard economic times, this offers a lot of people the opportunity to work."

But for many at the event, their utter absorption in preparing for the Emmys hasn't allowed them time to think of longer-term implications.

For a private, post-Emmy party with 100 VIPs, Kai Chase, who was Michael Jackson's chef at the time of his death, has been consumed finding three floor managers, more than two-dozen butlers and two runners for what would appear to be a simple menu of appetizers, martinis and bottles of Krug champagne. She plans to supply her staff -- including four assistants in the kitchen -- with energy drinks to keep them going.

Chase handpicks her team using former staffers and those she specifically encountered on hunts for new workers at local bars and restaurants. "If I see someone making a good martini, I'll hire him," she says.

Ali Kasikci, the GM of the Montage -- who gained a reputation for thoroughness in an earlier incarnation at the Peninsula -- has spent weeks getting ready, with all the right personnel, food and drink. He's even hired a bow-tie butler for the big day. "In the past, a lot of men wore clip-on," he explains. "But now the fashion is to tie it yourself, which requires a certain skill."

The Montage, which opened in November, will be observing its first Emmy Awards and there has been pressure to make sure the hotel is ready. Meeting rooms and private suites are customized to accommodate any business need or creature comfort -- like a guest's favorite CDs or reading material.

Kasikci has made arrangements for emergency purchases with Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels and has arranged for Neiman Marcus and Ermenegildo Zegna to open if needed.

Additionally, he has ordered bottles of the special Emmy edition Beaulieu Vineyard, 2005 Georges de Latour Private Reserve for guests -- the same Cabernet Sauvignon served at the Governors Ball. His transportation coordinator has arranged for limousines to be ready to depart on time for the red carpet, eliminating any traffic jam horrors; and women attending the festivities at the Nokia or at private viewing parties will have seamstresses waiting for any last-minute nips and tucks.

"This all involves a process of thinking ahead of time," Kasikci says. "You have to anticipate everything and anything from the time the Emmy guests arrive on Friday until they check out on Monday. There's no margin for error."

Nor is there any for Jay Carlile, manager of Martin Katz Jewelers.

"It used to be a lot easier doing this 10 or 11 years ago, when I started," he reflects. "People brought a dress. But now there are more stylists and pressure from the fashion press. It's all gotten so much more complex."

While Katz, often called "the jeweler to the stars," doesn't offer financial inducements to stars or stylists to wear his creations, he has had to compete with those who do. And this rankles. "Some stylists don't always have the best interests of their clients in mind," Carlile observes. "But we're not paying anybody."

Last year, Carlile worked with Freida Pinto, who co-starred in "Slumdog Millionaire," and in 2007 he worked with Marion Cotillard, who won an Oscar that year for "La Vie en Rose."

One thing Carlile has not had to worry about is security. "The truth is, people are very cautious about whom they're lending their jewelry," he says, "which is always insured and which is always worn in highly protected environments like the Emmys and Oscars."

But if Carlile did have any doubts about security, he could have turned to the man most responsible for it -- John Shaffner, chairman and CEO of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, which oversees the Emmys. Shaffner has the LAPD in place as well as private security guards working for VIPs. The FBI is so exacting in its efforts to avoid an international incident that it employs special dogs to patrol and sniff the red carpet. Special air testing sensors are also tuned for explosives.

Now all that's left is the day itself. Come Sunday, the first thing Shaffner will do when he wakes around 6 a.m. is request a weather report. Temperatures can soar beyond 100 degrees on the crimson line, turning the walkway into a skillet -- and if that happens, hair and makeup disasters can ensue.

"There's nothing like being cooked on the red carpet," Shaffner quips.

He'll arrive at the Nokia around 10 a.m. In the ensuing hours, Shaffner will check and recheck the red carpet arrivals and technical facilities at the theater. Backup systems are at the ready to ensure there's no interruption of the telecast. Like all live television events, backup generators are in place and redundant computer and electronic systems ready for any hitches.

The ever-cautious Shaffner will also have checked himself out, too, to make sure that -- unlike last year -- the white gold and sapphire studs on his white tuxedo shirt don't fall out. That time, he used gaffer's tape to keep buttoned up in his roomy shirt. This time, he has another plan.

"I'm buying a new shirt," he says, "to keep my sapphires."

Like anyone at Emmys, Shaffner will have conquered his biggest challenge for himself and everyone else involved at the Emmys.

"Timing," he says. "You have to be prepared and that's everybody's challenge doing a live telecast."
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