How the Oscars will avoid another envelope disaster this year
An mix-up at the 2017 Academy Awards left the prize-givers looking like prize idiots when the wrong film was announced as winning Best Picture – but this year the organisers are sure it won’t happen again.
That is because they’ve put into place a plan to make sure that the right envelopes make their way into the hands of the hosts before they go on stage.
The filmic flub caused confusion and embarrassment for Oscar organisers PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) when host Warren Beatty was given a duplicate ‘Best Actress’ envelope offstage.
He then incorrectly announced colourful musical La La Land as the winner, having seen the name of the Best Actress winner – La La Land’s Emma Stone – on the paper.
It wasn’t until the cast and crew of that movie had assembled onstage that the true victor, black gay drama Moonlight was revealed.
This year, PwC – in a bid to win back face after the very public shaming it received in the wake of the mix-up is tightening things up backstage with a six-step plan.
Step one: Letting heads roll
Brian Cullinan and Martha Ruiz, who were responsible for handing out the wrong envelope, have not been invited back this year – although both of them still work at PwC.
Instead, Rick Rosas will be in charge. And with 14 previous Oscar shows under his belt, it should be a smoother affair than last year. He will be working alongside Kimberly Bourdon of the company’s LA office.
PwC’s US chairman and senior partner, Tim Ryan, will also be present this time.
Step two: Mobile phones off!
Every film fan knows that phones as a distraction in the cinema – but they’re a problem at the awards too. Moments before handing Beatty the wrong envelope, Cullinan had posted a backstage selfie with Emma Stone to his personal Twitter account.
That was seen as a factor in the mix-up, and so this year texts, tweets, Instagram posts and other social media hubbub will be banned backstage.
Step three: More hands on deck
Usually there are two PwC partners on the stage handing out envelopes. This year, there will be a third, overseeing everything from the producer’s booth. That partner will also be equipped with a full list of winners. “Think of it as a safety control,” Ryan explained.
It’s not clear who will be in which role, but it seems likely that Rosas and Bourdon will be on either side of the Dolby Theater stage while Ryan is up in the production booth.
Step four: New, tighter procedures
Before the celebrity host is allowed to go out on stage to announce the winner, both they and a stage manager will be required to confirm that they have the correct envelope – and not, for example, a spare Best Actress one …
Step five: Practise and memorise!
The third partner in the producer’s booth will be made to memorise the winners, in case something happens to their physical list.
And they and the other two producers will attend rehearsals, where they will practise what to do if something goes wrong.
“Because, as you’re well aware, it took a long time to respond last year when there was a mistake that we made,” Ryan said. “So, we’re formally practising the what-ifs.”
Will it all work? The world will find out when the winners are announced on March 4.