Just in case you didn't know, I'm a member of the Academy or A.M.P.A.S (The Academy of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences). 'Have been since 2000 after my work on Dinosaur and other pictures got me admitted into the Visual Effects' branch.
So, every year, my wife and I enter the lottery (eg. there are about 10,000 members of the Academy and only about 5,000 seats at the Kodak Theater) for tickets. This year, we got lucky and got the best seats we've ever had. We were sitting on the bottom floor just behind the orchestra section, so every time there was a planned shot of the audience (Yeah, this isn't a sporting event. The audience shots are planned ahead of time), the Klieg lights would go up in our face. But it was cool being on the same floor with some of the nominees and celebrities.
Heck Larry David of Seinfeld and his own show on HBO sat at the end of our row (on the aisle, of course. More camera time there. Ha.). We sat next to a couple of guys who must be worth a penny or two since they insure and bond almost all of the films for the major studios.
"Oh, who do you work with?"
"Disney, Fox, Paramount, Universal, Dreamworks, Columbia, Sony..."
"Oh, no. I think we do mostly independants, don't we?"
And on and on and on... They were very charming fellas and we chatted with them most of the evening, but I'm getting a little ahead of myself.
First, days ago, we found out where we were sitting by snail mail from the Academy. My wife was the one who noticed the little footnote "Orchestra/Paterra".
"What's a Paterra?"
"Holy Crap, are we in the Orchestra?"
"I wonder where Al Gore is sitting."
My wife has worked on literally hundreds of commercials, theme park attractions and films over the last 25 years. She has done wonders with a diet and exercise over the last year and I encouraged her to "show it off." She decided to design and build her own gown. Now, I know she's good, but I had no idea just how good. Wednesday morning there was still no dress, no material. By mid-morning, she had bought the material. By 11pm that night, there was a dress. By the next night, it was done and tailored perfectly.
"What is that?"
"That, my husband, is about a $6,000 dress!"
But wow, did it look great.
I, being the peacock of the genders, would simply pull out the penguin suit I had worn previously and wear the amazing oriental silk vest (gold, of course with matching gold tie) that she had made years before.
The promised photo of us on our way to the shindig!
I arranged a time to get my hair trimmed and the car detailed. (After all, don't want the Valet looking down their nose at you, do we?) She set times for getting hair done, nails done, skin done, massage, feet, hands... I'm not sure what all needed to get done, but she sure looked amazing when it was all complete.
I thought she looked just like a young Helen Mirren, the actress who would later take home the Oscar for Best Actress in Stephen Frear's "The Queen." My date, ahhhh... Never looked better. I wanted to take her in some private room, and... Well, more about that some other time.
Anyway, I also arranged... Lunch!
You see, when we have gone to this event in the past, we learned over the course of years of attending that they really, really DON'T feed you. Yes, what they do bring tastes great. Yes, it's catered by the infallable Wolfgang Puck, but... You consider yourself lucky if you can find a waiter/waitress bringing food and when you do find one, often the platter is...
"Oh sorry, just empty. Let me run off to the kitchen. Be right ba-ack."
And you never see them again.
On the other hand, there is a bar on every floor and the booze (Yeah, good stuff) is free. Well, until the program starts, then it's a cash bar. And the food at that time dwindles to brownies and little, dry chicken salads. I don't think Wolfgang has anything to do with this cuisine.
So, I made a luncheon appointment, otherwise know in the restuarant parlance as a reservation.
I made it a full week before we would need it.
When I told a friend of mine who inquired where we would be eating, he said, "Wow. WHEN did you make THAT reservation? Last Summer?"
Well, as luck would have it, it was only last week. I had a reseravtion at THE IVY.
The Ivy is a nice restaurant in West Hollywood on Robertson Boulevard. It is also the cafe/restaurant where all of the Agents from William-Morris, CAA, and many others take their clients for lunch and as a result has a certain cache for Hollywood class. In other words, for completely inexpicable reasons, it's popular, crowded and expensive and full of "The Beautiful People." We spent a casual morning getting a nice, light meal (else we not fit our clothes) and chatting with our wonderful neighbors (we really, really like the new neighborhood we moved into. Then around noon, we realized, we'd better start moving our butts and getting ready.
Kim jumped into the shower first and I followed.
See, the broadcast starts at 5pm Pacific Standard Time. In that was, it's a bit early in the evening on the West Coast of North America, and prime time (8pm) on the East Coast. So, the Academy, or particularly, ABC who pays a LOT of money for the rights to broadcast the event, wants us, the attendees, in our seats by 5pm. To do this, they make the place more attractive, by throwing the "red carpet arrival party" around 3:30pm. Then, no matter when you arrive for the next hour-and-a-half, an announcer annoyingly tells you over the house public address system again and again, how many minutes are left to "get in your seats, please."
Kim and I had lunch, a lovely lunch, at The Ivy, with our reservation set for 1:30pm. Naturally, we were late, and the staff at the Ivy was very understanding. We only had to wait for ten minutes to get seated, probably around 2pm. On one side of us was a charming Southern couple visiting the area for the first time and on the other was a Mother-Daughter combo where, for the first time, it really was difficult for me to tell which was which. The Mom, apparently, asked me, "Are you going to the Oscars tonight?"
Me in tux and Kim in her unbelievably beautiful silk gown...
"Uhm, yes, yes we are."
We chatted about that with the Mom/Daughter and the Southern Couple. The waiter brought us great food, nice hors d'oeuvres, and plenty to drink. We finished around 3pm and went by a friend's house, Joyce, to do last minute make-up again, tie straightening and put on the AUTO PASS that all the car's going to Valet at the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue need to get in. We took the route suggested by the map and got to see saw tons of snarled traffic.
"Why do they have to close down Hollywood for this friggin' thing every year. Damn!"
"The OSCAR thing!"
"Oh, is that today?"
And on and on and on...
We finally got to the blockades where we were waved through and everyone else acted like deer in the headlights. Then we saw it. The amazing Media gauntlet glinting in the afternoon sun. Oh no, wait. Those are camera strobe lights.
We stopped and politely chatted with the Los Angeles Police Bomb Squad, drug sniffing Rin-Tin-Tins and the Fire Department, who were eating in the street at the time, I think. Anyway, we waved at them as we entered the bomb corridor. Bomb corridor? Yeah, the security guys rig up a bunch of those concrete blockades, so that you have to zig-zag your car through a maze to get to the drop-off point.
The street was lined with onlookers, police and a few protesters.
"Global Warming is a FRAUD!"
Okay, maybe, but I wouldn't depend on that one.
We finally got to the end of the line where a couple of nicely-dressed ladies with headsets asked us to get out of our car, handed me a claim ticket, gestured for a guy in a red jacket and wished us a nice evening.
Hand-in-hand, we slowed ourselves waaaaay down and started walking the mall-speed walk towards the red carpet. Ahead of us, I could see an enormous bevy of photographers in their own pseudo-stadium surrounding the red-carpet, which is basically Hollywood Boulevard covered for about half a city block in gleaming, lush, padded red. Before you get to that part, however, there is the security tent. An enourmous Circus-sized tent filled with beefy, smart-looking gentlemen in nice black suits, each with a mic and speaker in their ear. You get the "once over" a good thirty times passing through the Security Tent. Plus there is the usual metal detector, then event runners who yell, "Nominees on the left! Everyone else to the right, please. If you walk on the left, you will delay your entry."
The reason being that on the other side of the tent is the Red Carpet arrival area, and literally hundreds of photographers, media interviewers, studio marketing kinds, actors, directors and actresses with projects coming out who are being sheparded around to all the network reps for appearances and interviews, particularly if it's something to do with ABC or their parent company, Disney. Every year, there is one celeb who is ushered everywhere and they are all over the Red Carpet. At the rate I walk (very slowly and pause whenever I can) this person will pass me four times. The last time I was there, it was Owen Wilson. This year's ushered star seemed to be either JLo or Penelope Cruz.
Whenever a star comes out of the tent, if they are in need of promoting themselves, will immediately start posing and flashing their pearly-whites at the huge phalanx of photographer that line the south side of the Red Carpet. And they, the photographers, start yelling.
"J-Lo! J-Lo! Turn to the left. Look over here! Nice dress! Show it off! J-Lo! Work it, baby!"
And on and on and on...
As we went down the carpet around 4pm, the celebs getting photographed were Daniel Craig, the new James Bond, J-Lo and Marc Antony, together, I think, Penelope Cruz and Celine Dion. I liked Penelope's dress the best, very cool and stylish, I thought. Kimberly and I were walking right behind Jack Valenti, former press secretary in the Nixon Whitehouse and former head of the Motion Picture Association's Rating Board for a couple of decades. We later met him and his wife. I'm always surprised by how short some people are after you've seen them for years in photographs, magazines... He seemed very nice and didn't mind a perfect stranger (me) introducing himself, shaking his hand and wishing him a nice evening.
Finally, Kimberly and I made the turn past the media tower overhead that straddles the Boulevard with program hosts "Can we talk?" and into the entry way to the Kodak Theater. We slowly strode past the oversized gold curtain on the outside of the building where we saw even more photographers. They hadn't been inside the building in previous years, but with ABC doing interviews which featured the marquee of the El Capitan Theater in their backgound shot (owned by Disney), I guess they had to let more press inside. We passed Penelope doing yet another interview and went up the grand staircase and into the foyer of the Kodak. We gave the nice ladies at the door our tickets and went into the lobby with about two or three thousand other people.
The Kodak lobby is situated on five floors and everyone is ushered from the entry to their respective floors where their seating will be at air time. All the better to get their butts in the seat at air time. This year, we were on the main floor. There is a bar and food served on every floor and smoking allowed on the outside balconies. But this year, someone had the great idea of shutting down the bar on our floor, so that no one would hesitate there, but instead go straight upstairs to their floor. Which meant that there was no bar on our floor. And all I wanted was another drink at the moment. We would have to climb the stairs up to find another bar. And the result of this little manuever was that two floors of people were now on the second floor and the bars were over-crowded. Grrr...
Anyway, we got a hint that a second bar had been set up and there was short line which there was. We went there got a champagne, downed it and got another. We mingled a little. Looked around at who was there, how they were dressed and noticed that most people were doing the same thing. Looking over the shoulders of whomever they were with to see who else might be there, or who they might miss catching site of. Speilberg and his group passed by and Kim made a note to tell our friend, Eric, because he would be so jealous.
Below us on the Orchestra Level, were all the nominees and celebrities, presentere, stars. Kimberly looked over the stairway balcony (A note: There is a huge spiral oval-shaped staircase that links all the floors and in the middle towards the top of the structure is an immense, beautiful crystal chandalier done in some modern fashion -- looking very 60s to me. So, you can see top to bottom in the lobby.) Kim watched the stars mingle below us for a while. I noticed Tobey Maquire walking in the lobby where we were. I picked him out instantly since I have been working on his face in CGI for the last several weeks on Spider-Man 3. He was with a beautiful woman who led him down the stairs to the star level. My wife noticed first.
"He really doesn't look very happy."
"Probably wondering what he's doing here."
"Well, he should just get over it and realize that this business of being a celeb is making him a lot of money. He should be thankful."
Yeah, I thought, easy to say in our work-a-days lives, and he gets millions for one job, but I can't imagine what it must really be like. What with family, friends and business associates depending on you for their livelihood. You just can't act any old way that you want to without losing contacts and potential income. If you act up, someone loses their job. Pretty weird existence.
Anyway, we stayed out in the lobby, trying to locate friends. Being the floor we were on this year, we didn't see too many friends of ours. I think we are usually in the nose-bleeds, and that is probably where most of our friends were. At just before 5pm, we finally made our way inside to our seats and the theater. If you saw the event on TV, you saw everything I saw with the exception of the DJ during the commercials. The producer counting down the return from commercial over the PA system and camera flinging themselves through the air on wire-rigs hung from the ceiling.
It was nice. It went too fast for me. Then, afterwords, we finally got invited to a post-Oscar party on the red carpet by a friend from work -- a Sony Party which we couldn't find. Was that 3rd street? The 8000 block or 6000 block? So, Kim and I went to the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, or the "Pretty Woman" hotel as you may know it. Got a drink or two, dessert and settled down from all the excitement of the evening.
We went home around 11:30pm and crashed. Me knowing that I had to get up for dailies in the morning.