February 27, 2007

The Oscars: An Insider's Viewpoint

As you may or may not know, I have a "special business relationship" with Don LaFontaine. Ever since I got in contact with him, I've been receiving newsletters from him, all of which are quite the good read, but not exactly blog material. His most recent one, however, was very interesting and I thought y'all might enjoy it. He was an anouncer at the Oscars the other night and wrote about his experience. I've copied his newsletter into this post, enjoy!

First - to all of you who sent me those very complimentary notes after the show - thank you. I hope you understand that I can't send you all individual notes, but perhaps this will do...

Okay - here's the story of the Oscars:

We had all-day rehearsals (from 8AM to 11PM) on Thursday and Saturday, and Oscar day started at 9AM, to clean up a few elements and to do a complete run- through of the show from 11 to about 2:00.

Biggest pre-show highlight: Tom Cruise arriving to rehearse on Saturday, carrying his exquisite baby daughter, Suri. She is a very well-behaved child, who never made a sound throughout the entire process, and seemed perfectly at ease with all the attention she and Dad were getting. Tom was, as usual, gracious and accommodating - taking time to talk to everybody and smiling all the while. A genuinely nice man.

The rehearsal process was tedious. A lot of stop and go while camera positions and set changes were worked out. Plus, there were long pauses while waiting for the arrival of the presenters. Yes - all but a very few of the stars actually came in on Saturday to walk through their presentation sequence. And all of them were gracious and patient - at least as far as I could see.

Saturday night we had a complete dress rehearsal, using stand-in actors in place of the presenters and recipients. It took about four and a half hours to run the show. In bed by 1AM - and up again at 6 to make it back to the Kodak on Show Day.

Another complete rehearsal - this one as close to time as we could make it - from 11AM to about 2. Then a short break to clean up, get made up and dress for the show.

Gina Tuttle and I were situated at an elevated desk in the wings, just off Stage Right (Audience left) behind the round Oscar Trophy Case. Our script girl, Tina was to our left, ready to handle any changes and to give us our pages of "Walk-ups" - single sheets which contain a brief statement to be read as the winners approach the stage. Every nominee is covered, of course - because we don't know who's going to get the Oscar until they open the envelope.

At 5:30 Pacific time, we went on the air - and it was basically a well-controlled train wreck from there on. To our immediate left was a long red-carpeted aisle, that led out to the backstage space that held the Green Room, a beautifully appointed holding area where the presenters waited to go on. The aisle was illuminated by banks of light for camera, and packed with photographers, friends and family of presenters and nominees, the Oscar girls (the beauties who handed the statuettes to the winners) Densy, the main talent coordinator, and various other stage hands and production people. The noise level was considerable. This was the atmosphere in which Gina and I worked.

When it came time to announce, we opened our microphone and waited for a cue from either the Director, Louis Horwitz, or his assistant, Jim Tanker. While we were announcing, we could hear the constant babble of instructions from the Director's in our headsets, calling for camera changes, set adjustments, etc. It took a great deal of concentration to work with that going on in our ears.

Meanwhile, the parade past our desk was constant. Virtually every performer, presenter and winner walked by at one time or another. During the evening we became a hang-out spot for folks like, Will Farrell, Jack Black and John C, Reilly - John Travolta and Queen Latifah, (Gina held her purse) Reese Witherspoon (Adorable), Leo DiCaprio and VP Al Gore (A very nice man who complimented me on my GEICO spot) George Clooney (who tried to kiss Gina while she was announcing. Much to her credit, she made it without a bobble) The glorious Nicole Kidman and the damn-near as beautiful Hugh Jackman, Tom Hanks and Helen Mirren (another purse to hold)... You get the idea. Near the end of the show, I looked up and saw Steven Spielberg. Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas and recent winner Martin Scorsese all standing not two feet away, and all grinning like school kids.

At one point in the program, Ellen Degeneres and I were scheduled to do a little comedy bit on camera. It was to follow the special Oscar presentation to to Ennio Morricone. That segment seemed to go on forever, with Mr. Morricone droning something is Italian, and Clint Eastwood translating. The atmosphere was solemn, almost funereal, and Ellen thought that it was would be inappropriate to do a comedy bit after it (I felt that's just what the show needed at the time!) But she decided to bag the bit, and got up and left, literally ten seconds before we were to go on. That explains the silent cut to commercial after the Morricone presentation. It was a shame. I would have loved to do it. And my family, gathered around the television at home were looking forward to it.

But that's show biz.

The broadcast was, at least in the estimation of those who worked on it, and who knew how incredibly complex it is, a real winner. Everybody was very pleased with how smoothly it went, considering.

Gina and I were invited to the Governors Ball on top of the Renaissance Hotel after the show, but I knew the lines for credentials and the multiple encounters with Security to get there was going to be a nightmare, so I passed. After all - I had already seen virtually every celebrity walk past me not three feet away, and one of them Anika Noni Rose from Dreamgirls (She's the one who hit that incredibly high note at the end of their production number) was actually living in my house (She's like another daughter to me) - so I just packed up and went home, had a drink and passed out - until 5AM when I had to get up and drive to a post production house in Hollywood to add some narration to a 90 minute version of the show that is released to multiple countries, and which was edited during the night.

And that's how it went at the Oscars. It was exhausting, exhilarating, and unforgettable. I don't know if I will be invited back next year, but you'd better believe that I will be there with bells on if I am.

Don LaFontaine