The Grit beneath the Glitter
There is an oft-repeated aphorism in the event industry when it comes to planning for Awards Nights – “Plan for the best, but expect the worst!” So whether it’s the Oscars, the Grammys or our very own IIFA, the stories behind the red curtains all have the same thread running through.
The goal for an Academy Awards planner is not just handing out awards to Hollywood’s most talented, but also to deliver a media spectacle to the millions of viewers watching the show on their TVs and as a result attract advertisers. To the outsider it might just be three hours of high-voltage glitz and glamour, but it takes one whole of year of intense planning to host those legendary three hours!
It begins with the minute coordination of arrivals of the guests, who will be driven in 750 limousines to and from the venue. On the red carpet, interviews have to be done as quick as possible, as evident by PR managers hurrying film stars from one interview to the next. The awards ceremony itself lasts on average three and a half hours and thus, runs on a tight schedule. Acceptance speeches are limited to 45 seconds, officially to avoid long and embarrassing emotional speeches. Seemingly spontaneous events such as the pizza party and the now infamous ‘Oscar selfie’ last year were also planned ahead. At the Oscars nothing is left to chance.
And yet……things manage to slip away from the tight control of the event manager’s iron fist. Here’s a peek into the grit beneath all that Award Night glitter.
And the award goes to….the wrong person!
Who would believe that an experienced MC or actor would actually flub the winner’s name and destroy a near perfect event? But yet it happens despite one of year of planning and countless rehearsals! Take Steve Harvey and his Miss Universe slip-up when he accidentally awarded Miss Columbia with the title. Or John Travolta mispronouncing Idina Menzel’s name or even as far back as 1934 when Will Rogers genially called up the wrong Frank on stage! Seriously, how difficult could it be to read one line??
Expect the unexpected… and still, the extra ordinary will happen
A naked man slipped past the super tight stage security managing the Oscars and ran across the stage and interrupted David Niven when he was introducing Elizabeth Taylor at the 46th Academy Awards in 1974. Fortunately Niven was quick on the draw with his deadpan remark “Well, ladies and gentlemen, that was almost bound to happen. But isn’t it fascinating to think that probably the only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings?” More recently at the Governors Ball, a creative centre-piece that held ornamental fish suddenly had the fish leaping out making a quick get-away. The head of the event agency, all dressed up to the nines in her high heels and gown had to scoop the fleeing fish with a fishing net and bring them back!
Diva on a roll
In the end, planners do whatever it takes to make important guests happy. Danielle Jennings, former global head of event marketing at Merrill Lynch and now a vice president at Micro Target Media, remembers one V.I.P. who got very upset when the hotel didn’t put the toilet paper roll on the “right” way. “She would freak out and call us, and we would have to call housekeeping to go to her room and make it right,” Jennings says. “Once you live in that world, you don’t think requests are crazy anymore. You just shrug your shoulders and say, ‘That’s my job.”
The classic No-Show
At the opening of Los Angeles’ California Science Center in 1998, a board member arranged for a high-profile, Grammy award-winning singer to perform for free. The singer’s face went out on every invitation, and the event drew 1,200 guests, many of them V.I.P.s in their own right. Christina Sion, vice president of food and event services at the California Science Center, and her staff filled the singer’s requests for a V.I.P. trailer and other amenities, which totaled $40,000. But on the night of the event, Sion was outside on her cell phone for an hour with the singer’s staff, who told her he was 10 minutes away—repeatedly, every 10 minutes. “We were trying to gauge the night’s program as to when he was performing, and finally I just made the decision that he was not coming and we should move on,” Sion says. They were never reimbursed for the cost of the amenity-filled trailer.
So there you have it. The next time you lean back on your couch with your popcorn waiting to be entertained “Live!” by an awards night, spare a thought for the fraught and nerve-wracked event managers who are probably racking up hospital and psychiatrist’s bills behind the scenes, even as the actors smilingly walk up to receive their lifelong dream!