'I'd like to thank the little people': Meet the unsung heroes who ensure Oscar night goes with a bang


Click to follow
The Independent Culture


The trophy maker

Noreen Prohaska works for RS Owens, a trophy manufacturer based in Chicago. She oversees Owens' most high-profile product: the golden Oscar statuettes. Tonight, she will watch the event from her sitting-room

"Originally, Oscar was bronze, then plaster. Today, we start with Britannia, a pewter alloy, then coat it with copper, nickel, silver and 24-carat gold. Everything's done by hand, even polishing, so as not to rub off any features. In total, it takes 30 labour-intensive hours to make.

"We make around 30 or 40 statues a year, then ship them out to Los Angeles. In the old days, we did it by lorry, since each one weighs around 8 lb. But a few years ago, a batch was stolen during the journey, so now we send them via air, which seems to be more secure.

"I also run a service we provide that repairs and polishes damaged awards for previous winners. Sometimes they get accidentally cleaned with a solvent, which can damage the lacquer. And ones kept in houses near the sea will deteriorate over time.

"A few years ago, the actress Shelley Winters called me up. The trophy she'd won [in 1960] for The Diary of Anne Frank was in the [Anne Frank] museum in Amsterdam and had got a bit dull. So I helped sort that out.

"People call us all the time asking to buy a replica. I always have to say sorry, but we're not allowed to supply them to anyone but the Academy."

The concierge

Abbas Golestani is head concierge at the Beverly Hills Hotel, one of the most famous venues in Los Angeles. Around Oscar season, he mans his post in the hotel's reception area for 12 hours a day, seven days a week

"I've been in this game for 30 years, and have seen pretty much everything. Nothing surprises me any more. A good concierge will make sure that a hotel guest can get hold of anything they need, as long as it's not drugs or prostitutes.

"The Oscars is one of those times we're always fully booked. The rush starts about 10 days before, and ends five days after. We get a lot of celebrities, and they keep me busy with all sorts of demanding requests.

"If I'm trying to get somebody a table at a busy restaurant, then a client's fame really helps. You call somewhere and tell them Robert De Niro is coming, and they'll bump anyone off a table for him. But if I need a booking for a guest who is important to us as a customer but isn't particularly famous, then it can be more of a problem.

"It's amazing the things that go on in this place. There was a time a few years back when I had four Oscar statues locked up in my cabinet in reception, for safe keeping, at the same time. I will never forget that."

The historian

Lucia Schultz is a librarian at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. She spends the day of the Oscars working in the media room at the awards, where she briefs reporters in her role as the event's official historian

"I'm in the press room before, during and after the show, answering any questions the media might have. The Academy takes its history very seriously and likes it to be reported as accurately as possible.

"You never know what's going to be thrown at you. It depends on what happens during the night. Last year, for example, Kathryn Bigelow won Best Director. So I had a lot of people wanting to check that she was the first woman to win the award. That, of course, was easy to check.

"For harder stuff, it's all about trying to anticipate points of interest. Right now, I'm looking at cinematographers. Jeff Cronenweth did The Social Network, and his father Jordan was a nominee in that category many years ago [for Peggy Sue Got Married in 1987]. So I'm trying to work out if they are the first father/son combination. I need to be sure.

"The whole pace of the evening has changed with the growth of the internet. Nowadays, if a journalist asks a question, I know I need to be quick about responding: for them, the clock is always ticking. But I always enjoy it: I like being useful, and being able to share knowledge, and of course I like to feel part of a great event."

The party planner

Sara Marks is the director of special projects at 'Vanity Fair', and organises the magazine's annual Oscar party in Hollywood. She will spend tonight behind the velvet ropes of the Sunset Tower Hotel, where the publication's editor, Graydon Carter, will entertain roughly 800 guests

"Any good party is the same: when someone walks through that door, you want them to see a few people they know, a few they want to know, and perhaps one or two people they'd really like to sleep with. So a lot of my job is about getting the right mixture of guests. Graydon and I sit down months in advance to start discussing who to invite. He had the idea for the party in 1992, and from the start has wanted it to be about getting different cross-sections of people from music, literature, sports, politics, to come together and celebrate Hollywood on Hollywood's biggest night.

"Because of how famous the event has become, we get a lot of people asking for an invitation. I used to have to deal with endless phone calls, but now it's email. We can never accommodate everyone, so we try to be tactful about turning people down.

"People who don't have invitations will try anything to get in, jumping hedges or climbing in from next-door properties. We've had them hiding in the bathroom at the venue all day, perched on a loo so they won't be seen. One year, someone turned up with a pig on a leash, and said it was the star of Babe. We let him walk past the photographers on the red carpet, but when he reached the door, security ushered him out."

The photographer

Ian West is a Press Association photographer. He'll spend this afternoon on the red carpet, before moving inside the Kodak Theatre to shoot Oscar winners as they leave the stage

"There's a strict black-tie uniform for all the male photographers. This makes it hard to get noticed, because shouting 'Over here, in the black bow tie' at George Clooney ain't gonna help him out much. So I shout louder than everyone else. After several hours this hurts the throat. A lot.

"On the day of the Oscars, I know I'll be standing in the same spot on the red carpet for five hours, followed by three or four more sitting backstage on wooden scaffolding. Your position is pre-assigned, and there is definitely no moving, but seeing as there are anywhere between 300 and 500 snappers from all over the world, this is easily the best way to organise it. At the end, my back hurts, my neck hurts, my feet hurt and I'm close to collapse. But I do love it.

"The newspapers and magazines I supply are interested in two sorts of photos: winners holding their golden statues, and beautiful women in dresses, whether those are stunning dresses, or 'oh dear' dresses. Both sorts of picture work.

"Because I'm supplying the British media, the best thing for me is a British winner. That will change the story from a double-page spread inside the paper into a front-page picture. Hopefully, this year Colin [Firth] and Helena [Bonham Carter] will win. If The King's Speech can win all 12 Oscars it's nominated for, they'll not only hold the front but the centre and back pages as well."

The style observer

Lyss Stern is a stylist, entrepreneur and fashion commentator. She will be covering the red carpet for her website, divamoms.com, as well as the 'Playground' supplement in 'The New York Observer'

"This year it's all about a bump! Natalie Portman is up for the big one, Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role, for Black Swan. She's probably going to win – and she is definitely going to be pregnant.

"Years ago, pregnant people didn't flaunt the bump. But today, it's the best accessory on the red carpet. So I expect to be seeing Natalie in a tight, beautiful gown, showing off that flawless skin and perfect hair and nails.

"My own rule for an expectant mom is that less is usually more: when you have the beautiful belly, people will focus on that. You don't need earrings, necklace and bracelets as well. Heidi Klum showed everyone how to do it recently in a gorgeous Marchesa gown. It was just her and her belly.

"The red carpet is fun, but it's also serious business: these days, you see gowns at the Oscars and within the week knock-offs start appearing online for a few hundred dollars. Then they hit stores. In a couple of months, teenagers will be wearing them to a high-school prom. Despite what you may think, red-carpet fashion is important."

The chef

Wolfgang Puck is a world-famous chef and restaurateur. As the Academy's caterer, his kitchen will feed 1,500 guests at the Governors Ball after the awards ceremony

"I know most of the movie stars. They come to my restaurants all the time. And the good thing is that I also know that for this dinner they will be really hungry, because on Oscar day, they've not eaten since about 10am, and I don't feed them until after 10pm.

"The hard job is to get everything exactly right for that many people. We have 300 chefs in the kitchen. I am laid-back as long as everything goes the way I want it. Shouting around... what's the point? It's not like a reality television show where you get somebody who doesn't know how to cook. These are my top guys.

"The menu has a theme. There are Oscar-shaped smoked-salmon canapés, and chocolate Oscars for desserts. For the main course, we have Dover sole from England, in recognition of The King's Speech, and vegetable paella in a black casserole dish because of Black Swan. I like to see if guests pick up on all those little references.

"I still remember when Michael Caine, who I know very well, came to the Oscars. The next day he came into my restaurant, Spago, and said, 'My children didn't go last night, and neither did my friends who are with me, can you make us all the same meal.' To me, that was the biggest compliment. You go to these big parties and mostly the food is terrible: it's cold, there's no flavour. But here he wanted it all over again, because we exceeded his expectations."

The publicist

Leslie Unger is the Academy's head of public relations. She spends the day backstage at the Kodak Theatre, keeping an eye on the journalists and TV crews who cover the event

"It's a worldwide cultural event, and we want the media to be able to execute their jobs to the best of their ability. But at the same time, there are between 1,500 and 2,000 journalists at the venue, when you include technicians, and the only way to organise that number of people is to have pretty strict rules and policies.

"When someone wins an Oscar, we usually ask whether they are willing to attend a press conference. We feel responsible for them and want every minute of their experience to be enjoyable, but you never know if they're going to like the questions that come at them. Some can k be quite embarrassing. Because of that, we don't practise censorship, but we do make some serious decisions about what kinds of outlets we are going to accommodate, and what approach they take to covering entertainment.

"Some amazing people have been presented with awards in the years I've been doing this. And when someone such as George Clooney is backstage, and he looks at you and says, 'You rock!', that's pretty cool as well.

"But I have to say my favourite moments are when someone who is relatively unknown wins, perhaps in one of the technical categories, because you know that's how that person will be known for ever. When people write their obituary, the headline will say: 'Oscar winner'."

The ball organiser

Cheryl Cecchetto is a professional party planner. This year, she will produce the Governors Ball, the Academy's official after-party which immediately follows the ceremony

"Organising the ball is a big production, like a film, but with only one take. The guests are people who go to an awful lot of parties, so I have to make mine stand out. It must be beautiful, it must be unique. Champagne must flow. I want everyone to kick up their heels and forget about the fact that the competition is over.

"One of the cute things we have is an engraving station, where all the Oscar winners can have their trophies personalised while they're eating dinner. About 95 per cent of them do it. It's one of the little things that makes people remember us.

"However much I plan, problems inevitably happen. The first time I did the Governors Ball, we lost power for seven minutes. It didn't matter: food kept being served, the orchestra kept playing, and emergency lights went on, but it was the low point of my career.

"There's been so many high points, though. About eight years ago, we had a 1920s theme. For the set decoration I copied some fabric from the era, which I printed on panels. Barbra Streisand, who was one of the guests, came up to me at the end and asked if she could take one home. I like to think it's still somewhere in her house. It's great to think she found it beautiful. In my line of work, it's as big an endorsement as you can get."

The florist

Mark Held is a florist based in LA. His company, Mark's Garden, has provided arrangements for a host of prominent events, including the weddings of Nicole Richie, Hilary Duff and Heidi Klum. He has also been the official florist of the Academy's Governors Ball for 18 years

"The design for this year's event is inspired by the clubs of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. My flowers will reflect the music of the period, so we have blue to represent cool jazz, red for hot jazz, and gold and yellow to reflect the vibrancy of Latin music.

"I have to decorate 136 tables, and each will contain a tonne of pieces, so it's a big event. But then big events are what this business is about. We start planning six months in advance. I have a crew that's already gold-leafing candles, which is painstaking work, and gluing feathers on to vases. That's what we call the pre-preparation. But there's a limit to how much you can prepare as the flowers don't actually come in until the Wednesday before Oscar night.

"Like any last-minute job, there's always some kind of drama going on. We're dealing with perishable, fresh flowers, with people getting the flu, with somebody breaking a leg. There's always something that goes wrong. My job is to fix it so that things look fabulous and nobody ever knows the difference."

The blogger

ST VanAirsdale is editor of Movieline.com. He will watch the Oscars with 200 of his readers at a party in New York

"Six or seven Movieline writers will be live-blogging the awards. Oscar season goes on for so long that by the time the actual event comes around, I can feel pretty jaded. But at a party, I'll be around people who haven't necessarily been following the race so closely, so they will help it feel fresh.

"Aside from who wins, I'm interested in how the show will be presented this year. The organisers have booked Anne Hathaway and James Franco to host, so there's an effort to make it contemporary in a way they've never really done. It could be a fascinating gamble.

"The Oscars do drive a lot of traffic to the website. As a writer I know that simply from the number of comments my blog gets. A lot of people are at home, watching, with their laptop out. On a normal day, my pieces might get between 10 and, say, 70 reactions. Today, that number will easily reach into triple figures."

The Oscars will air on Sky Living HD and Sky Movies tonight from 11.30pm