My Night at the Oscars
My attempt to create a life and career for myself in the film industry didn’t yield much fruit: for twelve years, I lived in an apartment in North Hollywood (a place called Valley Village), worked several jobs, wrote a lot of screenplays that never sold, shook hands with quite a few people whose names you would know, wrote and directed my own stage show, spent a few years as a video editor and worked a lot of temp jobs. But on the night of February 22nd, 2009, I was the envy of everyone I knew because I was going to the academy awards.
This is no bullshit.
Earlier in the year, Film critic Len Klady scored us a gig where we were to edit a ninety-second clips reel for that year’s recipient of the Jean Hersholt humanitarian award, Jerry Lewis. Part of the payment was that we would get free tickets to the awards ceremony. My mind was blown. Although I was secretly of the opinion that I should have moved out of L.A. at least three years before, this seriously challenged that opinion. Len and myself worked on fashioning a good reel, running through tons of Jerry Lewis movies and telethon clips to find the best material. We produced a great reel.
It was shame that the academy decided not to use it.
Less than a week before the ceremony, we were informed that the academy passed on the reel and got one of their own to throw together an alternate reel at the last minute. The world would not be seeing our work on national television. But then I asked, “What about the money and the tickets to the ceremony?”
“Oh, we’re still getting that. But our reel won’t be used.”
Eh, win some, lose some.
And that was good because some of the prep work had already been done. About three weeks before, I’d taken the subway to Hollywood Blvd and Highland and trudged a few blocks through the rain in order to appear at some hastily set-up trailers so that I could have my picture taken for the official Oscar badge (which no one ever asked for me to present). And, of course, I had rented the tux. That was a lot more fun than getting the badge. I walked into a local rental joint in my neighborhood and told them I need a tux for the Oscars. I could tell by the false impressive smiles that I wasn’t the first person who had come to them for that reason, but they didn’t want to burst my bubble. There’s something off-putting about renting a tux; you’d like to take it home with you that day, just so can be assured that it is ready and waiting for you when the day comes, but you have to wait until the day before the event to pick it up. What if they accidentally rent it to someone else? What if the joint burns down?
Well, it didn’t burn down and I picked up my smart tux on Saturday and carried it home like it was the Holy Grail. Everything was worked out. I knew exactly where to meet Len so that he could pick me up. Since I had no car, I had to plead with friends to drive me to the bagel shop where Len would meet me. The following day, it was all I could do to keep from jumping into my tux straight from waking. Finally, it was time. I put it on and I looked sharp. I wish I had picture of it.
I was at the bagel shop in plenty of time. Len was fifteen minutes late. This after warning me that his wife would kill me if I were late. No matter. Inside the car was Len, his wife and her niece. We didn’t have four seat together, so Len’s wife would in another section with the young lady and Len and I would sit together. After driving a few blocks, Len pulled over at a spot that look good so that we could take pictures. That’s when the disaster happened.
After we got a few pictures of the Kladys (but before I could step in front of the camera), Len’s wife suddenly realized that she had left her driver’s license at home. She would not be allowed in without it!
There was no choice but to drive back to the Kladys home, which I found out was a good twenty minutes from where we were. That meant we would arrive at Hollywood and Highland forty minutes later than we intended. Len didn’t say a word, but I could tell he wasn’t happy. Neither was I, considering I had been threatened with murder by the woman who was now making us late. It wasn’t a very pleasant drive back to the Klady abode, and it didn’t seem too safe driving back to Hollywood Blvd considering that we were going to be late. But we finally turned on to Hollywood Blvd and joined the queue of cars that were headed for the ceremony.
That’s when I discovered that I had a choice to make: I could either leave my cellphone in the car or let it be confiscated by security and have returned to me later because it had a camera in it (Not a very good camera, I might add; it was a trackphone). Len told me that having to wait to get my phone back would add an extra half-hour onto the wait for our car after the show was over, so I decided to leave it in the car. It was a shame because I promised my Mom I would call her from inside the Kodak theater. Well, so much for that plan.
As we got close to the intersection of Hollywood and Highland, taking time to roll our eyes at the assembled assholes who had gathered with ugly signs to protest the inclusion of Milk in the nominations, a security guard put his hand up and wheeled a large portable mirror under the car to check for anything ticking. We passed this first test and left the car to the parking attendant and made our way… the red carpet.
Hollywood Blvd and Highland is the center of tourism in Hollywood; it where the walk of fame, the Chinese Theater (with all the footprints), the Egyptian theater and the El Capitan theater are. On any given night, it jumps. And that’s when traffic is allowed to drive on it. Since 2002, the Academy Award have been held at the Kodak theater and on that special day, the place literally throbs. The trendy shops are forced to close, but no one seems to mind. Bleechers are set up in front of them and that was the first thing we passed as we stepped onto the carpet the covered the entire width of Hollywood Blvd. The fans in the stands shouted and waved as if we were famous. One of them kept shouting “Angelina!” Not to be outdone, I shouted back “Eddie!” I got a laugh.
After that we walked up to a tent that housed security. We all had to go through the metal detector (and surrender our cameras if we had any on us). Just when I was about three bodies away from the portal, someone official ran past me saying “It’s alright, you can just follow me.” I turned to see that he was leading Daniel Craig, who was standing behind me, past the detector. I wondered if James Bond might have been carrying something that could have gotten him in trouble.
Once through security, we were finally on the length of the carpet that viewers see on TV. What you don’t see that the carpet is divided in half by velvet ropes: the celebrities walk down the left side (further away from the fans) and are greeted by the press while we walk on the right side and have the screaming mob shouting over us to get Penelope Cruz’s attention (whom I just happened to catch a glimpse of as we were going). I certainly didn’t mind any of this, but its time to remind you that we arrived forty minutes later than we had planned and Len grabbed my cuff and started pulling toward the theater.
“We’re losing the women,” I yelled.
“Who cares,” he said, obviously still pissed-off at his wife for making us late. “I need a drink!”
I’d walked up the stair to the Kodak theater many time without ever actually ever having been inside: the stair are part of the mall that shoppers traipse through every day. But the shops were shut and white drapes had been hung to keep people from wandering over to them. Len dragged me straight up into the theater. We traded our tickets for programs and directions on where we were to go, and ran upstairs to the lower mezzanine. Len’s instinct about needing a drink (and, to be honest, I needed one too) had been pretty keen because smartly dressed waitresses were just starting to line up in front of the bar as we arrived. It was CLOSING! Agggghhhhh! Len dashed around to the back of the bar, managed to scoop up to glasses of complementary champagne from a tray, and brought them over. This would have to suffice for the time being.
Len initially introduce me to Norman Jewison, the director, and I wanted to talk to him, but my bladder had been calling me names since we left the car so I had to break off to find the toilet. All posh places have posh toilets and here was one with an attendant valiantly drying the hands of the hordes of tuxedoed partiers who needed a wee. Upon emerging again, I was distraught to discover that Len and Jewison were nowhere to be seen (I later found out they’d been having a smoke on the balcony). This was a bit upsetting since I was new to this crowd and found it difficult to nose myself into the groups that had formed. Rather than just look forlorn in the middle of it, I went to my seat.
The set for the show, what we could see of it under the dimmed lights, looked spectacular and proved to be such when show actually began, but that was still thirty minutes away. I settled in and went through my program, which I still have. Even though the academy had decided not to use our reel, they had made their decision too late in the day to have the program changed, so there were our names under the section for the Jean Hersholt award. We were getting the credit. Take that, scumbags!
Len eventually arrived and we settled in. The show finally began and Hugh Jackman, all five inches of him (at least it seemed like that from where we were sitting), came on and started doing his opening number. It was a bit difficult to get into; his voice was tough to hear when the music was playing, he was so far away and we could see the main screen from where were sitting. On top of that, six rows behind us were the press, snapping away with their cameras and muttering to themselves. It seemed like ages before they finally settled down.
That was the year that Jackman dragged Anne Hathaway out of the audience to sing a duet with him (rehearsed, of course). It was also the year that some nut thought it would be a good idea to have five previous winners of the acting awards to each give a short speech about the nominees. At the first acting award, Best Supporting Actor, it seemed like a good idea. By the time we’d gotten to Best Actress, it had gotten old. Plus, Shirley MacLaine decided to go off script and say, in an oh-so-patronizing way, that Anne Hathaway had a good voice. Everyone thought she was being so magnanimous but all I saw was Shirley MacLaine taking the moment away from Hathaway so that she could have a personal Maclaine moment. It didn’t fool me.
Now, I was surprised to discover that, at three hours and thirty minutes, the ceremony seemed to zip by a lot faster than it does when viewing on TV. The prestige of the event probably has something to do with it, as does the fact that the theater audience doesn’t have to watch the network commercials during the breaks. During the first few commercial breaks, the academy played short films about the industry and the ceremony that took our attention. As the evening wore on, they stopped the shorts and most of the audience used the commercial breaks to head for the bathroom. If you should happen to leave during the break and don’t get back in time, you have to wait until the next break before you’re allowed back in (unless you’re Frank Langella, who was seen near the beginning of the ceremony trying unsuccessfully to sneak his six foot-plus body back to his seat after an unplanned toilet run). I certainly didn’t mind waiting out a portion of the show in the lobby; the bar had reopened by this time, they had monitors broadcasting the show, and I had left during the technical awards, never a big moment for me. I was able to get back to my seat for the showing of the Jerry Lewis reel that wasn’t ours. I felt they did a fine job, but Len was of the opinion that most of it was stolen from our original reel. I didn’t care. I was just happy to be there.
That was the year that Penelope Cruz, Kate Winslet, Sean Penn and Heath Ledger all walked away with Oscars (except Ledger, who was dead at the time). I must say that even though production numbers of the nominated songs are never my favorite portions of the show, the crew that put on the Slumdog Millionaire numbers blew the roof off the place. And I didn’t even like the damned soundtrack. But I loved the damned film and it easily walked away with Best Picture and Best Director for Danny Boyle.
And then it was over all too quickly. Then it was just being jostled down several flights of stairs to reach the parking garage and wait for the car. And then to the restaurant for a late dinner, where Len’s wife chided me for not having seen many of the nominated films and then accusing me of being stuck-up (I guess that’s what happens when you eat with professional film critics, if you don’t agree with them you’re out of the club). No Governor’s Ball or any other party for us. Just home. Then sleep. Then return the tux the next day.
A year and two months later, I would decide that L.A. was a deadend and return to Massachusetts, wondering if I should have stayed in L.A. past 2006, when I was first forced to temp after losing my steady editing job.
But I did stay longer. And then came February 22, 2009.