On Sunday, Patrick and I joined 698 other hardy souls who braved rain and butt-fatigue to view the 86th annual Academy Awards arrivals from bleachers along the red carpet. About half of our fellow “bleacher creatures,” (as proclaimed by many a homemade T-shirt) were winners of a People magazine contest. The rest of us had won an assortment of other contests—Patrick and I halfheartedly entered after being chatted up by Motion Picture Academy Museum reps during last year’s awesome CicLAvia walk from Mid-City to Downtown LA. Not only had I forgotten about it, I actually thought the first congratulatory email they sent us was some kind of scam.
But when they asked us to submit to a background check, I began to realize we’d really won something, and that something was cool. Patrick and I both adore movies and the Oscars. Our first date was an impromptu double feature, and our second was an Oscar party. Every year, we set aside Oscar Sunday to make a bunch of fun appetizers and watch the show from red carpet pre-show through post-show wrap-up. So when I finally understood that we were being invited to watch the red carpet arrivals from the red carpet, my first thought was that we’d miss out on our annual Oscar tradition! I also thought Patrick wouldn’t like the idea because it meant about nine hours of sitting in the sun, but he was super-excited, so I was sold.
After we submitted our ID photos and passed our background check, we were invited to join a Facebook group for the bleacher fans. This was a great way to get information from past attendees, like what was allowed (back rests, hats, small umbrellas as long as we didn’t open them in the stands) and wasn’t allowed (cameras with long lenses, tripods, liquids, banners, pillows and blankets). Seating was assigned, and each group was given one of several staggered arrival times on Sunday morning so that there wouldn’t be a huge backup at the security check. That took a ton of the pressure off because you didn’t feel like you had to get there at the crack of dawn in order to secure a good seat. D23 could learn a lot from these guys!
They also vaguely mentioned swag bags and activities, but I wished they’d warned us just how much swag there would be cuz we ended up with three big bags to stuff under our seats and schlep around, plus my back rest. I bought us each one of these stadium seats to comfy-up the hard metal bench we’d be sitting on all day, but only I had the chutzpah to actually bring one. I’ll admit it does look large when you flatten it and wear it on your back, but it’s very light, and nobody working the event batted an eye when I showed up with it. And, boy, did my buns thank me!
We also brought sunscreen, hats, snacks, and camera gear. Per the instructions to wear comfortable layers, we resisted the urge to dress up for cameras that would see us only as tiny specs behind the stars. The academy and People fed us breakfast (bagels and coffee), boxed lunch (turkey sandwich, apple, chips, cookie), and dinner (kid-food buffet), plus bottles of water, Pepsi, and sports drinks—and one metric ton of salty snacks via our gift bags. This was because once we entered the secured bleacher area, we were not allowed to leave and come back.
We had a 9:30am arrival time, but we left the house an hour early so we could park at one of the paid lots on the map they gave us and walk to the meeting point at Highland and Yucca. Many of the streets in Hollywood were already closed, and we did a lot of backtracking trying to find a place to cross Hollywood Boulevard. There were also more cops on foot than I had ever seen in Los Angeles EVER. At the meeting point they divided us into groups of 40 and then ushered us around the corner to the check-in out front of the Gap on Hollywood Boulevard. By the time we got to the front of that line we knew the volunteers’ spiel by heart: “Do not photograph your credential. Do not photograph the lanyard your credential is on. If you’re going to take a selfie, remove your lanyard first. Do not lose your lanyard.”
After we went through security, we were funneled past a table handing out a free issue (or “subscription” as one misinformed staffer kept calling it) of People and giant tote bags filled with what looked like the haul from a Walgreen’s shopping spree (hyperbole verified by Walgreen’s employee and Disney tweeter extraordinaire @MoJoDisney)! These included giant heavy bottles of Olay body wash that we should have immediately jettisoned to save our backs, plus about 15 varieties of Sun-Maid raisins. But, hey, free stuff!
Our seats were in the very last section of the bleachers before the red carpet turned and headed into the Dolby Theater. We were across from the smallest interview stage, where Chris Connelly seemed to be flagging down whomever he could get (although supposedly all the interviews are scheduled). We were three rows from the top, but we could still see the red carpet action pretty well.
Our “seat” numbers were painted on the long metal benches. Space was very tight side to side and front to back, especially with 2 swag bags and our backpack stuffed around our legs. I ended up being glad we were toward the top with fewer neighbors—it was nearly impossible for people in the middle to stand up, let along pick their way up to the top where the exit was. Although there were plenty of activities for us, the long lines for each of them, plus our desire not to have to crawl over people to get back to our seats, led us to stay seated for almost the entire day. Lunch was boxed and passed down the rows by volunteers, so we pretty much never needed to leave.
They did their best to entertain us in the 5+ hours before the official red carpet show began, offering a photo booth, massages, manicures and makeovers featuring products by the sponsors. (Oh, and there were porta-potties and hand-washing stations, but the less said about them, the better—shudder!)
It sprinkled most of the morning, with the occasional downpour, but we were safe under a giant clear tent that covered all of the bleachers. The powers-that-be had decided to remove the tent over the red carpet the previous night, so all the photographers and reporters in the stands across the carpet from us got drenched. But just before the pre-show started, the rain cleared up, and it was beautiful weather by the time the majority of the stars arrived.
The only reason I watch the pre-show is for the pretty gowns, but I never realized that the procession actually starts around 9 am cuz even the reporters are dolled up. I had plenty of dress sightings to keep me occupied until the 2pm showtime.
A few hours before, hosts from various international media outlets began making the rounds of the stands, exhorting us to cheer for the camera. The first few times we heard the other section cheer, we were all instantly on alert for star sightings. Then we figured out it was just for the cameras. We thought our first star sighting was Saved By the Bell‘s Mario Lopez (I know, I know… he has some other show now that makes navigating the Grove on weekdays a real pain). A murmur went through the crowd and we all started firing off shots. It turned out to just be his doppelgänger, but this was the beginning of our realization that the IDs made by our fellow spectators had only about a 50% chance of being correct.
We eventually did see the real Mario Lopez, though I considered Kelly Osbourne to be our first star sighting, cuz, well, DRESS!
Eventually, there was an announcement made that cleared the carpet of media, but then a row of burly security guards filed into the space between the two aisles and our view was blocked again.
At 2pm Connolly started to entertain us with the usual crowd warms-ups (“Who’s from out of town?” “Who’s from out of state?” “Who’s from out of the country?” “Who’s from out of this world?”) One of his first guests was Wolfgang Puck, who showed off his cake for the Governor’s Ball and pelted the first few rows of fans with candy.
It seemed like ages before we began to see stars come down the red carpet, and it was weird to know that we would eventually see them. Guaranteed! It was like popping microwave popcorn. It started with just one or two, spaced well apart. Then a few more and a few more. Then what seemed like ALL the stars showed up at once, and we could barely shoot and tweet fast enough. Then it tapered off to just a few…. then the last one and it was over. Between my iPhone and Patrick’s camera, we took more than 900 photos of stars, so I’ll just call out a few here and then do slideshow of highlights. Post a comment if you can’t figure out who someone is and I’ll take my best shot (I can only guarantee 50% accuaracy though!).
A couple of things I didn’t expect:
1) Oh my goodness, the ladies are all even prettier in person!
2) There are strobe lights lining the red carpet that flash all day, I guess to simulate that paparazzi feel?
3) Of all the stars who came by, the ones who were most generous to us in the bleachers were Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Unlike so many others, who either ignored us completely or rushed past with barely a wave, those two stopped in front of each section of fans, smiling and posing for pictures. I’ve never had much of an opinion of either of them, but this struck me as very professional and gracious, like they know who really pays their salaries.
Pretty much the last people on the red carpet were Matthew McConaughey and Camila Alves, who spent a long time chatting with each reporter in the line. After all the actors had gone in, Lady Gaga came striding down the carpet to basically close the show.
Although the telecast always makes it seem like the stars are out there gabbing on the red carpet til 5:29, in truth the place was a ghost town by 5:15.
The worst part (for anxious, unspoiled-buffet-loving me) was waiting to be let out of the stands and led across the street to the El Capitan for our viewing party. I hated missing the monologue, and we only caught the last few sentences of Best Supporting Actor Jared Leto’s apparently amazing acceptance speech.
The rows in the El Capitan are pretty cramped, so instead of crawling over people with all our swag trying to get to the middle, we made a beeline for the very front row. There we had plenty of room to offload our crap and didn’t have to crane our necks too too much to see the screen. The next challenge was timing a buffet run—the ad breaks felt surprisingly short with a buffet line that long. Patrick kindly stood in line during the documentary awards (sorry, Casey!) and got us a plate.
Dinner was a kid’s fantasy of mini cheeseburgers, chicken tenders, mac ‘n’ cheese (no Mickeyroni, I’m afraid, WDW fans!) and something that looked like Hamburger Helper (wait—this thing had a lot of sponsors…. maybe it was Hamburger Helper!). They also gave us free coupons for the standard El Capitan popcorn and sodas. I later discovered ice cream at the end of the buffet, but—disappointingly for a theater that’s attached to a Ghirardelli soda fountain—it was just Dreyer’s vanilla and Hershey’s syrup with nuts and sprinkles. But, hey, free dinner!
It was awesome to see the Oscars on such a huge screen and even awesomer to know that the whole thing was taking place right across the street from us. I thought it was really considerate of the event’s organizers to add in the dinner and viewing party instead of just cutting us loose to miss the main event. At the end of the night, we were directed back up Highland Avenue all the way to Franklin, basically as far from our cars as we could be, but along the way we did get to glimpse some of the attendees out front waiting for their cars. As the cops hustled us toward the exit, we had one of those slow-mo movie moments: a crowd of guests stood silently on one side of us, a swarm of valets and a single Maserati on the other. As one of the valets solemnly repeated the car’s tag number over a bullhorn, I could almost hear the Muzak version of “Girl from Ipanema” in the background. If they really do these one car at a time, it’s no wonder the afterparties run into the wee hours.
Overall, it was a remarkable experience, but even more surprising to me, a truly enjoyable one. I wish I could say “Get your tickets next year!” but at the very least, I definitely recommend entering any contests you can find next Oscar season. It could happen to you!