The day of the actual Oscars Fan Experience (oh, and the Oscars too), all the streets all around the Hollywood & Highland complex are blocked to vehicle traffic. Chain link fences and barricades line both sides of the streets, many with security people at intersections, directing people around barricades and checking their credentials to make sure they were where they were supposed to be. Lots of local folks strolling about didn't seem to even realize that it was Oscar Day at all. Perhaps to the residents it really is just another day, and they don't pay much attention to it except as an inconvenience to their travel, a sprawling, glittery obstacle to be negotiated.
In the morning, we went for a walk up Hollywood Boulevard again. Sparse foot traffic and no vehicle traffic at all made the whole area seem deserted, even though the air was buzzing with helicopters and an unknown number of unionized workers were frantically constructing a gargantuan set for a one-day show just a couple of blocks away. Again, we were struck by the funkiness. Frederick's of Hollywood really is in Hollywood. As are numerous tee-shirt shops, check cashing stores, souvenir shops, tattoo parlors and the Hollywood Wax Museum.
We arrived at our Designated Meeting Place at 11am as per our instructions. It said not to arrive sooner or later than 11 am, so we tried to time it just right. We ended up being the second folks in line waiting to be admitted through a gate, across Highland and then down Hollywood Boulevard to our seats.
We had to wear our credentials*, of course, and show ID and go through a check point that was very much like going through airport security. Thankfully, they did not make us take off our shoes.
The Oscars Fan Experience was sponsored not only by People Magazine, but also by Pantene, Olay and Cover Girl. When we arrived at the check in station after we'd gone through security, we got our Bags o'Swag, with not only a bunch of snacky items but also branded items from all the sponsors including an issue of People Magazine, Pantene hair treatment, earbuds with Olay branding on the package and a magnifying mirror from Cover Girl. There were also a bunch of stations set up behind the scenes for fans to get their hair or makeup done. It was pretty cool, honestly, but we didn't do any of that because we wanted to see what was going on on the red carpet.
We were escorted to our seats and were surprised and pretty excited that we were not only in the front row but also in Section 2, which was covered. Yay for that since it rained off and on until about 2pm.
One of the things that struck us was that we were on what amounted to a television set. It was being constructed around us even as we sat there. We saw one guy whose only job at the moment seemed to be polishing all the stanchions that would hold the velvet ropes for the event. There were also numerous carpenters and electricians making sure that all last-minute preparations were done, including using a shop vac to suck the rain out of the red carpet.
The red carpet is laid over a section of usually busy street. It's dressed up quickly so the stars can shine, and just as quickly, it is taken down. As we left the El Capitan Theater after the show, workers were already striking the set. All the world's a stage, right?
When we got to our seats at around 11:45am, there was already plenty of activity on the red carpet. Lots of local news crews with local reporters wearing long, sparkly dresses were there recording spots. Every major news and entertainment outfit was represented, and they all had their own designated spaces from which to broadcast. Robin Roberts was there in jeans and a baseball cap to check out her space before she changed into her breathtaking gown for her interviews. There was also a camera set up on a pulley system that would swoop by every once in awhile for crowd shots, eliciting a wave of cheering each time it swept by. I think that may have been from the TV Guide Channel, but I'm not sure.
Since we were sitting right behind Robin Robert's area (across the street, actually), one of her...producers?...came over to our section and told us that we had to pay attention to him, because he would tell us when to cheer like crazy people and when to be quiet. As a group, we did a lousy job of following directions. The producer man spent a lot of his time trying to get our attention and then rolling his eyes and sighing heavily when he couldn't or when we cheered at the wrong time. In defense of Section Two, we could not hear Robin Roberts, but we could hear the man who runs the the Red Carpet Show. So, when he would introduce someone, we would cheer for that person and annoy our guy.
As a food blogger, I felt a responsibility to document Wolfgang Puck's triumphant walk down the red carpet, a bevy of his staff pushing carts with all manner of snacks and two folks with the harrowing task of walking a multi-tiered, light-up Oscars cake much farther than anyone should have to carry a cake. I am usually one to hang back, but I wanted a wee golden Oscar, so I reached down as he was reaching up, and Wolfgang Puck handed me a chocolate Oscar. I have to say, that was pretty cool. I instagrammed it like a good documentarian at the same time that a friend texted me a screen-grab of the actual hand off. Social media can be pretty magical.
There are a ton of folks on the red carpet. The Dolby Theater (formerly the Kodak Theater) seats just over 3300 people (thanks, Wikipedia), and they are all there because they have tickets. They have tickets either because they were nominated in a category or because they were given a ticket by a studio. All the studios get a specific number of tickets to give out to whomever they want, so of course almost all the attendees are in the industry in some capacity.
While they say that Hollywood is a small town where everyone knows everyone, we in the bleachers have no idea who you are unless we have seen you on television or in the movies. It must have been odd for the attendees who work behind the scenes to walk past us as we chatted among ourselves, basically ignoring a ton of people on what was surely one of their most memorable nights, all because we didn't know who they were. Some of these folks tried to stir us up and get us to cheer for them, and sometimes we did, but for the most part, if we didn't know who you were, we didn't cheer for you.
Hollywood is a town where the question "Who are you?" takes on whole new levels of meaning, and we all got sucked in. Here are all these people taking selfies and video on their phones, drinking it all in, and rather than recognizing that they were all quite possibly at the pinnacle of their careers, we ignored them because we didn't recognize their faces.
But let me tell you, whenever anyone recognized anyone--anyone at all--the yelling began. It was almost Pavlovian. See a face you recognize? Shriek their name. And I mean shriek. Shriek until they look over at you--many of them graciously, some of them a bit taken aback by all the bellowing--and wave, at which point the shrieking gets even louder.
Sometimes I would lean to The Beloved and say "Look, there is Insert Name Here." And he'd look and we'd both say, "Cool." But there were more than a few folks in the bleachers whose mission it was to make the stars look at them. Weird. I have to say I don't quite understand it. Yes, it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for most of us. But why in the world would you want to spend this opportunity shrieking like a crazy person? I didn't ask any of the shriekers what their motivation was, because I was a bit shell shocked by all the din.
Much to the consternation of all the security folks, Matthew McConaughey came across the velvet ropes to say hi to the folks in our bleachers section. Cool, right? Only it was kind of terrifying. As soon as folks saw him, the shrieking began. And once they realized he was coming over, they cranked up the intensity and the volume. The closer he got to our section, the more frenzied the crowd became. By the time he made it over to the wall and railing, the cacophony was so...cacophonous...that The Beloved and I were almost cowering in our seats. You would have thought that (insert Deity of Choice) himself stood before us the way people were desperately reaching for him, screeching his name and pleading with him. I'm not sure For What they Plead, but they were all screaming "PLLLLLEEAAAAAAAAASSSSSSSE!" at the top of their lungs. Perhaps he had gum or something.
It was weird. I just have to say it. It was really, really weird.
I'm not saying that I wasn't a bit star-struck on occasion, but wow. It was all a bit much.
Sidney Poitier stopped and looked at our section. I could have made a mad grab for my camera, but honestly, when the folks I adore came by, I didn't want a camera in the way. I wanted to just applaud them, catch their eye if I could (without shrieking), and somehow convey to them how much I've enjoyed their work over the years. While I yelled and whooped it up more or less on cue for Robin's producer (except when we did it wrong and he rolled his eyes), I just clapped when my favorites went by. I wanted to thank them for sharing their art with us.
Anyway, I welled up under the momentary--and by momentary, I mean fleeting--gaze of Sidney Poitier. The man just radiates a calm groundedness. Other entrances that made an impression: Meryl Streep. She came down the red carpet, totally focused on the fans. It was almost as if she were saying "Without you all, I would not be here." She made us feel like she was there to see us and not the other way around. She honored us, truly. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were some of the last folks to come down the red carpet, and they did so more or less walking sideways, holding hands and looking and waving at the fans. Very, very gracious. On screen, she looks strong. In person, she seems very delicate.
Leonardo DiCaprio took video of us on his phone. How cool is that? Maybe he is hanging out with some buddies right now showing them his red carpet footage, and there we all are, smiling and waving. And yes, some were bellowing his name. Like I imagine a frenzied mob of Teamsters would bellow. "LLLLEEEEEEEOOOOOOOO!" Yow.
I saw the backs of many people, including Kevin Spacey and Benedict Cumberbatch. I also saw Cate Blanchett's back, Charlize Theron's back, Sandra Bullock's right side and Laura Dern's front. I saw Viola Davis shimmy her shoulders at us to get a cheer. I saw Dax Shepherd and Kristin Bell holding hands, Kurt Russell escorting a shimmering Goldie Hawn, a beaming Will Smith with a pretty in pink Jada Pinckett Smith. I saw a giddy meeting of friends and coworkers who happen to have jobs that seem to make folks go just a little bit crazy. And I saw a bunch of folks who make their living, at least in part, covering these folks: Maria Menounos, Billy Bush, Ryan Seacrest, Robin Roberts, Lara Spenser, Nancy O'Dell, Kelly Osbourne, Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinsky.
After everyone had cleared the carpet, all 700 of us bleachers folks were escorted across the street to the El Capitan Theater, a beautifully restored movie theater now owned by Disney, to watch the show on the big screen. There were buffet lines set up for us both upstairs and down, and we all felt like we had front row seats for the show itself. And I have to admit, it was kind of cool to know that we were watching on television what was happening live just a couple of hundred yards from where we sat.
And that, my friends, is my story. I was thrilled to have been chosen as a People VIP winner. Overall and despite the persistent ringing in our ears, The Beloved and I truly enjoyed the Oscars Fan Experience.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read today. I hope you feel like you were there. Have a lovely day.
*I am not allowed to photograph my credentials. Seriously. I think they will come and break my kneecaps if I do.