MOVIES | Backstage at the Academy Awards: Filthy dreams and solidarity with Wisconsin

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HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA—One of the best parts of being a credentialed press member with the Academy Awards is seeing my fellow journalists all dressed up in gowns and tuxedoes. We really don’t dress up that much on a regular assignment; casual is usually the code.

Some journalists go all out and look like they are ready for an Oscar acceptance speech in their own right, but seasoned reporters wear ballet slippers under their gown and throw sweatshirts and coats over their evening dress.

I can tell the “rookies” because they only bring their heels. I did that last year myself, when I was a newbie. But you walk for miles, from catching the press shuttle at the Hollywood Palladium to the acres of security walkways and entrance points. So you learn to pack the flats.

The Academy feeds us very well on the day of The Show. A huge buffet catered by none other than Wolfgang Puck lines the wall of Press Central: a hallway right off the stage of the Kodak Theater. Every room of the wing is accessed by media, including a room dedicated to a crew that only edits photos taken on the Red Carpet. I was in the Interview Room, where the Oscar winners go after receiving their statue.

When Best Supporting Actress Melissa Leo uttered the first-ever expletive on a televised Oscar show, I heard a collective gasp and then laughter in the Interview Room. Thereafter, that one moment became a hot topic in the Interview Room for just about every award winner.

For example, Best Actor Colin Firth was asked backstage about The Kings Speech going from an R rating to a PG-13 rating. The R rating is for the use of strong language, including a scene where King George VI utters the F word several times for therapeutic reasons. The newly released PG-13 rating mutes the F words. Firth didn’t like that. “I think the film has its integrity as it stands. I think that scene belongs where it is,” he said backstage. “It’s about a man trying to free himself through the use of forbidden words, and he’s so coy about it…I still haven’t met the person who would object to it. So I think the film should stand as it is.”

A favorite moment in the Inverview Room was when a young solider from the Armed Forces Network, speaking to Best Actress Natalie Portman, said in a shaky voice: “I’m more nervous asking you a question than I was spending time in Iraq.” Portman laughed and told him: “That’s sweet. I won’t do anything bad to you, I promise.”

Another memorable moment was when Achievement in Cinematography winner Wally Pfister, for his film Inception, was asked: “Did you ever have a personal dream that helped you, you know, visualize what exactly one of the particular scenes looked like?” And Pfister replied: “Most of my dreams are too filthy to talk about in an open room of women.”

Pfister let loose his own expletives backstage: “I’d like to ask the question in the room, is there any reporter in here who hasn’t said the phrase, ‘How do you feel?’ Anybody, raise your hand and if you’ve never said, ‘How do you feel.’ I’m just fucking with you. How do I feel? I’m blown away. This is unfucking believable.”

This year was no exception in the category of embarrassing press questions. Portman, a dual citizen of the U.S. and Israel, was asked by a reporter: “As the face of Miss Dior Cheri, what is your response to Dior designer John Galliano’s recent arrest and charges of using anti-Semitic slurs?” Portman looked taken aback at the question. An Academy spokesperson quickly interrupted and said, “Let’s move on to the next question.”

Media types also couldn’t let go of the “baby question” to Natalie Portman. It got redundant when question after question dealt more with the fetus she was carrying than her role as Nina in The Black Swan. Some were just plain silly: Reporter: “Would it be too crazy to think you might name your baby Oscar?” Reporter: “Natalie, as your name was called when you were walking up to the stage, what was the baby doing?”

The other buzz backstage amongst the journalists was the pulling of Deadline.com’s Michael Fleming’s press credentials for his leakage of spoilers on the Awards show. Academy publicists take credentialing seriously. Head publicist Leslie Unger took the podium during a break in winner interviews to remind us to never, ever take photos in the Interview Room, and the next person to do so was going to get their press pass taken and be escorted off property.

The number of press organizations requesting credentials for the 83rd Academy Awards totaled 704 and the number of press credentials requested totaled 5,005, according to the Academy.

Last year, 283 outlets were issued credentials and 1,920 press credentials were issued (which includes technical personnel), 89 still photographers were on the Red Carpet, and 293 TV press (including camera operators, audio technicians, and other crew), and 123 print reporters were on the Red Carpet.

I requested a phone line to connect with my editor Jay Gabler in Minnesota. I sat at a table next to the British Associated Press and the Hollywood Reporter.

Politics did leak in to some backstage interviews. Wally Pfister, for example, took the opportunity to express some solidarity with Wisconsin: “I think what’s going on in Wisconsin is kind of madness right now. I’ve been a union member for 30 years and what the union has given to me is security for my family; they’ve given me healthcare in a country that otherwise does not provide healthcare. And I think the unions are a very important part of the middle class of America. So I stand strong behind any of the union members in this country and any other country because all we’re trying to do is get a decent wage and have medical care. Thank you, guys.”

Oscar winner for Best Feature Documentary Inside Job Charles Ferguson was asked what happened along the way in the making of his film. Ferguson said: “I would say that the biggest surprise to me personally and biggest disappointment was that nobody in the Obama Administration would speak with me, even off the record, including people that I had known for many, many years.”

The building of the Red Carpet area was delayed a day due to flooding rains. The Academy sent out a media notice about the use of electric heaters along the Red Carpet when temps on Saturday night reached into the 40’s. “Any heaters found along the main press riser, in the viewing grandstand or in the arch (either during arrivals or later) will be confiscated,” said the memo.

Jeff Rutherford, who covered the arrivals along the Red Carpet, said he was impressed at how well organized the Awards Ceremony was, but wished there were more stars. “I kept waiting for Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt to show up,” he said.

(Above) The Grand Staircase of the Kodak Theatre.

(Above) Oscar gets ready.

(Above) Preparations for the Oscars finished up after a downpour of rain, amidst cold temperatures.

(Above) Entertainment Tonight’s Nancy O’Dell poses on the Red Carpet during rehearsal.

(Above) A television reporter rehearses while standing on a box.

(Above) Fans greet the stars in the fan bleacher section, tickets for which are won by lottery.

(Above) Some of the members of the credentialed press.

(Above) Ryan Seacrest rehearses. 

(Above) Mario Lopez rehearsing.

(Above) The newly designed, official winner announcement envelopes on display on the Red Carpet.

(Above) Nominee Michelle Williams.

(Above) Andrew Garfield of the film The Social Network.

(Above) Filmmaker Tim Burton.

(Above) Actress Virginia Madsen.

(Above) Gregg Breinberg, director of the New York’s Public School 22 chorus, and some of his students. The chorus performed at the end of the Awards show. 

(Above) Actor Josh Brolin.

(Above) Actress Hilary Swank.

(Above) Nominee Javier Bardem.

(Above) Luke Matheny, Oscar winner for the Live Action Short Film God of Love.

(Above) After the Academy Awards, guests wined, dined, and danced at the Governors Ball.