The VMAs: How MTV makes the red carpet rock -- Ocean MacAdams, the show's exec producer, talks about outrageous entrances, the problem with stairs, and what he's most excited for this year
Here’s the thing about that superstar known as the Red Carpet: Its threads will never go out of style, and it’ll always be more adored than any one celebrity. At the avant-garde MTV Video Music Awards, where there’s a spanking new setup every year, celebs would be lost without it: They’d have no place to make their outlandish statements, no place to ignite scandals upon arrival. Before Jack Black takes the mike as VMA host (at Radio City Music Hall at 8 p.m. on Aug. 31), executive producer Ocean MacAdams remembers highlights from red carpets past, and shares some details about this year’s main attractions.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How much of an impact does the red carpet have on how good celebrities look?
OCEAN MACADAMS: Tons. A glamorous, fun carpet adds to the vibe. One of the things that I really like is the fashion of the VMAs carpet: It’s not the Oscars, so it’s not like you’re trying to get that million-dollar outfit, but it’s not the Teen Choice Awards — it’s somewhere in between. People dress up and have a look that is very unique to the VMAs. The ultimate thing about the VMA preshow is that we were the first people to ever have a televised preshow. We spend a lot of time doing beauty shots, lots of head-to-toes, because we really know how important fashion is to these things. We can do all of these crazy things, but a portion of our audience wants to see what J. Lo’s wearing. Or what Christina’s wearing.
So when does everybody start hitting the carpet?
Our preshow starts at 6:30 p.m., and the carpet opens at 5:30 p.m. But you know the nature of celebs: Everybody wants to be last. The single most stressful thing in my existence is, It’s 6:27, and there’s not a lot of celebrities on the red carpet. Every year we try to book a big A-list celebrity, and we beg them to get there early. And some years it works out, and some years it doesn’t.
Walk us through the red carpet — what’s the publicists’ path?
In the last couple of years, we have added a ”shoot” that goes behind the step and repeat [photographing wall]. Inevitably, everyone who shows up with the celeb thinks they belong on the carpet. It’s amazing the regard that a star’s official dog-walker holds themselves in. The fantasy is that the celebs will break off and we won’t have a carpet full of Turtles and Dramas.
Can you talk about wardrobe malfunctions?
I’ve seen way more of celebs than I really want to. Celebs seem to always forget that they actually have to walk in the outfits they choose — a long way. One of the more famous VMA moments is when Lil’ Kim came with the pastie. I actually had my own Lil’ Kim experience the year before… when getting out of the limo, she bent over a little too far and lost her dress. Luckily, for the most part, we see that stuff before it goes live. It’s happened twice where there’s, like, random wet spots on people’s backs from the sweat in the limo coming over. You know, we’re not there to embarrass people.
Has anything made it on air that you were finicky about?
One year [in] Los Angeles, Marilyn Manson and — what was her name? — [Rose] McGowan came. We [didn’t] even know if we could actually interview Marilyn Manson because we didn’t want to show his date. [McGowan’s entire backside was peeking through her dress.] Whether or not that helped her career… fame or infamy, I’m not sure. The people who tend to dress the most scandalously are the people who are the least famous. Someone will come in nothing, and you’re like, ”Who is that?” And it’s a nobody, praying that lots of people [photograph] them.
Any other memorable mishaps?
In 2003, we decided to build a catwalk over the Rockefeller [Center] gardens, with paparazzi and fans looking up at [celebs] like a fashion show. It was awesome. We kind of forgot, however, that this would mean that people would be looking up everyone’s dress.
What about stairs?
We are always terrified of stairs. You can’t exactly tell J. Lo to wear flats. We have stairs at the head of the carpet with escorts to give the ladies a hand up and hand down.
What happens when someone wants to make an extravaganza out of his or her arrival?
You name it, people want to arrive in it. We’ve had unannounced 18-wheelers, tour buses, motorcycles, vans. Beck always drives himself in a Town Car. People always ask about helicopters; it’s literally the number one request. Everyone thinks they’re the first person to ever ask for it. I always get a call: ”Ocean, dude, we got a huge idea for you this year. Unprecedented. We’re coming by helicopter.” And I’m like, ”Where do you think you’re going to land a helicopter in the middle of Rockefeller Plaza? Do you understand the issues of that at all?” So no, there will be no helicopter arrivals this year.
What have been some of your favorite entrances?
Rob Zombie once came in a Munsters car; that was really fun. And obviously when Diddy showed up in the flatbed. It was amazing. And, by the way, we didn’t know about it ahead of time. I think a lot of people believe in the philosophy that it’s a lot easier to beg forgiveness than ask permission. Every year, there’s a great Diddy story. Two years ago, we had the brilliant idea to have people arrive by boat in Miami. It was obviously a logistical nightmare. The competition to have the biggest boat was intense. 50 [Cent] wanted to land a helicopter on a boat. Diddy won, of course. In the end, I swear to God, the boat that Diddy came in literally looked like an oil tanker painted white.
When you all were in Miami that year, there was a white carpet, right?
When we first went to Miami [in 2004], we had talked about the ”white party” look. So I met with my technical team and everybody was like, ”Dude, we cannot have a white carpet — you get too much glare, it gets filthy really quickly.” So we didn’t do it the first year. Second year, Diddy’s sitting in the press conference [he was the host in 2005] and goes, ”Hey, we’re having a white carpet this year.” I remember going, Okay. We ended up doing it, and it was great. [But] we ended up having to rebuild the carpet in one day after the hurricane [Katrina, at the time a category 1, hit just north of Miami three days before the VMAs]. Our people were literally pulling the plastic off the white carpet as the show went live.
You mentioned having a story about Dave Chappelle in Miami; what was that about?
Dave Chappelle was supposed to be on the red carpet, we were waiting for him, the whole thing was timed out, and [his] publicist calls me: ”Yeah, I’m here with Dave — he’s got a really funny idea. Dave wants to show up, but before he gets off the boat, he wants to help 20 guys [out of the boat] that he pretended to pick up in the water who were Cuban refugees.” I was like, ”I don’t know if the people of Miami appreciate a lot of Cuban-refugee jokes.” Luckily, it didn’t happen.
Tell us about the four different interviewing spots on the red carpet.
We do interviews in multiple locations. The ”pod” is an island that puts you right in the action of the red carpet. The ”cube” is a large, rotating MTV News cube that is the one thing we always have — it’s tradition. One year we had it redone, but we didn’t realize that… it’s like escalators. When you build an escalator, they squeak for, like, five days. So we turned on the spinning cube the day of the show and it was a disaster. It wasn’t spinning during the show. There’s actually a location at the Top of the Rock [Rockefeller’s observation deck]. And then there’s home base. That’s where we do a lot of our interviews. The most famous red carpet moment of all time was the Madonna-Courtney kerfuffle [which happened] at our home base [in 1995]. That was the compact-throwing, Courtney-falling-over incident. That’s certainly the most famous one. But every year, there’s tons of craziness.
What else is different this time around?
The multiscreen experience (14 cameras total) is what this year’s show is all about. When you think about it, we’re seeing a lot of things. What we’re really excited about this year is Top of the Rock. It is just an unbelievable space. We’re going to actually build a stage on the 70th floor overlooking the city, [and] have a kick-ass rock band. Opening the show is Fergie, who’s going to be doing her hit, ”London Bridge.” We’re actually going to shut the carpet down for five minutes, and she’s going to walk up and down the carpet, performing in front of the fans and all of the press. She’s psyched. It’s going to be another amazing moment.