My first time at the Oscars: Tales from the red carpet
Three years ago my frame of reference for hard-hitting journalism was covering sweaty, Lower East Side indie bands for NYU’s student paper, and two years ago I spent my days hawking Italian linens in Downtown Los Angeles, so it’s fair to say that covering the red carpet at last night’s Oscars was a career high point for me. Since I started at EW last June, I’ve already had a vast array of “Holy crap I have to call Mom and tell her about this” experiences, but none can match up to last night’s glamour. I mean, I had to buy a formal gown. According to my official Academy email, it had to be “tea length” or longer — something I clearly needed to Google, as they don’t have “tea length” sections at H&M, and I usually watch award shows in pajama couture.
Friday: Getting into the Oscars is what I have always imagined entering the Kremlin would be like: Difficult, detail-oriented, and full of metal detectors. See that fancy badge I’m wearing in that awkward photo? All press have to go through a DMV-esque credentialing process at the Hollywood Renaissance Hotel the week before the ceremony, but I was okay with it because Tim Gunn was there (Wearing a pocket square! At noon!) waiting in line with me. Celebrities — they’re just like us!
Sunday, 12:00 p.m.: The actual carpet festivities began at 3 p.m. PST, but myself, my colleague Laura Hertzfeld, and the other members of the press — including red carpet staples Mario Lopez and Ryan Seacrest — were setting up as early as noon. Once everyone was prepped and ready with their camera crews (we were placed between ABC and Inside Edition) the vibe was pretty calm and friendly until the celebrities arrived.
3:00 p.m.: Once the first limo arrived, things got awesomely weird: It was a truly wonderful, whirlwind, glamourous onslaught of pretty people, and this 25-year-old nerd from New Jersey had the opportunity to turn down interviews with Academy Award-nominated producers because Viola Davis was on her way. This briefly made me feel very special and important, but then I got reprimanded by security for for taking photos of celebrities with my cell phone. That brought things back down to earth.
4:00-5:00 p.m.: If there’s one thing I’ll remember most from last night, it’s the adrenaline rush. I remember telling Laura that this must be what it feels like to be chased by a serial killer, which is probably not really true, but it was the only semi-applicable metaphor I could think up on the fly. Basically, we had to think and act in the moment. Once the first limo arrived, a steady flood of publicists started escorting their clients down the carpet, with dozens of press outlets vying for the same interviews. The pubs with lesser-known clients approached us to ask for interviews, but we had to fight our way to most of the bigger celebrities. Those people shouting “George! George! Over here!” behind Seacrest sound totally annoying on TV, but the cries for attention are 100 percent necessary if you’re not Giuliana Rancic (or EW’s Dave Karger). Some of the more permanently cemented stars, like last-minute-arrivals Brad and Angie, didn’t even speak to the press (Though, admirably, Angelina and Brad both stopped to speak to and thank some military servicemen in the press line, even though their escorts told them to keep moving) and some, like Emma Stone, only spoke to a handful of outlets, so Laura and I had to do our best to make sure we were on their radar.
Once the Clooneys and the Maras and the Segels of this world actually did stop to speak with us, it really all came down to comfort level — ours, and theirs. I’ve worked a few carpets before, so by last night I had already had that “Hallelujah!” moment where I realized that celebrities are just normal people with a ton of money and really nice clothes, and that some conversations will always be better than others. You just have to know your stuff, follow your interview’s cues, treat it like a conversation, and not take a grumpy personality too personally. Jason Segel is going to be Jason Segel, but at the same time, Nick Nolte will always be Nick Nolte, and that will probably be pretty weird. (It was.) Hey, it’s the Oscars — at best you’ll have some great material, and at worst, you’ll have enough fun stories to make your friends secretly hate you for the rest of your life.