Warren Beatty found himself at the center of a bizarre Oscars finish.
The Oscar briefcase is treated like a red carpet celebrity. (Photo by Jailyn Marcel.)
The Oscars' biggest secrets are kept in this simple briefcase. Photo by Jailyn Marcel.)
When I asked Martha Ruiz what would happen if someone read off the wrong Oscar winner, either accidently or intentionally, she seemed surprised by the question. This was during a pre-Oscars media blitz for Ruiz — one of the two people in the world who know the Oscar winners before they’re revealed on live TV — and the scenario seemed almost unimaginable to her at that moment.
Well, she lived it Sunday night — as the entire world watched.
The most bizarre — and let’s face it, entertaining — Academy Awards in history ended in pure chaos and more second guessing than even General Custer received. It ended with the wrong movie (La La Land) being announced as the Best Picture winner by Faye Dunaway (with a major dumbfounded assist from Warren Beatty). It ended with La La Land’s own producer eventually correcting the mistake on stage and left Beatty and host Jimmy Kimmel trying to apologize in the wake of Moonlight’s surreally delayed victory.
Here was Ruiz’s response to the wrong winner scenario I poised in a one-on-one phone interview with the PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) accountant before Oscar week.
“There are procedures in place,” Ruiz told PaperCity. “We’d tell the show producer and it’s the producer’s call on how to handle it. We wouldn’t go on stage ourselves.”
Someone obviously reacted way too slowly in the heat of Oscars Sunday night.
The Two-Envelope Truths
Having two identical winner envelopes for every single Oscars category is part of the elaborate security and safeguarding procedures involved in the awards.
Ruiz and her fellow PwC partner Brian Cullinan are the only two people in the world who know all the Oscar winners before the ceremony. They count the votes over several days starting on Wednesday of Oscars week and eventually memorize all the winners.
They also prepare a set of matching identical envelopes and each put a set in one of the special Oscar briefcases they are charged with escorting to the ceremonies.
“The idea is that if something happens to one of the briefcases, we’ll always have the other,” Ruiz told PaperCity, back before anyone knew just how much scrutiny the identical envelopes provision would receive.
It appears Beatty realized something was wrong before anyone else acted. In a way, Warren Beatty’s been exonerated.
The notion of having a backup is so engrained that Ruiz and Cullinan have to go to the Oscars in separate cars with their own separate special security detail. They also must take separate routes to the theater. They’re even separated backstage — with one backstage left and one backstage right.
Everything is thought of — except, apparently the idea of one of the presenters grabbing one of the identical envelopes of a prior winner. That appears to be what happened. Beatty took the stage holding the second Best Actress winner envelope rather than one of the Best Picture winner envelopes. Beatty paused, but then let Dunaway announce La La Land as the winner as she apparently missed or ignored the fact that Emma Stone’s name was on the card as well.
For all the Twitter cracks he took for pulling a Steve Harvey, it appears Beatty realized something was wrong before anyone else acted. In a way, Warren Beatty’s been exonerated.
This is how Oscar chaos happens. This is how a dismissed improbability becomes reality. And thought Tom Brady pulling off a 25-point comeback in the Super Bowl was unlikely?
The Oscars had something of a sports moment. They finally went off script. Whether you think that’s horrific or hilarious likely depends on your view. And whether you were in the wings.
PwC, which shepherded the Oscar results for 82 years without incident before Sunday, issued its own statement early Monday morning. “We sincerely apologize to Moonlight, La La Land, Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, and Oscar viewers for the error that was made during the award announcement for Best Picture.
“The presenters had mistakenly been given the wrong category envelope and when discovered, was immediately corrected. We are currently investigating how this could have happened, and deeply regret that this occurred.”
For more on the Academy Award show’s envelopes and security procedures, read PaperCity‘s pre-Oscars exclusive.