Few moments in the history of awards shows — heck, television in general — have been more cringe-inducing and make-you-want-to-die-of-second-hand-embarrassment than last year’s Best Picture flub at the Academy Awards. In case you don’t remember it (or conveniently repressed the memory), Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were presenting the biggest honour of the night when Beatty paused for a reeeeeally long time when reading the winner, then Dunaway took the envelope and announced that La La Land had won. It wasn’t until producers Jordan Horowitz and Marc Platt, flanked by the entire cast, had finished their acceptance speeches that they realized there had been a mistake. Moonlight had actually won. It’s still so painful to watch.
PwC’s US Chairman and Senior Partner, Tim Ryan claimed responsibility for the horrible mistake. An investigation — yes, investigation — into the matter revealed that the presenters for Best Picture had actually been handed the envelope for Best Actress, hence Beatty’s confusion. Dunaway had announced La La Land after growing frustrated with Beatty’s pause because the envelope read that Emma Stone had won Best Actress for that film.
After reviewing everything that happened that night, Ryan has put it down to human error in handing over the envelope. The mistake had nothing to do with PwC’s accounting, but they are taking the matter very seriously.
So what’s the plan so this never, ever, ever happens again? Ryan has spent the year figuring that out. There are six new regulations in place — shared with The Associated Press — to ensure that there isn’t another horrible moment like that one last year.
Typically, there are two PwC balloting partners stationed at either end of the stage who each have a complete set of envelopes and the winner’s list memorized. The two from last year have been replaced — although they still work for PwC — and a third partner, who will sit in the control room with Oscars producers, has been added. All three partners will be at rehearsal and trained on how to respond if something goes wrong like last year. PwC admits that their response at the time of the mishap was delayed and disorganized.
They have also added a new formality to the envelope hand-over process wherein both a stage manager and the celebrity presenter will confirm that they have been handed the correct envelope by the PwC representative. Partners backstage will also not be permitted to use their phones at all so that their “singular focus will be on the show and delivering the correct envelopes,” according to Ryan.
With nominations out Tuesday, people are getting hyped for the awards and Ryan is confident — with a healthy dose of worry — that they will go off without a hitch just like the previous 89 years.
“My nature, just as a person, is healthy paranoia. But I also know in my head that we haven’t left any step undone. We owe that to the academy,” he told the Press, “While I feel very, very good about all the work that’s been done and the attention to detail that’s in place, our job doesn’t end until that curtain closes.”
Back here at home, we can only hope everything goes according to plan (and have the popcorn and Twitter ready for if it doesn’t).