The Oscars from the other side of the Red Carpet

02.23.09 9 years ago

AP Photo/Dan Steinberg

By now, you’ve seen all the Hitfix photos with all the actors and actresses in all their finery on the various Oscar party red carpets. It looks very, very glamorous and it is, no doubt.

But it’s a little different from the other side of the velvet rope, for the journalists covering the festivities. Here’s a view from the wrong side of the tracks. I covered the Elton John Oscar party for Associated Press Television yesterday. My cameraman and I had to be there around 3 p.m. for a red carpet that would open around 4 p.m. and not end until around midnight. John’s party includes a viewing party and dinner that goes on during the Oscars. There’s a lull during the Oscars and then another swarm of celebs after the Oscars are over for round two.

It’s a cloudy, relatively cool day in Los Angeles, but the tent we’re in is sweltering, humid and hot. I mean boiling. It felt like an incubator. I was sure we were going to start hatching chicks, it was so warm. Camera men (and they are still almost all men, for some reason) were drenched in sweat before the first celeb rolled down the carpet. The first one for this party is Elton John and his partner, David Furnish. There’s no warming up and getting out any kinks with a few throwaway interviews.

John was dripping in diamonds, as Chopard is one of the party’s hosts. He’s a very gracious host and he talked to all the crews on the carpet-there were probably about 15 camera crews and another 10 print outlets. We all get around 3-5 minutes, which, quite frankly, is a long time. You do enough of these things and you exactly when you’re gotten the sound bite you need. Some journalists like to get them to yammer on and on, but I figure let them move on. It has to be tough getting asked the same thing over and over again, such as “What’s your favorite Elton John song? ” “What makes Elton John’s party so special?” I groan a little inside when I hear the person right before me from “The Insider,” ask the exact questions I know I have to ask too because I have to ask the exact same thing since I need the celeb saying it into our camera. Even worse is if the person after me, in this case, it was a correspondent for Canadian Broadcasting Company, asks a question that I didn’t ask that gets a great response. D’oh!

Even though I know we’re ultimately going to produce a piece that is no more than six minutes and will include only the top names that I get, I always over -interview for these things. There are certain celebs that I pass on because I know we won’t use them, but if there’s a shadow of a doubt or if we need them for a future story, I try to grab them. Then there are the celebrities who frustrate the hell out of the press because they only pose for the still photographers and walk past us as we’re screaming their names (actually, I’m too shy to scream people’s names and think it’s rude, although it’s sometimes necessary) as they give us a wave-they mean it to be friendly, but it’s a total brush off- and rush into the party. Among the big folks who did that last night were Sharon Stone, Victoria Beckham and Eva Longoria (who were holding hands…), Carrie Underwood, Chace Crawford and Claire Danes.

Overwhelmingly, the folks who stop are very nice and more than a few of them have done their homework. When I ask why this party is special, they spout out a perfect pitch for how it raises money for the Elton John AIDS Foundation, which has raised more than $130 million to eradicate AIDS over the last 17 years. And how there is still no cure. They’ve clearly been coached, but it’s really nice that they’re using the platform to spread the word.

Here’s a little secret. One of the best parts about being a journalist-and there are too many of them for me to ever mention since I truly am grateful to get to do what I do… always-is that you get to interview folks that you’ve dreamt of meeting whom you wouldn’t get to meet under any other circumstances. Some of them, you’ve long hoped to talk to, others are just delightful interactions. Among my favorites during the first-half were Keifer Sutherland, who makes excellent eye contact; Fran Drescher, who won my heart forever when she admitted she had worn the same haute-couture gown to the Grammys because she believed it was irresponsible in these recessionary times to be flaunting new dresses and only wearing something nice. Whether that’s true or she just couldn’t get a designer to dress her twice for free since she wasn’t up for any awards, we don’t know, but I loved what she said. My other favorite was Chris O’Donnell. I’ve had a crush on him ever since 1995’s “Circle of Friends.” I love that movie. I know a lot of folks think he’s bland, but in person he is so boyishly handsome. Those blue eyes blaze and he’s got a twinkle in his them that doesn’t come across on screen. He touched my arm to make a point and my knees got a little weak. Okay, I admitted it. Speaking of crushes, Tyrese was so taken from the VH1 interviewer, who was, admittedly, a very exotic beauty, that he couldn’t really focus when he was chatting to me. He told her how besotted he was at the end of her interview with him-even saying he’d barely been able to concentrate on answering her questions, he found her so attractive. She took it in good stride.

After about 90 minutes of non-stop interviewing, the Oscars start and the carpet slows down except for the late straggler, like Kate Beckinsale, who is stunning in person. Really, truly beautiful and tiny! Her waist can’t be more than 22 inches. She talks very softly. I kept wanting to tell her to speak up, but other than that, she was really sweet. She holds Elton John as very dear as “Tiny Dancer” was playing in the delivery room when she gave birth.

Otherwise, we basically wait for almost four hours. It’s too tough to leave for four hours since the streets around us have been blocked off. There’s one TV at one end of the tent that’s showing an Oscar feed and many of us sit on the red carpet (in this case, it was black and white), in our formal wear and watch the show, but we have to scurry back to our assigned spots whenever a late celeb comes in. While they’re dining on gourmet food inside, only a few feet from us, we’re pouncing on delivered pizzas like a pack of jackals. Given the heat and the duration, water is at a premium and we’re all guzzling as much as we can, but for me, I’m always juggling that balance between wanting to stay hydrated and desperately not wanting to have to use one of the porto-potties (no, we’re not allowed into the party, even to use the bathrooms).

During the Oscars and shortly thereafter, I watched some correspondent from “The Insider” greet her colleagues, such as “The insider” host Lara Spencer, with the same sorority girl excitement as she would a star like Whoopi Goldberg. Then she would interview the colleague who would have been inside the party or just arrived from some other fabulous Oscar party about her dress, who she’d seen, etc. If I’d ever had to do that with my Billboard colleagues, I would have been laughing so hard I wouldn’t have been able to get through the interview. I didn’t know whether to be impressed or appalled, so I was a little bit of both.

The second wave starts shortly after the Oscars finish. My faves from that run were Whoopi Goldberg, who answers very sincerely and completely. She’d changed out of her Grammy gown and was in sweat pants and tennis shoes, God love her. Ben Stiller was adorable when he talked about how much he loved “Slumdog Millionaire” and how pleased he was that Heath Ledger won. He felt Ledger had been robbed when he didn’t’ win for “Brokeback Mountain.” He was rocking some wild hair-almost Phil Spector-ish, but was really nice. Sir Ben Kingsley greeted me as if we were old friends. You know, some celebrities do that as a matter of course-and it’s a smart one. They’ve been schooled to never say “Nice to meet you!” just in case you’ve interviewed them 12 times before and they just don’t remember. Always, always better to say, “Lovely to see you” and leave it vague. Anyway, Kingsley was very friendly and engaging. Like many people, he had his wife with him. The spouse usually stands there, arm around their husband, smiling blankly while we interview their other half. It must be awkward as hell as they know we don’t care what they have to say. I applaud the ones who realize that and don’t try to inject themselves. Some spouses do and you’re left smiling and nodding while they’re talking when you wish for all the world that their famous spouse had just said what they said.

After the red carpet ends, I rushed back to the AP bureau to edit my piece. That takes a few hours and all you want to do is take off your shoes, get something to eat and sleep. In my case, the nine hours on the red carpet gets reduced to three minutes of tape (not even the six minutes because we’re under such a deadline)  that gets sent out to 4,000 media outlets. In fact, you may have seen some of the footage I and my other AP colleagues gathered already.  I walk back in my house at 4:30 a.m. Monday morning’s paper had beaten me home.

My feet hurt and I’m tired, but I can’t wait for my next red carpet.

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