Sunday, February 24, 2013

Hollywood's Most Sacred Day of the Year

Tonight is Hollywood's most holy night of the year. It is the day when our people come from all over the world to virtually or literally celebrate themselves in a giant, ugly display of sheer power, whimsy, boredom, and oh so rarely, class. There are a number of things to know about this important day from my point of view.

This post is mostly general background, intended for people who have never attended or had the pleasure of working extensively in the glamourous and rewarding motion picture industry.  Another post will go over some of the nuances of this year in particular, as it affects computer animation and visual effects.

The first thing to know is that it is important to start practicing your acceptance speech now, wherever you are, however early in your career it may be. Because when you actually work in the industry and are up for an award you will be too busy to have the time. And God forbid you should make a fool of yourself in front of a billion people.

Second it is so important to remember to thank all the little people who have contributed to your award. You know and we know that they are not really important, that all the ideas came from you, of course, but they do like to be thanked, its human nature after all, and it makes you look like a better person who is willing to give credit to the unworthy.

Yes, they really are heavy.  I think they put depleted uranium in the bottom or something.

Third, when you get out of your car, your limo, or hybrid Prius, be sure to wave to your fans who have waited so patiently to see you and only you. It is such a courteous thing to do. I always wave to them when I get out of my car at the awards.

Fourth, depending on the year, they often have members enter the Academy behind whichever star is being interviewed at the moment. One year, the first time I attended with my friend Lisa Goldman, we happened to enter when they were interviewing Jodi Foster. The trick is to pass behind the star, then turn around and go back, and then of course reverse direction and go back in. That way you get three passes in front of the TV camera (admittedly in the background, of course). (1)

Fifth, do not be concerned about getting a date. If you are a single member of the Academy, or if you happen to wrangle a pair of tickets to the nosebleed section, which is possible but difficult, it does not matter who you are, what your gender preference is, or how much you are hated and despised the rest of the year, you will be able to get a date to the Academy Awards (tm). Trust me. (2)

Sixth, probably if you attend, you will be up in the nosebleed section. In fact, although it does make things a little less convenient, you will be watching television monitors mostly even though you can see the stage, you are much better off than if you are in the more prestigious orchestra section. Because you will be able to move around, you see, and those in the orchestra section can not move around if the camera is there to witness it. And when you do leave your seat down there, they have someone ready to occupy it when the camera is back on so that there are no empty seats.  But in the nosebleed section you can wander around, talk to people, get a soda water, and go to the bathroom.  This is much more convenient.

Everyone has stories about when they went to the awards and who they saw and so forth and so on. I want to mention one here, although it does not involve a famous movie star. About five years ago I went to the awards as the last-minute stand-in for the date of my friend David Coons (no reason to waste the ticket after all), and as we entered, I saw a receiving line of amazingly lovely young women from a local Catholic School in perfect Catholic School regalia, the dresses, the gloves, the knee socks. About 30 of them in a line, all about 17 years old. Why they were there, one can only speculate.

This picture makes me wonder if the Catholic School girls were part of a special security squad to protect Academy Members.  I did not notice any any weapons, but maybe they were concealed.

Exactly who is a member and why can be a little complicated. But it is fair to say that most of the members have a good reason for being members. Not everyone, not by any means. I know many, many people who are not members who are plausibly more deserving as members than some I know who are. But that is the case in many things in life, and it is not so surprising here. (3)

And yes, it is a little squirrelly who gets nominated and who wins. We all know some major gaffes in the Best Picture, Actor, Actress categories. But it is true in the technical areas as well, as you would expect. I will just mention one case because I think it is unfortunate. Without doubt, two of the most important visual effects films in the history of film are Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Bladerunner. Those two films were both nominated for visual effects but did not win either year. Admittedly those were tough years. But it happens that those two films were the two times that Trumbull and Yuricich were nominated, and they should have received an award for their work. In my humble opinion. If this world were fair, which it clearly is not.  (4)

Finally, one last thing, and since this is Hollywood, it is appropriate that it be about money. Because at the end of the day, whatever you may think or believe, and whatever else Hollywood may be about, Hollywood is about money.

This single night which may be the single most viewed event each year on television, with an international audience, also finances everything the Academy does for the year. They have major expenses and run some expensive infrastructure involving theatres, film archives, libraries, some restoration, and presumably some other worthy activities I know nothing about. And this single evening of the year finances all their work and activities, and that is probably a good thing, as they, from time to time, do good work.

Not always of course, but from time to time.

And the winner is ...


1. That year ILM was up for an award, was videotaping the event, saw me and very kindly sent me a copy of myself behind Jodie Foster. That was very nice of them! I think it was Doug Kay who arranged that. I wish I knew where that tape was.

2. The only two events that come close as far as I know is the Presidential Inauguration parties (which I have been invited to, by the way, ahem), and/or if your country has a King or Queen, and they get coronated or married in your lifetime.

3. Each area (e.g. subsection) has its own story here. I am particularly amazed that Nancy St. John does not appear to be a member of the visual effects subsection, but it may have to do with the problem of admitting producers in certain areas, particularly visual effects, and some not-so-amusing history. None of this should, by rights, affect someone like Nancy, but apparently it does, or at least I presume so since Nancy does not seem to be a member of the subsection. Probably if Nancy really wanted to be a member she could be, is my guess.

4. The work was done at the Entertainment Effects Group, an important early visual effects company owned by Douglas Trumbull and Richard Yuricich, ASC.  Many interesting and talented people worked there, and many of them went on to do other things in the field.

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