In the Oscars’ 90 year history, only twice have there been an incorrect announcement of the winners.
The first occasion was in 1964 at the 36th Academy Awards. There, Sammy Davis Jr. announced the winner for Best Adaption Or Treatment Score.
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- March 23, 2020
However, he accidentally received the envelope for Best Musical Score — Substantially Original. Thankfully, the error was easy to spot.
The name Davis read, Tom Jones, had not got a nomination in the category.
Rather more embarrassing was the 2017 gaffe which saw Best Picture, the main award of the evening, given to La La Land rather than Moonlight.
It wasn’t until the La La Land producers got on stage and were half way through their speech that the error was noticed. It was explained that Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway who were presenting the award had been given the envelope for Best Actress, which named Emma Stone from La La Land.
They had been given the back-up envelope from that award, rather than the primary envelope from the Best Picture award.
Given that the wrong envelope had been given, and the error took so long to be noticed the accounting firm who tally the votes and hand out the envelopes to presenters, PricewaterhouseCoopers, were forced to issue an apology:
“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.
“We appreciate the grace with which the nominees, the Academy, ABC, and Jimmy Kimmel handled the situation.”
Then-Academy president Cheryl Isaacs Boone stated that both auditors at the 2017 Oscars would not be working at any future Oscars events. However, PricewaterhouseCoopers confirmed that they had not been fired.
The whole incident was a huge embarrasment to PwC. The company had previously used their Oscars record as evidence of their reliability.
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How are PwC avoiding a repeat of the incident?
To avoid repeating the scandal, PwC have unveiled a new six stage plan to keep things on track. US Chairman and Senior Partner Tim Ryan revealed the new regulations to the Associated Press.
He claimed that in order to make amends for the 2017 debacle he personally reached out to Oscars producers, the presenters, stage managers, and, of course, the productions teams of La La Land and Moonlight.
In the following months, Ryan describes meeting the Academy many times to salvage their relationship. Together, PwC and the Academy crafted these new rules to avoid another envelope mistake.
“One of the most disappointing things to me was all the great work that had been done, not only last year but over the last 83 years, around accuracy, confidentiality integrity of that process. And where we got it wrong was on the handing over of the envelope.”
There are to be no chances to the actual voting system, nor the tabulation of the results. Instead, all the changes being made involve the envelope rituals. Ryan also claims he’ll be ‘personally involved’ in the 2018 Oscars show.
So what are the new rules?
New partners at the awards
Despite their combined 13 years experience at the Oscars, last year’s PwC partners, Martha Ruiz and Brian Cullinan, will not return. They will be replaced by a new pair of side-stage partners. These roles will be filled by Rick Rosas, who previously did the job for 14 years, and LA-based worker Kimberley Bourdon.
A third backstage partner
In addition to the two replacement side-stage partners a third balloting partner role has been created. This person will sit in the control room with Oscars producers. Like the side-stage partners, he or she will have a full list of winners as well as committing them all to memory. This person will be able to alert stage managers should any mix-ups occur.
All of PwC’s partners involved in the show will have to attend rehearsals for the Oscars. This not something that was done in previous years.
Preparing for the worst
Not only that, but they’ll also have to practice what to do in the event of a mistake. This is especially noteworthy because it could have saved the day last year. Last year’s side-stage partner Brian Cullinan is said to have had no idea what to do in the event of a mistake after the question was brought up in an interview several days before the show. Ryan explained why these preparations are so important:
“Because, as you’re well aware, it took a long time to respond last year when there was a mistake that we made, so we’re formally practicing the what-ifs.”
Double-checking the envelopes
Ultimately, the 2017 fiasco happened because the side-stage partners didn’t check they’d given the presenter the right envelope. Thus, from now on, both the celebrity presenter and the stage manager will double check they have the right envelope. Hopefully, they will notice any mistakes before the presenter gets to the stage.
No phones or social media backstage
Last year’s disaster has been partially blamed on Cullinan being star struck. According to some sources, he was more focused on taking a selfie with Emma Stone backstage than doing his job. Mere minutes before the gaffe he tweeted a selfie with the star. After everything went awry, he quickly took down the post but not before it his critics spotted it. As a result, this year the Academy insists that PwC partners are not to use their phones or social media at all during the show.
Why doesn’t the Academy get another company to take the job?
The reason why PwC are so bound up in the Oscars is because they’re the Academy’s accounts. The firm do most of the Academy’s taxes as well as audits.
Academy CEO Dawn Hudson explains that since the voting process and secrecy around the winners weren’t compromised, the whole thing was a human error.
“Still, it was a big human error, and it was a very public human error.”
However, ultimately, tradition won out. In the Oscars 90-year history, PwC have been there for 83. Ultimately, she and the rest of Academy didn’t wish to “throw out 83 years of flawless partnership over this, while huge, one human error.”
“Let me tell you, I don’t think this error will ever happen again or would happen again. We put in a lot of protocols to make sure it won’t, but I don’t think it will anyway. I think everyone will be very focused on getting that right.”