One firm knows the Oscar winners that we’re dying to find out
While many people focused on the State of the Union this past week, a group of accountants focused on keeping one of the movie industry’s biggest secrets: the latest Academy Award winners. The State of Cinema takes place this Sunday night with the 92nd Academy Awards.
Over the past months cinema junkies from all walks of life have been arguing if this year’s most coveted prize for Best Picture will go to a known legendary director such as Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon a Time In Hollywood) or Martin Scorsese, another one-shot visual feast (1917), or perhaps an underdog (Parasite), which could be poised to become the first foreign-language film.
Despite its history of poor judgment and misrepresentation, the Oscars creates a narrative that keeps fans hoping, wishing and guessing. Yet, only a handful of individuals will know the outcome before the night’s proceedings. Who is trusted?
For the past 85 years, the board of governors for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has placed the evening’s winners and announcement envelopes in the hands of accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.
PwC knows the necessity of secrecy. They work within a small group of trusted employees, so the winners stay hush-hush until the moment presenters take the stage. This ensures the reactions of the stars we know and love are genuine – broadcasted to the world in real time.
Once the Academy announces its nominations, they send members their ballots. Voters decide whether they want their ballot delivered electronically or via paper copy. Though, most voters still prefer to make their selections on a paper ballot.
The firm takes extra steps to avoid fraud and counterfeiting. PwC places special security codes on each ballot to ensure their authenticity when they’re returned in the mail.
That small unit of PwC employees then work at a secret location to hand-count the votes. Even so, each member assigned only handles part of the counting, so they won’t know the true outcome. After PwC finishes counting, they deliver the results to PwC partners Martha Ruiz and Brian Culligan. The two head the operation to tabulate final totals and work to prepare the envelopes you see opened on TV. The counting process itself takes days.
They take measures to ensure the secret counting facility isn’t accessible if discovered. PwC stores ballots in rooms with biometric locks, security personnel, alarm systems and an automatic alert system that contacts the LAPD if a door is open after hours.
Ruiz and Culligan print two sets of winner’s cards. Although they create a card for each nominee, only the winners make it into envelopes. The loser cards are destroyed immediately after. The two sets of winner’s envelopes are hand-delivered in locked steel briefcases to the ceremony. Heavily guarded by police and security personnel, each partner embarks on a separate route to the ceremony with one of the cases. So long as one of them arrives with the 72 winner ballots needed, the show goes on.
PwC handles winners’ envelopes up until the final moment – standing side stage to provide each presenter with the correct card as the show progresses. The results never leave their sides, and the LAPD escorts the partners at all times.
Despite the secrecy, security protocols and intricacies of tabulation, the process isn’t always fool proof. The 2017 Academy Award’s famous best picture mix up almost cost PwC their role. Up until the final moment of the show, everything was going as planned when suddenly presenter Warren Beatty announced that La La Land was the evening’s winner. When in fact, the true winner was Moonlight. In those final moments the presenter was simply handed the wrong envelope.
PwC will again handle this year’s ballots and are the sole proprietors of what may be the hottest secret in the world this weekend. We’ll all be glued to the TV on Sunday night when the festivities being at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.