Everyone always asks me about what it's like to announce the Oscars®. Here is a piece from my website that will give you little bit of inof about the week leading up to, and the day of, the 80th Annual Academy Awards®.
Randy’s Oscar Blog
As I sit down two weeks after the show, many thoughts ramble through my head about my nine day whirlwind experience in Los Angeles. Now at home and regaining normalcy to my life, I am ready to share with you my day-by-day journey at the 80th Annual Academy Awards® show, the world’s largest and most exciting live awards telecast!
In January, I got the call from director Louis J. Horvitz that invited me back to the Academy Awards. He shared with me that I would be co-announcing with Tom Kane, a veteran voice-over artist. This was Tom’s second time behind the microphone at The Oscars.
Depending on whether the Writers Guild of America settled their strike in time for the February 24th show on ABC, we were prepared to do another version of the show. Thankfully, ten days before the broadcast, the writers went back to work. It was announced that Jon Stewart was going to host and the big show would go on as hoped.
Jon and his writers worked nonstop carving out his monologue and material for the introductions of the likes of Anne Hathaway, Steve Carrell, Keri Russell, Tom Hanks, just to name a few. I am a big Jon Stewart fan and I loved him. He is classy, smart and funny.
I traveled to Los Angeles on Sunday, February 17th so I could hit the ground running Monday morning. I brought my daughter Rachel with me on this trip as she was on a week of winter break from school - it was good timing for her first actual trip to the Academy Awards. I was lucky to have our baby sitter with us so I was able to work uninterrupted, for the most part, between running from Paramount Studios to the Kodak Theatre, and also recording for WWOR in New York to accommodate their two sessions a day. I am very blessed with an abundance of work right now and maintaining my availability for my clients is definitely a selling point. It can be a balancing act, to say the least.
My daily work began at Paramount television every morning at 6:30 AM Pacific Time. Living on the East Coast, I get the better end of the time difference. I am usually up early to get our daughter ready for school and I am in good voice at 9:30 AM Eastern Time. The time difference is what made me decide to not change my body clock for Pacific Time; while in LA, I woke up every morning around 4:30 or 5 am. I was knocking on the club floor breakfast room at 5:45 am each day, and they were very kind to let me in early for that much needed cup of coffee. I spent many mornings with my daughter Rachel watching as she happily ate bacon, sausages and eggs along with cereal and fresh fruit. That kid has a good appetite.
Monday, February 18, 2008
I began my day working for “Entertainment Tonight” and “The Insider” with Sarah Huber, who typically records me in the booth via Telos Zephyr when I’m in my home studio, and in “The Insider” V/O booth when I am there in person.
Kevin Gershan is my go-to man there, and he was the one to deliver the good news that Linda Bell Blue decided to do a story on the voice behind The Oscars. For me, this meant I would do an on-camera interview with both “ET” and “The Insider,” talking about being their voice, as well as my returning to The Oscars for a seventh time. I couldn’t wait for hair and make-up to have their way with me!
Also on this day I decided to stop by the Kodak Theatre and get my photo credentials from security for The Oscars. I wanted to beat the rush - I know from past years that by the weekend, over 8,000 people will be granted a credential of some kind in order to access a part the makeshift city that is built to broadcast the world’s biggest and most exciting live awards telecast.
Tuesday, February 19th, 2008
I arrived at Paramount at 6:30 am and waited for the first scripts of the day to come in. I recorded all of the daily promos, which sometimes require updates the morning of the show airs. We work a day ahead on those promos, but the other copy that comes my way is all of the in-show promos and segment introductions, which sometimes include the commercials within the shows.
Linda Bell Blue told me that I was scheduled to go into hair and make-up for the interview segment today. I am so excited to finally get my close-up and talk about my two favorite jobs in the world.
Ing and Joy did my make-up and hair respectively. They are awesome. A girl could get used to that kind of treatment every day. Luckily, it was to happen a couple more times that week.
Tad Scripter is the engineer in charge of the entire broadcast of The Academy Awards. If it’s technical, or it has to be installed, it must go though Tad. It was through him, along with the approval of the director and the producer, that I was able to get Brian from Dave and Dave Inc. to come to the Kodak Theatre to install a Telos Zephyr I had rented, and connect it the ISDN line that had been run to the rehearsal truck. I planned this so that when I arrived on Thursday and Friday for rehearsals of the Awards, I would be able to do my pick-up sessions for my other clients in between rehearsing.
Thursday, February 21st
Rehearsals for the announcers began today. Our call time was 8:30 am. This was the first time I’d seen Tom Kane in eight years, I think. We recalled that the last time may have been at AFTRA (during the strike of 2000). Tom and I took our places behind our microphones for our long day of pre-recording and presenter introductions, as well as the winner walk-up recordings. Earlier in the week, this was all done by two voice-over stand-ins - Tim Byron Owen and Steffanee Leaming. Steffanee is a professional awards show stand-in actress who usually plays a presenter and/or or winner of a particular award during the countless hours of rehearsals that must take place without the actual stars. Steffanee recently took her talents behind the mic. She is also the wife of the director Louis J Horvitz.
Louis J. Horvitz and his team of AD’s (associate directors), lighting, chyron, stage managers, tape people and technicians continued to bring the show to life. He and producer Gil Cates constantly refine and embellish every aspect of the telecast long before Jon Stewart steps on the Kodak’s stage to rehearse his parts for the first time on Saturday the 23rd.
Tom and I shared an area about the size of a large closet. It was perhaps six by six feet. And it was located in the back of the orchestra mixing trailer. An interesting fact to know is that this truck is driven out to Los Angeles every year from New Jersey, and mixed for the show live by Tom Vicari. Ed Greene is in charge of the ultimate mix that hits the air. He is located in the same truck as the director and other essential players.
Tom and I are not alone, thankfully. We have Tina Cannizzaro DeBone. Tina is a pro and her job as script coordinator is to write the winner walk-up copy and check all the facts of each winner for accuracy and also timing. If the nominee is sitting in the first few rows of the Kodak during the show, they will make it to the stage too quickly for anything elaborate or drawn out to be read. Tina is always writing her copy so while we are reading it, we could stop halfway through and the facts will still make sense. So as we are announcing, in our periphery we keep the winners walking so we change it up quickly if need be. If we don’t see something changing, Tina gives us hand signals to speed up or slow down as we speak. In between acts during the commercial breaks, the associate director in the truck, or sometimes the director, calls the next act down to all the camera people, stage hands, lighting… essentially everyone that works on a cue. It is during this time that Tina would give Tom and me a quick run down of the next act so we could feel even more prepared as we come out of the commercial break.
Rehearsal ended at 9:00 PM.
Friday, February 22nd, 2008
I arrived for rehearsal a little late. I was granted permission to arrive at ten so I could accommodate my other clients.
That’s the good thing about having an announce partner -- Tom and I covered announces for each other at different times, like when we had to hop back and forth between the pre-record trailer where we recorded everything that ultimately winds up married to a graphic; for example the commercial billboards and title card bumpers. This is the truck where the celebrities who are presenting must stop by before they leave rehearsal so their voice can be married to the nominee package they are introducing (in other words, the voice-over you hear before they open the all important envelope and read the winner’s name live on the air). Pre-recording the nominee packages saves the show minutes by the end of the night. If they’re read live, most celebrities don’t read the nominees quickly because they want to let the applause die out before moving on to the next name. Ed Greene, the show’s audio mixer, keeps the audio at a constant level and we hear everything in context all while moving the show forward in a timely manner.
The day was full of introductions and winner walk-ups. We worked until after 9:30PM.
Saturday, February 23rd, 2008
This was the first day I slept in until 7am and enjoyed the luxury of not having to get into a car and drive anywhere.
Once at rehearsal, Tom and I continued to read our respective parts. It had been determined by the writers that for this year’s show, Tom would open the show and do the entire first act, and then I would enter in act 2, and continue to do all the even-numbered acts. In the past, I read everything myself when I announced solo, and on the 75th anniversary when I shared the mic with Neil Ross, we interchanged for each introduction and conversely with the winner walk-up copy.
Today we saw Jon Stewart for the first time. The day began with the parade of stars as they all came through to rehearse their introduction of an award, or as Nicole Kidman was selected, to introduce the Honorary Oscar recipient Robert Boyle. Mr. Boyle is a lifelong director and at 98 was able to walk up to the podium and accept his award and speak without a teleprompter. I say, “You go Bob!”
Saturday night rehearsal begins as a closed set, but the balcony was soon opened to the many stand-ins that had worked earlier in the week, along with military guests. All were sworn to secrecy and all promised they would not reveal Jon’s jokes and maintain the integrity of the broadcast.
Rehearsals ended around 10:45PM. I had a drink in the hotel lobby bar and went to sleep at 1am.
Sunday, February 24th, 2008
The day began by picking up my daughter at 7am from my girlfriend’s house in Studio City. Rachel had slept over with Cameron, a friend she has known all her life.
As I left the Kodak complex, I noticed the streets were all blockaded in prep for the show and the red carpet arrivals. It was a cold and overcast morning with rain on the way. I made a mental note that Highland would not be the best way to try to return to the hotel. So we came into Hollywood from the 101 freeway by exiting on Vine, two exits past my destination. I winded my way back to the hotel by side streets only to face the cement blockade on Highland. I held my pass out the window and I ran the gauntlet of closures and cement blockades, finally returning to the hotel with enough time to have some coffee and find my way into the Kodak Theatre, with time to spare before the final dress rehearsal.
Tom and I ran our lines as Jon Stewart did his monologue and star introductions throughout, taking notice of the slight adjustments he and his writers made during the late night after the rehearsals had ended.
We did a complete run through utilizing the stand-ins as both presenters and winners to make sure there are no loose ends before the big show later in the day. The Oscars Red Carpet arrivals show was to begin at 5PM PST/8PM EST, and then the Academy Awards were to start promptly at 5:30 PM PST/8:30PM EST.
We were released at 2PM to don our party outfits and eat a last meal before reporting back, ready for action, at 4:30PM.
For me this meant a quick trip back to my hotel room to see my daughter and Catie, the baby sitter. The make-up artist arrived to help me get ready for my red carpet stroll. Just days before, I chose a silver-grey Tadashi Couture gown, gorgeous silver shoes, and a Swarovski-encrusted handbag to wear on the red carpet. The gown had been fitted for me and I could not wait to put it on.
By 3PM I was ready, and in the drizzling rain, I made my way to the Red Carpet. Rachel was by my side and was reeling from the gowns and faces she recognized from film and TV. Helicopters flew in huge circles above the Kodak Theatre, and made the day seem urgently exciting.
Next to Rachel was our babysitter Catie. Catie is a talented art student, and an awesome photographer. She was ready to take my picture on the red carpet before I entered that phalanx of stars and nominees, who were all filing onto the carpet at this time. Rachel and I got shots together, then I had to leave them behind as I passed through the security area only ticketed guests with special credentials could access.
I entered the main part of the red carpet and found my place on the long line of celebrities, all of whom were being interviewed by the biggest entertainment shows in the world and photographed by every newspaper and paparazzi that line this legendary spot before the awards. I walked up the carpet a bit and heard Bonnie Tiegel call my name out from her position producing the ET Red Carpet show. Bonnie instructed me to go back to the beginning and walk the carpet again, making sure to pause at the first cameras on the carpet as those were “ET” and “The Insider” cameras. So I quickly scooted my way around the guests all flowing in my direction, careful to step over the many long trains of the designer gowns worn by some of the world’s most beautiful women. As I pretend to enter for the first time (LOL) whom do I find myself walking in behind? None other than George Clooney, in a gorgeous tux, with his girlfriend Sarah, who was wearing a pale blue/lavender gown. It was a surreal moment for me as people were yelling our names…George… Sarah…Randy! At one point, George bumped into me and then he leaned over to say, “Excuse me.” I leaned in and quickly introduced myself saying I would be introducing him later that night. He smiled and said “Be kind.” He is my idea of sexy, handsome, funny, and smart. Of course my husband also fits that bill.
Cheryl Woodcock, one of the ET hosts, shared with me a great tip before I ever stepped in front of the cameras. Cheryl told me that when I know someone is shooting me to step back and look up into the stands and give that famous wave. It is called a hero shot and, as predicted, that was the shot of me made it into the “ET” show. Plus, I now have that priceless footage of me waving to the crowds. Who cares that they had no idea who I was. Thank you Cheryl! And a giant thank you Linda Bell Blue, Bonnie Tiegel and Kevin Gershan for making one girl’s dreams come true.
I got out of my gown and put sweat pants and a tee shirt for the three to four hours of show that was ahead. The Oscar pre-show, produced by Gil Cates’ partner Dennis, began and we roll right in on the heels of it.
My friend Simbiat Hall is working the pre-show and Rachel got some pictures with her on the red carpet. Simbiat and I worked together on the Emmy Awards in 2001. It was the show that was cancelled twice and finally happened in November 2001 - Ellen DeGeneres hosted. I always meditate before a show and Simbiat is a Buddhist. So that night in 2001 we chanted in the booth before the show. It was the most centered I had ever felt before a show.
Tina Cannazarro DeBone and I have also worked together many times. She is a script supervisor and performs the same duties as Simbiat. Tina is a steady rock. She has trained many first-time Oscar announcers and is really good at her job.
Tom, Tina and I were in our places. In our truck we had our personal choices of beverages to get us through. Tom’s choice was a diet coke and some water. I chose hot and room temp water that I alternated throughout the evening. I placed my drops of Young Living Organic Essential oil of lemon into my water. Warm water with lemon feels perfect on my palate and clears up any mouth noise that I may have, helping me to enunciate… most of the time. (My slip of the night will be discussed as it happened during the show.) Catering also dropped off some fresh fruit for us that I ate heartily earlier, but at this point, only liquids will do. Luckily we had a private potty available outside our truck. You see, the technical people make sure there are port-a-johns for everyone that works in the back of the Kodak. I had the unfortunate experience of using one a few years ago, right after a giant stage hand had used and it was awful. I am a bit of a germ freak so I expressed how important a clean, available potty is to the announcers. John MacElveney, the Senior Production Manager for the show, personally delivered a key to our new clean personal potty. Of course anyone in our truck was welcome to use it and they did.
Our countdown from the truck rang in our headsets as the series of cues from our director were called. These cues would continue non-stop until the last one of the night is called.
Watching the shots of the stars in the house is always exciting. To finally see them sitting in the seats without their picture cards there means this is the real deal. We were on our way with the first award for best costume design for a film. Tom did a great job and we seamlessly moved the show ahead in a quick, efficient and professional manner. The show actually came in early this year by almost fifteen minutes at 3 hours and 45 minutes.
Act 2 began with me coming out of commercial break as I introduced George Clooney presenting a film piece on 80 Years of Oscars. Next I introduced Katherine Heigel and during her introduction of nominees for best make-up, I practiced saying the foreign names like Didier Lavergne (dee dee aye) (la vairn ya) and another nominee, Kazuhiro Tsuji (kah zoo hee roh) (tsoo-jee).
All was going well for me until we get into act 4 with the award for best animated short film. I rehearsed the possible winners in a low speak voice carefully enunciating Maciek Szerbowski (mah-sheck) (tcher-BOW-ski), Samuel Touneux (tour-neuh), Simone Vanesse (si-mon) (van-ness), Alexander Petrof (pe-TROF). Sure enough, the last nominees won and for the first time I said the names, reading ahead as I spoke. They were Suzy Templeton and Hugh Welchman. I saw the word “man” in Welchman and I accidentally said Suzy TempleMAN. I instantly knew I said it wrong and knew that if I said nothing the world would not know I made a mistake. But, I knew that she would! This woman had just won an Academy Award and I wanted to make this moment perfect for her, so I backtracked and quickly said Temple-TON and Hugh Welch-Man. It seems everyone I know heard my little flub. Oh well! As my daughter says, “That’s LIVE television!” It was my ONLY flub of the night, and I had a LOT of foreign names to pronounce.
My absolute favorite moment of the night was in Act 8. Award 16 is for Best Original Song. Alan Menken and Steven Schwartz were nominated in this category for the song in the film “Enchanted,” along with the writer of the song “Raise It Up” from the film “August Rush.” But, the surprise winners were Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova (mar-kay-ta) (eer-GLOH-vah) for the song to the film “Once” in which they not only starred, but wrote the film as well wrote and played all the music in the movie, including the winning song “Falling Slowly.” It was a beautiful piece and I think everyone in the room was shocked, including the director and producer. I heard the surprise in their voices as they called all the cues including my winner walk-up copy that said, “This is the first nomination and the first Academy Award for Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova.” My voice helped to escort them up onto the stage. Glen spoke first and gave a lovely acknowledgement to his partner. Just as he finished speaking, the cue for the orchestra to play was given and as the music began, Marketa stepped up to the microphone to give her thanks and realized she was being “played off,” so she held her Oscar and left stage right with John Travolta and the trophy girl. In the director’s truck simultaneously I heard the director yelling, “Stop the music… let her talk.” But she was already walking off the stage. Producer Gil Cates and director Louis J. Horvitz discussed how they felt she should have been allowed her moment, and while we were in the commercial break they decided to have Jon Stewart escort Marketa back onto the stage at the center microphone so she could express her thanks. Her speech was brilliant. It was warm and sincere as she spoke of the struggles to make this film a reality. She said:
“Thanks! This is amazing. What are we doing here? This is mad. We made this film two years ago. We shot on two Handycams. It took us three weeks to make. We made it for a hundred grand. We never thought we would come into a room like this and be in front of you people. It’s been an amazing thing. Thanks for taking this film seriously, all of you. It means a lot to us. Thanks to the Academy, thanks to all the people who’ve helped us, they know who they are, we don’t need to say them. This is amazing. Make art...”
Watching this I tried to remember when a winner has ever been brought back onstage to deliver an acceptance speech. I cannot remember one time. This was such a wonderful moment and I honor the call that was made, knowing that this may only happen “Once.” How ironic would that be for this Oscar winning team.
This why I LOVE live television! These special moments that can only happen once in a live moment with the planet watching and cheering for this Irish man and woman from the Czech Republic.
Tom and I continued through the night with our respective parts and then as the show ended I said, “This is Randy Thomas…” and Tom said, “…this is Tom Kane…” and I said, “…signing off from 80th Annual Academy Awards!” That’s the most exciting part of the night - knowing that my family on the east coast has stayed awake long enough to hear my vocal credit. From there, I quickly ushered Tom out of the truck so I could once again put on my gown, pack up our things, and say goodbye to the truck that has been our home and workspace for the past four days. I asked Tom and Tina to not let me forget my microphone. I packed up my script, equipment, headphones and Young Living Organic Essential Oils and carried the box to an area where I could hand off my stuff to our baby sitter and daughter so I could go to be interviewed by Entertainment Tonight on the bridge above what was the red carpet. I got there and the first question they asked me is, “Did you make any mistakes?” (groan) I shared the Suzy Templeton and Hugh Welchman story with them, as well as the Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova moment as my favorite of the night.
After the ET interview, I returned to the area where I last saw Rachel and Catie. My phone rings and its Tina telling me I left my mic in the truck. Dang! I asked if she could bring it to me on the 2nd floor. As we are speaking, I saw her one flight below me. Her fear was if she came up that the security people might not let her back down to where she needed to be. So I suggested she just hand it to the next person coming up the escalator. That next person turned out to be none other than the great Broadway singer and star of the original “Wicked,” Kristen Chenoweth. Babysitter Catie got a the picture as Kristen stepped off the escalator in her gorgeous chocolate brown and white gown and handed me my mic. Rachel was standing right there as she came off the escalator and was greatly amused that Kristin was serving as a messenger for the announcer. Kristin was kind and gracious enough to take several pictures with us before she continued on to the ball.
I kissed my daughter and tried to find my way to the ball. Except for one thing. I didn’t have a ticket. The person from whom I usually get one had already left for the ball and I couldn’t get in touch with them. I was instructed to step off the escalator since I am sans ticket. I stepped aside and found my way to an area where they were issuing last minute ball tickets. I know what you are thinking, “I can’t believe the announcers do NOT get tickets.” Well, we sometimes do, but it is never an automatic perk - it cannot even be negotiated into the contract. My experience is that getting a ticket to the ball is always last minute. This year, due to the Vanity Fair party being cancelled, ALL the stars wanted to go to this year’s ball. They were oversold and rather than beg for a ticket, I decided to go to the lobby bar at the hotel where everyone who worked on the show and didn’t have a ticket goes to unwind after a stressful and hectic, week, weeks or months, depending on the job function they performed.
All in all I was happy with my performance. Tom and I discussed our perceptions of the show and give big hugs for all the time and mutual support we gave each other during our intense but brief time we spent together in what seems like a room the size of a closet.
After two vodkas for me, we all kiss and hug each other saying, “Take care! And until next time!”
I went back to my room and Catie had already packed up Rachel’s suitcase. I began the final packing of my bag as we were leaving the hotel at 6am to go to Paramount to do any and all the copy that was prepared for the big post-Oscar Entertainment Tonight and The Insider, all before I get on a plane with Rachel and Catie to head home at 1PM. We arrived quite late in Florida - around midnight. It was a long day and, in fact, a long week. I was happy to get home and get some sleep. I was satisfied that I did my best, got some on-camera face time, and made it home safe and sound.