Sam's Oscar Report

Sun, 26 Mar 2000 - Hollywood

It was the last Oscar Ceremony of The Millenium.

So it's...



Sam Longoria here, your Oscar reporter.

Well, it's Y2k. As dated (by definition) as that sounds already. There it
is, and here we are. Hollywood, and it's Oscar Time.

Year Two Thousand, zeroes up, the last year of the twentieth century.

It's been a long, hard pull through the first hundred truly-odd years of the
movie business.

What do we have to show for that first adolescent century? Quite a lot,
for a bunch of social, hairless monkey-people, rubbing stories together
to make fire and noise.

Fire and noise, pictures and sound. On an empty white screen,
they make exhilarating auxiliary dreams, glimpses of another universe.

Millions of monkeys meet in the dark, because we like to watch. We hold
hands, and we share our dreams, and we all dream together.

Grey shadows, or rich saturated color. Stamplike square shapes, or
anamorphic wraparound ultra-widearama letterboxes.

Crackly mono sound, or Ultra Dolby multichannel stereo.

Rattle and hum. Sturm und Drang. Gilbert and Sullivan.
Art and Commerce.

The movies.

Pictures and sound drift in and out of sync, with each other, and with
millions of watching monkeys. Whether they fit squarely, or stagger offbeat,
those rented dreams are a big, cash business.

(Think sometime of the amount of paper changing hands around the world,
just to buy somebody else's dream.)

But the monkeys have been quite busy this year, typing and filming randomly.
Last year, they produced "Shakespeare In Love," and this year it was
"American Beauty." Thanks, monkeys.

The world has gone around more than a hundred times since the monkeys
invented movies. Tonight, the monkeys meet here, right where I stand,
in their monkey suits, for their 72nd annual celebration.

Tonight the Academy Award ceremonies are held in the Shrine auditorium,
southwest of downtown Los Angeles.

I'm standing outside, across the street at USC. I'm another monkey in a
monkey suit, waiting for somebody who promised me a ticket.

Once again, I don't know if I'm going, or if I want to go, right up until
the very last minute. I tried to find my way to Seattle, to REALLY be out
of town on Oscar night. If I wasn't going, I didn't even want to be here.

But that was not to be.

Somebody offered me a ticket to Oscar 2000, "Meet me under a tree
at USC, and wear a tux."

Under a tree? A shady deal, like in "The French Connection," only my
connection has the gall to be shy. One ticket shy, to be exact.
They never show up.

I stand for a long while, watching celebrities arrive in limousines. They
struggle bravely up the red carpet, before the cameras and microphones,
and the fans who've camped here for weeks.

Swarms of cops surround the red carpet, holding back the crowd of college
kids who want a look.

Before the doors of the mosque, above the red carpet, stand the huge golden
statues of Oscar Himself, the god of vaulting ambition. His face is
unfeatured yet stern. He clutches his sword, and stands upon his reel
before the holy Shrine, and hears the silent supplications of his

Blessed be Oscar. Hollywood be thy name.

The year I was born, Charlton Heston exhorted the audience not to worship
golden idols, but I guess it wasn't carved in stone.

This year, somebody hijacked a whole pallet of golden idols, and threw them
into a dumpster. Two of them escaped.

Tonight Billy Crystal will make a joke about them being sold on the freeway
offramp, in a bag of oranges.

It is a joke that will bring some laughs, but mostly gasps of shock from the
audience. Such a joke borders on sacrilege in this crowd, and I'm not sure
which side of the border. But that's later.

Across the street, I've just passed my time limit for waiting. I exhale
slowly, centering myself. I take a quick emotional poll, trying to find
out what I really want to do. I acknowledge and accept that I'm at a
Go Home, or Go In.

Poll results are in, conclusively inconclusive. Pros and cons, please.

Thirteen years is really enough, lucky thirteen.
Increasing my attendance number is not enough reason to crash the party.

I've only had to crash a few of those thirteen years, and it's risky.
I've never done anything to deserve arrest. Those are the cons.

On the pro side, there are a few persons I'd like to greet this year.

Not one but TWO of my former directing students are Academy Award
presenters this year. Salma Hayek and Thora Birch. Thora was a good
thoughtful director in my class, I hope she gets a good directing career,
as well as a good acting one. She is so good as an angry teen in
"American Beauty," Her movie is up for Best Picture. It would be nice
to say hello. Hmm.

Another person to whom I'd like to say hello, if he's there tonight,
is the brilliant Walter Murch, who edited "The Talented Mr. Ripley."
I've seen it five times, and each time I saw something new. It's such a
masterpiece, even if the story and main character are a little dark for me.

"Ripley" wasn't nominated for editing, though I thought it should have been.
I don't know if Mr. Murch will be here tonight, but you never know.

Then, there's that enticing logo for Oscar 2000, emblazoned on the Shrine.
Oscar is entwined with the gold numerals "2000."

It sure looks good. I bet it would look even better on the Oscar program,
best in my collection of autographed Oscar programs. Hmmmmm.

Last year, I wrote how much of a breeze it used to be to get into the
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. One year, I just walked in the front door and
went all the way backstage, to speak with Steven Spielberg.

I had a broken neck that year, but that's another story, for another time.

Well, the Shrine is no breeze.

The Shrine is a monster to get into, and defended by many, many LAPD
policemen. The Shrine IS Hollywood. Yet another walled city studio,
with guards with guns at the gate. Get a clue. They don't want you there.

So it's a personal challenge, an intelligence test. That counts as another
pro, another reason for going in. Hmmm.

I'm musing this, and the decision is made. From a great mental distance,
I notice I've started walking. I'm crossing the street, then through the
first bunch of cops.

Just like "Star Wars," when C3PO, the Oscar Droid says "Come
along, Artoo. We're going."

I turn before I reach the red carpet, and start my recon walk.
One walk around the perimeter should tell me what I need to know.

I wish I had my comfortable Hush Puppies on, but my tux shoes
look better, and make an authoratative click-click that says I belong there.

Still, a mile or so is a long distance in those shoes. They hurt, but war
is hell.

This is war after all, an assault. You want to strike where your enemy is
weakest. The front of the Shrine is the strong point, where all the cops are.

At the Chandler Pavilion, the weak point was the front door, or the side,
with the caterers. The best way was to take off my tux jacket and fold
it over my arm, and walk in as a waiter. As I say, a breeze.

But the Shrine has only two slightly-weaker points, at the gate where
limos come in and out, and out back, where there are fewer cops.

The gate is closest. I try there first, but it's a no go. "Hey! Where
you going?" A cop stops me only a few paces inside the limo yard fence.

I turn to him, consciously adjust my body language to say "I
belong here." I lean in toward him, dropping my voice conspiratorially.

"I don't think I can make it back to my car. I really need to use the rest

He relaxes, and gestures to a portable toilet. I go inside, and watch and
listen through the vent. He's not going anywhere until I come out.

I make some noise, then come out. I use the "You work for ME" face, looking
over his head. "Thank you, Officer." I walk past him, out toward the

I walk the entire perimeter. Only a mile. As envious as I am of the
ticket-holders, it's the Green Mile.

No weak spots yet. There are plenty of cops to go around,
and they're all wide-awake. As I walk, night falls.

Cop choppers circle, spotlights shine divinely on the Shrine, stopping here
and there to examine somebody suspicious. Not me, so far.

The latina policewoman crosses the street toward me, without even waiting for
me to step off the sidewalk."Do you have a pass?" She is nervous, and that's
how things are tonight.

I smile, and pull on the string around my neck. Out comes my "pass." It's
a 3x5 card I sketched a pass on, earlier in the evening.

There are no mailboxes at the Shrine, so I couldn't bring my badge kit and
mail it home, like last year.

But ten minutes careful tv watching of the pre-telecast events gave me a
rough idea of what a "pass" should look like. In dim light it might be
good enough.

In this pitch dark, it is good enough. I make small talk, tell her how my
shoes hurt my feet. She's sympathetic. Her feet hurt, too. She lets me
go by.

I walk on, toward the red carpet, at the end of the stretch of dark alley.

The helicopter noise is suddenly deafening, and the alley lights up bright as
day, as the arc spotlight shines down on me.

"Down there! The tuxedo with the moustache! The one walking like his
feet hurt!"

I look upward. The pass is still in my hand, and I slowly raise it, at the
length of the lanyard, like a crucifix held out toward Dracula or the Martian
War Machine.

As suddenly as it came, the light winks off, and the helicopter flies away.

I decide to stop fooling around. I take a moment to adjust my posture and
body language. Most important, I adjust my mental attitude. Invisible, and
unstoppable. That's me.

I hit the red carpet, and there are no more cops. Just cameras and movie
stars. Another minute's mental adjustment, letting all helicopter-spotlight
adrenaline fall away.

Most folks are inside, and the Awards are about to start. Invisible and
unstoppable. I'm in.

I phone my support crew. They've been giving me news reports and Yahoo!
maps along my Green Mile recon walk. I owe them a call.

Then it's into the auditorium, through the side door.

Inside, it's not nearly so exciting. As I didn't work on any of the nominees
this year, it's almost like watching tv. Almost...ordinary.

Except that the Shrine stage has the biggest set I've ever seen.
Absolutely HUGE, with neon Oscars.

Except that the Spanish-language film's maker practically gets dragged
offstage because he won't leave. (Gilbert and Sullivan: "We go, we go."
"But they don't go.")

Except that I get to see Robin Williams sing "Blame Canada" from the "South
Park" movie loud, live, and unintelligible.

Except that Best Documentary Feature goes to an unreleased film, and the
maker makes an annoying speech, saying his film is so good it has won an
award without being seen. May I say, on behalf of all America, big deal.

Except that Michael Caine wins Best Supporting Actor for "Cider House
Rules," making a classic Overly-Humble Speech. He refuses to be called
"The Winner," and celebrates all the other Nominees. Which is only one
step above dangling The Oscar They Didn't Win on a string and sadistically
jerking it out of reach when the losers lunge for it.

Except I got to say hello to Roberto Benigni again.
(They'd warned him off the furniture this time.)
And Diane Keaton, Jack Nickolson, Gwyneth Paltrow,
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mel Gibson and James Coburn.

And I got to meet Dame Judi Dench, Antonio Banderas,
Phil Collins, and Randy Newman.

I merely sighted Drew Barrymore, Clint Eastwood, and Chow
Yun Fat.

My measure of a good movie is if I'm thinking about it the next day.
That usually means my subconscious is still digesting it.

I certainly was thinking about "American Beauty" the next day.
But I was thinking about "The Matrix" for WEEKS.

And I was thinking for that week about Big Stuff, the NATURE OF REALITY.
Not just who's sleeping with whom, or who shot whom, or the dysfunctional
stuff you get from regular movies.

So I wanted "The Matrix" to win everything. I haven't felt that way
in a long while. But it didn't. Oh well.

The Academy voted on it, not me, and that's fine. They picked
some talented persons, and gave 'em awards. All right!

Best Screenplay goes to Alan Ball, for "American Beauty."
Best Director went to Sam Mendes, for "American Beauty."
Best Picture goes to "American Beauty."

(A little dark for my taste, but that's showbiz.)

As usual, as soon as Best Picture is announced, the throng fights its way
outside. After four hours and eight minutes, who can blame them?

The guards make a sweep of the auditorium and lobby, to make sure the
stragglers leave.

The Governor's Ball starts in a few minutes, in the banquet hall alongside
the auditorium, and its door will be heavily guarded. I'll avoid it for a
little while, while they throw out some of those awful crashers. It's best
to go outside.

On the red carpet, I talk to weird Al Yankovic, and the lovely Mariel

Heather Graham crosses my field of view. She is dressed in a beaded,
skin-tight, flesh-colored gown. The effect is that she has beads stuck
directly to her beautiful form. Delightful.

Also delightful is Cate Blanchett, with a gown that is entirely open from neck
to tailbone in back. She gives everyone a good view of it, as she strides
through the media crew, refusing to talk to them.

(I am in the unique position of being able to remember that Jimmy Stewart
used to use the same stride-through technique, with his hand before him
parting the crowd. His tuxedo didn't show nearly as much skin, though.)

Roger Ebert hurries past. I say hello, and he is pleasant, smiling "Gotta
Go," as he bustles off to one of the studio post-Oscar parties. Dreamworks
is at Spago and Miramax's is at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

Now the music for the Governor's Ball starts, time to go back in. That
means dealing with the guards at the door. I need a hand prop, so I
open my Palm IIIe computer.

Usually I would just talk on my cell phone, and walk through, but enough
folks have phones now, so the gag is worn out. I try an old ruse with
my new prop.

Pointing to the phone list on my Palm screen, I ask the guard "May I use
the lobby phone?" He says "You may."

Inside again, I make some calls. Then I'm downstairs, into the restroom.

Upstairs is closely watched, downstairs not so bad. I can cross the lobby
distance, and come up the other stairs, to the Banquet Room entry hall.

Outside the restroom, a crowd of security guards discusses which company
is best to work, and which school can get you a firearm permit.

I wait inside the restroom until a crowd comes down, laughing and drinking.
When they go back upstairs, I am one of them. That gets me past the
guards in the hall, and at the top of the stairs.

The lights are VERY dim in the entry hall outside the Governors Ball
Banquet Room. Perfect.

They check handstamps under a black light at the door.

I make a U-turn and get into the line of folks LEAVING the Ball.
The man stamps my hand.

Another U-turn, and my glowing handstamp, a five-pointed Hollywood star,
gets me into the Governors Ball. Literally that fast.

The band is on the second floor, playing "Proud Mary," and the dance floor
is full of youngsters. Older folks sit at the tables, but some dance. You
haven't lived until you've seen the Board of Governors of the Academy of
Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences doing the frug.

The ceiling of the Shrine Banquet Hall is a tentlike archway of white
parachute cloth. Fabric flying buttresses have bright projected images
shimmering on them.

One minute, the ceiling cascades falling water, the next it glowers rippling
sheets of red flame. I suspect its all done with Texas Instruments digital
light projector chip mirrors, because there's no dirt or scratches on the

From a crasher's point of view, as long as you're moving, you're relatively
safe from bouncers, but my feet still hurt, so I go to a table and sit down.

This seems to be a mistake. A few things happen all at once.

A large, bald security man appears.
He asks "May I see your ticket, Sir?"

I smile at him. It isn't returned.
I go through my pockets, smiling, staying calm.

I have no idea what will happen next, but I'll play along.
Then, what happens next, happens.

A young red-haired woman sits down next to me, and smiles at the
security man. "Here's his ticket." She pulls a ticket to the Governors
Ball from her bag.

She hands it to me.
I hand it to him.
He looks at it, then returns it to me.
Now he returns my smile.
He leaves.

I say "Thank you," and turn to give it back. But she's gone. Really.
It was just as eerie as it sounds.

I look at the ticket, the right number for the table where I sit, the best
seat in the house. I guess I'm supposed to be there.

A waitress appears, and serves me the chicken and caviar. I have a
delicious glass of filtered water, my favorite beverage. Believe me, all
is well.

I don't know how the new Hollywood facility will be for the Oscars and
post-Oscar Ball, but I really don't care.

I should have my projects finished by then, and have the credits
I need, so that I can be in the Academy and won't ever crash again.
Because I really don't want to.

But that's all right.

I have really given my chutzpah a workout tonight, and that's really what I
needed. It's THE prerequisite for producing movies. Nothing illegal or
immoral, just a "You can't keep me out." It feels good.

I spend some time talking with Jonathan Erland, and his lovely wife Kay.
Jonathan worked on the original "Star Wars," and he's on the Board of
Governors. He has a bushy beard, and a ponytail, and an elegant British
accent, and of course will play a cowboy in my western feature "Surreal West."

Jonathan built sets for a long-ago Firesign Theatre live stage show, and
thinks it would be great fun to appear with The Firesign Theatre in my movie.
I think so, too.

(We just got done building our new editing system for "Surreal West,"
and are building the new special effects facility. Thanks for asking.)

I say hello to Dennis Muren, visual effects supervisor of "Star Wars Episode
I: The Phantom Menace." This is the first "Star Wars" episode not to win
Best Visual Effects.

"Episode I" had two thousand shots of incredible complexity, compared to
the three hundred sixty-five on the original "Episode IV."

They should win an award for that alone, but "The Matrix" was a tough act
to beat this year.

Dennis is cheerful, and the tone at the ILM table is fun.

The "Topsy-Turvy" table is having a good time, and I get autographs from
the two winners.

I didn't ever find Salma Hayek or Walter Murch, or Thora Birch, in my search.
There are a lot of persons there. But I did have a wonderful time.

The way you cruise the Governors Ball is to walk around the room, looking for
the golden glint of an Oscar. Then you ask for an autograph. At least that's
how I do it. That's why I come back with autographs of so many winners.

This year, many of the winners are at other parties, so I miss a few. Oh

I almost miss one in particular, a stunning young woman at the table
who has her coat over her Oscar. When I ask for her autograph as
she's leaving, she turns out to be beautiful Hilary Swank, the Best
Actress this year.

Hilary played a boy in "Boys Don't Cry." She is most certainly not a boy.
She is a beautiful young woman at the beginning of her career, and she
smells like a tropical flower.

She signs my program "To Sam, with love, Hilary Swank." And then she
goes off happily with her husband, and to the rest of her career.

And seeing that is worth walking The Green Mile.

Best to you,

Sam Longoria

Make your movie
Sell your movie
Hilary Swank

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© 2000 Sam Longoria, All Rights Reserved