Officially, the Academy Awards celebrate the best in motion picture arts and sciences, but Hollywood’s biggest night also involves glamour and celebration, schmoozing and commiseration at the balls and parties that act as the awards season’s curtain.
For party planners and event organizers, the post-event gatherings are viewed as a chessboard upon which two kings are glued and the other pieces decide where to align themselves. The long-reigning sovereigns are the Academy’s Governors Ball and, as has been the case since 1994, Vanity Fair’s soiree.
“It’s like there are two elephants and we walk around them,” said one planner.
2002, as with so much else involving the 74th Academy Awards, was supposed to be different. The award show’s move to the new Hollywood & Highland development would, it was hoped by many, be an opportunity to bring all the post-event celebrations into one central location. Alas, that is not to be. November is extremely early to discuss this high-profile chess game (the studios are almost superstitious about even thinking about parties for films not yet nominated). Still, if the party planners had their way, the Oscar parties would follow the Golden Globe’s lead: having a slew of fiestas in the same venue where the awards are handed out. Studio-based event planners envisioned an array of parties in the Hollywood & Highland complex, the Governors ball at the core. Some even dared conceive of Vanity Fair abandoning Morton’s in West Hollywood.
The planners believe this would make for a giant party bigger than the sum of its individual parts. It also would take advantage of the new Hollywood & Highland complex, which certainly has enough venues (the Grill on Hollywood restaurant, the Highlands club, even the Babylon courtyard) to accommodate this kind of Oscar night Woodstock.
“The great thing about having all the studio parties in the complex is we minimize the time people have to spend in their cars going party hopping after a very long day,” said U’s senior veep of special projects Hollace Davids, a veteran party planner.
There’s one insurmountable brick wall this idea has run smack into: the Motion Picture Academy says it’s not going to happen. And it’s adamant about this.
AMPAS has in its lease that all businesses at Hollywood & Highland be closed on Oscar night. That includes the restaurants and clubs. And the academy is believed to be trying to get permits to close off surrounding streets, thereby ruling out other nearby venues.
The Academy has plenty of good reasons for saying no to the all-in-one-venue model: there’s not enough parking at the complex; there’s not enough space on nearby streets for additional valet parking; more guests increase security problems; it has enough headaches, etc.
“In a brand new venue where we’re unfamiliar with the lay of the land, the idea of that kind of additional complication is too much for us to deal with,” said AMPAS director of communications John Pavlik.
The party planners agree there are logistical hitches, but argue that they could’ve been worked out. As an example, guests could park at the Hollywood Bowl and be shuttled down. Or maybe the Panorama Suite in the Renaissance Hotel, just behind Hollywood & Highland, could be used for a party.
“Right now our primary goal is the Oscar telecast goes off without a hitch,” said Hollywood & Highland’s director of marketing Beth Harris. “Maybe somewhere down the road in the future other studio Oscar parties could be held here, if the Academy blesses that.”
AMPAS has another unspoken reason for nixing the idea: Why have on-site competition for its Governors Ball? The black-tie affair costs roughly $1 million (though it could be less this year as a ballroom venue is less expensive than either a tent or a convention hall.) AMPAS is not paying that kind of money to host a catered walk-through for stars going to someone else’s party.
About a decade ago, the Academy started throwing the Governors Ball in a tent attached to the Dorothy Chandler or in the exhibition hall adjacent to the Shrine Auditorium. They were tired of losing stars who stopped at Swifty Lazar’s Spago bash, which preceded the Vanity Fair party as the unofficial party of choice, while driving to the Governors Ball at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. It was not uncommon for some of the biggest stars — even winners — to bypass the Governors Ball altogether, in favor of Swifty’s party. For the Academy, it’s better to keep all the glamour in one place. Don’t look for the Acad to assist anyone in siphoning it off.
So if the Hollywood & Highland complex is as one planner said, “embargoed,” than what about having the parties in nearby venues?
Certainly the new, soon-to-be improved Hollywood offers viable locales, but if the guests have to drive — women in evening gowns and high heels have a roughly 100-yard range of motion — why not go west to either the familiar haunts of Beverly Hills, or be within the media-saturated aura of Morton’s in West Hollywood, where Vanity Fair has confirmed it will host its affair once again?
So it appears the post-Oscar chess match will be played out as it has been for years. Still, not everyone’s unhappy about this apparent maintenance of the status quo; Oscar night will once again mean extra work – and extra tips – for the limo drivers and valet parkers who, after all, are also part of the vast network that makes up this most unique of evenings.