Real Oscar race is on — for tickets

Demand is heating up for limited show access

Two Oscar campaigns currently rage: one to win, the other for tickets to see who wins.

Every year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences allots tickets to major studios, to nominees and to members.

This year, a trio of unique factors is creating a perfect storm for a ticket squall: the niche arms getting the most noms; a new person at the Academy overseeing seating; and a refinement in the lottery and nominee ticketing process.

“It should be a celebration, and instead there’s clawing and fighting over who gets what ticket and who sits where,” said a studio exec doing ticket wrangling.

The Acad doesn’t dispute there’s grumbling. Exec administrator Ric Robertson said, “Any system that produces a wide range of unhappy people is probably pretty fair. If everyone is equally unhappy, then maybe we’re doing it right.”

The Kodak Theater seats 3,300, a big drop from the 6,000 at the Shrine. The majors are always allotted 10 pairs of tickets: four in the orchestra, six in the parterre. The niche arms are allotted six pairs: two in the orchestra, four in the parterre.

The niches argue they need more this year, since they’ve got four of the five best pic noms and multiple contenders in other categories. Aside from the tickets handed out to the nominees, the niches want to reward their own staffers who worked on these projects.

“Just because you’re a mini-major, you shouldn’t be penalized for making the best picture,” an exec said.

They also claim prime tickets are going to majors’ top execs who at the last minute might decide not to attend. “The studio heads won’t show up unless they’re in the game,” an exec said. “How hot an item will these tickets be at a studio that doesn’t have nominations?”

Based on noms, both independents and majors get more tickets, but these seats are in the upstairs mezzanine — the Kodak Theater’s Siberia — and they don’t come with tickets to the ball.

“The second mezz is lovely for somebody in the office, and you never sneeze at what you can get,” one person in charge of ticketing said. “But I need better seats down below. I can’t put a president or a filmmaker up there.”

Another factor: Governors Ball tickets. The ball accommodates only 1,600, or about half of the people at the Kodak. “VIPs are only going if they have ball tickets,” one wrangler said.

Five years ago, when the Oscars alternated between the Shrine and the Dorothy Chandler, the ticketing situation was either feast or famine: too few at the 2,500-seat Chandler, a surplus at the 6,000-seat Shrine.

One exec who’s now pressed for tickets said he looks back fondly on the Shrine years, “when Cher was wearing those weird dresses” and it was so easy to get tickets that “homeless people could get in.”

Another factor is the lottery system, in which any of the 6,527 AMPAS members can request tickets and names are pulled at random.

A month ago, the names of execs who would be using studio allotment tickets had to be sent to AMPAS. Then those execs who were Academy members were deleted from the lottery.

While this system has been in place for a few years, Robertson said AMPAS is still “refining” it.

The Acad is on guard against an old studio trick. “What we don’t want is for them to put other lower execs or unrelated people on the list and then have the top execs obtain tickets through the lottery,” Robertson said.

This year, the nominees themselves must fill out an “affidavit” if they request additional personal tickets. In the past, the studio made these requests — and sometimes the tickets didn’t necessarily go to the nominee’s family.

Another factor in the battle is a new AMPAS exec in charge of ticketing. Thomas Thanangaden has been called the Academy’s Eliot Ness — stoically uncorrupted by industry relationships or connections.

That drives the studios crazy, and it’s what the Acad loves about him.

“You can’t even make him smile,” one studio exec said. “Where did they find him?”

“He’s just there,” another exec said. “He barely calls you back.”

Another says, “We’re not dealing with someone who shares our concerns. The feeling you get from him is: These are the rules, take it or leave it.”

Needless to say, studios are not used to that.

There are some calm voices in the ticket wars (“It’s the nominees’ night. It’s hard, but it will be fine,” one exec said) and underlying knowledge that both handling and asking for tickets is a thankless job.

Robertson said jokingly that while he was willing to talk to Daily Variety about ticketing, “Please don’t let anyone think they can call me for tickets.”

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