Pre-dawn roll call for noms is frazzled but fun

At 3:30 a.m. Jan. 25, the scents of a breakfast buffet of eggs, bacon, waffles, oatmeal and fruit will drift under the noses of hundreds of hungry journalists at the Motion Picture Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater.

The food fuel will help buoy the reporters, some of whom will arrive as early as midnight, as they await the Oscar nominee announcements, which are still hours away.

Leslie Unger, communications director for the Academy, can predict that scene because she knows it all too well: January will mark her 19th set of announcements. Unger has been a part of the tradition almost since its inception in February 1987, when nominee announcements were first done at 5:30 a.m. for the 59th Academy Awards.

It first started as a way to be live on East Coast network morning shows. Of course, that’s still the case, but in the Internet age, are the early announcements still relevant, or have they become a torturous and pointless tradition?

Unger says they still serve a purpose.

“Our bottom-line objective is to get the nominees out to the world, and the press conference format allows us to own that news day to a certain degree, and that’s what we want,” she says.

To make it all come together, the prep runs like clockwork — graveyard-shift clockwork, anyway. At 9 p.m. Jan. 24, a team of about 20 Academy staffers receives the nominee list.

“There’s this great buzz, and everybody’s ooo-ing and aah-ing,” Unger says, “but then there are the immediate tasks that need to get done.”

Those assignments include preparing fact sheets about each nominee for the press, assembling the set and turning the building into the entertainment world’s Fort Knox.

“It’s a lock-in,” Unger says. “The communication infrastructure of the building is shut down. We take confidentiality very seriously.”

But “lock-in” also brings up memories of middle school parties and overnight trips, so while these folks are pulling an all-nighter, they’re not just studying.

“We have snacks for everyone, and there’s an electricity to it all,” Unger says.

She admits that, usually around 2:30 a.m., staffers start to hit a wall. That’s when the Red Bulls crackle open.

Finally, announcements begin, always made by the Academy president and a thesp (preferably an Oscar winner). Recent years have included Salma Hayek in ’07, Kathy Bates in ’08, Forest Whitaker in ’09 and Anne Hathaway in ’10.

“The suspense is great,” Unger says. “We have reps from the studios and the potential nominated talent. We have media broadcasting live and posting to their Websites and Tweeting and blogging and posting to Facebook.”

That’s the Oscar nom announcements, 21st-century style.

More from Eye on the Oscars: Nomination Tip Sheet:
Acad pirouettes to dark side | Oscar hopefuls got youthful starts | Academy all-nighter | Early returns for film awards

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