Oscar Event Planners

Rule No 1: Plan for the best, but expect the worst

Hollywood’s top event planners have seen it all, from fleeing fish to requests for McDonald’s. Here, they offer valuable advice that can be applied to almost every social (and sometimes business) situation, especially on the 2014 party circuit.

Cheryl Cecchetto, owner-prexy, Sequoia Prods.

Now producing the Governors Ball for the 25th year, Cecchetto and her team have been put to the test. “Unknown circumstances that are out of your control may happen; you have to be prepared to think on your feet,” says Cecchetto, who’s on a tight countdown clock Oscar night.

She remembers a creative table centerpiece at one Governors Ball that included tanks filled with koi, which began escaping 20 minutes before the ball. Fish wranglers, who were standing by, removed them while Cecchetto, in her high heels and gown, grabbed a net to help. She kept her good humor throughout. As an event producer, “you need to keep your eye on the prize, which is the event,” she says. A systematic approach, checks and balances, and a willingness to overplan keep the team on point for Oscar night.

Bringing her client’s vision to life is the ultimate satisfaction. “You have to stay hyper-vigilant as the client is the host, and we’re the facilitator to the host,” says Cecchetto, who offers some timely tips for A-level socializing.

Cecchetto’s Tips

1.     Be absolutely clear with the client — no smoke and mirrors. And be clear and methodical with your team regarding responsibilities.

2.    Check your ego at the door.

3.    Let the event breathe. Allow guests to experience the sensations you’ve aligned so they can leave with a meaningful memory.

4.    In decor, living plant walls are in. Furniture can be sectional, with lounge seating creating a progressive-style event.

5.    Use iPads for organizational purposes, keeping the event clean, sharp and paperless.

Barbara Brass, exec VP, Wolfgang Puck Catering

Oscar week is eventful at Wolfgang Puck Catering. The culinary champs are tasked with several mega-industry events (the 800-strong Unite4Humanity fundraiser at Sony for one), a downtown convention, plus crew meals for the Oscars’ 1,200 or so production staff in the days leading up to the kudofest. But Oscar night is golden. “As a catering company, we do no other events that night,” Brass says. “Our focus is on the Oscars. Although we have deep a bench, we want to throw it all at the Oscars.”

March 2 marks Wolfgang Puck’s 20th year catering the starry night, which opens with 4,000 hors d’oeuvres in the Dolby Theatre foyer followed by power smoothies and light snacks during show breaks, then ends with the exquisite eats of the Governors Ball.

This year, the menu offers a greatest-hits collection of most-requested dishes, such as chicken pot pie and mac ’n’ cheese, plus Chinois’ Chinese chicken salad, a perennial fave from Puck’s restaurant.

And as Hollywood’s tastes have changed, per Brass, the Governors Ball has kept up; vegan, gluten-free and vegetarian preferences are incorporated. Nothing fazes them: Memorably, staff went out for McDonald’s to please a child nominee’s request one year.

Brass’ Tips

1.     For seamless service, the 1,500-guest event is divided into 23 small sections, each with its own waitstaff and VIP manager.

2.    Small-plate-sized servings, and their requisite smaller serving items and cutlery, continue to be an advancing trend.

3.    Innovative vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free dishes are on the menu and at hand, and not as specialty eats.

4.    Add a touch of molecular gastronomy into event dishes: Gels and flavorful powders (created with liquid nitrogen) add a taste of the fine dining trend without overwhelming guests.

5.    Recycle leftovers and excess prepared food. Nonprofit org Chefs to End Hunger redistributes unused food from the Governors Ball (and other events and many restaurants) to the Midnight Mission.

Tony Schubert, principal, Event Eleven

Moving among the arts, sports and entertainment worlds, Schubert produces events on a grand scale wherever his clients require — from the SAG Awards Afterparty to Audi’s pre-Golden Globes and pre-Emmy parties and ESPN’s splashy Super Bowl fete.

“The pressure of Oscar week is to outdo yourself,” says Schubert, who produced Global Green’s night out at the Avalon this year. Another major challenge: managing paparazzi presence and navigating celebrity appearances so that PR plays and exclusives are made good. Although those kinds of issues pop up at events year-round, “Oscar week has a certain air,” Schubert says.

Schubert’s Tips

1     Strive for zero waste by using china and glass rather than disposables; use bulk dispensers for butter, cream and sugar to minimize wrappers.

2     Avoid unnecessary/disposable party favors. Give away items that can be utilized or recycled.

3     Minimize paper and printed collateral materials. Online invites (Paperless Post for instance) are acceptable to most clients these days.

4     Reuse decorations, sets and furniture. SAG Awards Afterparty furniture is stored, then re-upholstered or slip-covered each year.

5     To cut down the energy footprint, use bio-diesel fuel generators — those can be a cost saver, too.

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