PricewaterhouseCoopers Boss Says Best Picture Envelope Pulled From Wrong Pile

Brie Larson, left, being handed the
Matt Sayles/Invision/AP

UPDATED: In his fourth year of handling envelopes for the winners of the Academy Awards, PricewaterhouseCoopers partner Brian Cullinan picked a bad time for a miscue — pulling the envelope for what was supposed to be the best picture winner from the wrong pile.

As a result, presenter Warren Beatty carried the wrong envelope Sunday night, meaning that his on-stage partner, Faye Dunaway, announced “La La Land” was the winner of the night’s top prize. “Moonlight” was actually the best picture winner.

Tim Ryan, the accounting firm’s U.S. chairman and senior partner, offered an explanation Monday of the unprecedented miscue, along with his profuse apologies to the Motion Picture Academy and to the filmmakers behind the two movies.

“We clearly made a mistake and once the mistake was made we corrected it and owned up to it,” said Ryan, attributing the foul-up to “human error.”

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Ryan said he had spoken to Cullinan about the episode at length. “He feels very, very terrible and horrible. He is very upset about this mistake. And as a firm, given that he is a partner of our firm, it is also my mistake and our mistake and we all feel very bad.”

Cullinan was positioned stage left during the evening. His colleague, Martha Ruiz, stood in the wings, stage right, Ryan said. Each had a pile of envelopes for presenters entering from their side of the stage and then a pile of “backup” envelopes for the presenters entering from the other side of the stage at the Dolby Theatre.

Cullinan pulled the lead actress envelope that was in the “backup” pile and handed it to Beatty. “There’s a stack for the backups and the ones that are not the backups and he took from the wrong stack,” Ryan explained.

Beatty hesitated twice after opening the envelope, apparently confused when he saw both the name of lead actress winner Emma Stone and “La La Land.” Not understanding Beatty’s hesitation, Dunaway said: “You’re impossible. C’mon.” Beatty then showed her the card and Dunaway announced: “La La Land.”

Asked if Beatty and Dunaway could have recognized the error, Ryan said: “No, look, it’s our job, not theirs.”

The PwC chairman said that both Cullinan and Ruiz, who had memorized all of the winners, as per company procedure, realized instantly that an error had been made. “Martha … immediately recognized that was not who won,” Ryan said. “She opened up her backup envelope to confirm her memory.” Cullinan immediately told members of the production team of the error, Ryan said.

Procedure for such a mistake calls for the PwC employees to then take the stage, along with members of the production staff, to correct the error, Ryan said. He did not know why it took more than two minutes for the correction to be made, with “La La Land” producer Jordan Horowitz delivering the news to the world that “Moonlight” was the real best picture winner.

“This is the first time in over 80 years that there has ever been a problem and again we are very disappointed in ourselves,” Ryan said. “I have reached out to the Academy and shared with them that we take full responsibility that Brian had made the mistake and the firm takes responsibility for that.”

Ryan said he was not focused now on whether the flub would hurt the firm’s relationship with the Academy or its prospects of returning for another year of counting the ballots. “I expect us to get something like this right and our focus right now is just on making sure the academy and the rest of the folks know that and the rest will play out,” Ryan said. “We are very proud of being associated with the Academy Awards. It’s good for our brand. It’s good for our people. So while I am concerned I hope we will be judged on how quickly we reacted and owned up to the issue.”

Watch the moment unfold below:

 

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  1. mypassionateopinions says:

    If the category had bee in large letter on the outside of the envelope and on the card, this could have been avoided. Presenters should have been coached to always look at the category and it should have been in a huge font so those who really need glasses but don’t wear them, could see it. This was a “form over function” situation and could have been so easily prevented. This was a no-brainer task for the accounting firm.

  2. ranapatel9 says:

    The protocol used to be that the accountants opened the envelopes at the same time as the presenters to avoid such a mistake. If this protocol had been followed then the presenter (Leo) and the accountants would have opened all their envelopes and then that envelope would be out of circulation. Don’t know why they changed protocol?

  3. Carlo B. says:

    In complex tasks (or environments, such an airplane’s cockpit) there should be some redundancy of safety measures — but a CLEVER one. Having four sets (two main ones, two backup ones) of envelopes that looked EXACTLY THE SAME is probably not the “safety redundancy” you want. The whole thing seemed planned to be confusing. What about choosing different colors for each award, instead of all identical red envelopes? And what about some big bold fonts on each envelope instead of a barely visible golden font on a red background? Now, poor Partner Brian (not to be confused with Private Ryan) gets the whole blame, for a moment of distraction that could have happened to many. The archetype of the human error. But not entirely his fault.

  4. bobbysue says:

    fire him for gods sake!!!

  5. Movie lover says:

    Why doesn´t it say on the envelope in which category the award is?

    If it says “Best actress” you will not give it to presenters of “Best picture”.

    Why don´t they just print the categories on the envelope?

    • bonwah says:

      Actually, the category names WERE printed on the envelopes. The guy still handed out the wrong one.

      (I’ve read that this year’s envelopes were redesigned to look better, with gold writing on red envelopes, so the category names weren’t as bold as they used to be. Don’t know if that’s true.)

  6. If PwC gets the gig next year, it should get two mid-level accountants (counting ballots is not exactly advanced work) and make sure that they understand they are to remain anonymous cogs in the wheel.

    • Jess says:

      As an associate at PwC, I will gladly volunteer as tribute.

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  7. Dirk Pitt says:

    This guy was simply too star struck. He was trying to insinuate himself into that scene and at a critical time, he was doing something, (tweeting), that he shouldn’t have been doing. Now you will see all your “friends” throw you under the bus. They will turn on you because they think they can do no wrong.

    I’ve worked with people who hang out with celebrities and they are generally a pain in the butt with all their lame stories. I’ll bet this guy was like that. He looked to be in self promotion mode. Well now you have notoriety.

    It was almost over and this guy dropped his guard and now lives in infamy. He’s embarrassed his family, his company and himself. This is the price you play when you try to get into the popular clique and drop the ball.

  8. Now this is really confusing…I thought there were 2 sets of cards, one on the right side of the stage and one on the left – for the presenters to come from either side. NOW the article says there are 4 sets….a regular set on each side and a backup set on each side. That makes NO sense, why would there be backups on both sides? To make it even easier to make a mistake? I think the article has it wrong – there is one set on each side, not 2. Ruiz must have given Leonardo the Emma Stone card and then Cullinan gave his Emma Stone card to Bonnie and Clyde by mistake.

  9. Mike says:

    Wrong pile? There was only a wrong pile as this was the LAST award being given – The Best Movie envelope should have been by itself!

  10. Jess Ayin says:

    Collinan should be fired, or resign.

  11. Elroy says:

    Say Tim Ryan, you say that “This is the first time in over 80 years that there has ever been a problem”? I guess you’re forgetting about when you flubbed it up for Sammy Davis Jr. in 1964.
    Pretty pathetic for a firm whose only product is accuracy and honesty. Hmmm, I wonder if people can trust financial statements that are signed with PwC? You can’t even hand out the correct envelope for 24 envelopes? How in the world are you going to catch a multi-national company set on hiding billions of dollars?

    • ronnie says:

      The irony is that Variety, a showbiz publication started when Broadway was king, still doesn’t know the difference between “stage right” and “stage left.” Ruiz was stage left, Cullinan was stage right. Ruiz confirmed that with the BBC. Ryan, an accountant who doesn’t know squat about theatre blocking, said Cullinan was “on the left of the stage,” which Cullinan was, from the “house” perspective. So, Cullinan was “house left” and, also, “stage right.” Anyone who actually was in the audience or watching on TV and ever went to a play rehearsal or a movie set can affirm this.

  12. Joel says:

    We are so quick to judge, so quick to gloat about our supposed superiority, so quick to demand punishment — it’s a common human trait, and a very ugly one. This was a mistake — the first of its kind in 80 years, apparently. No one was really hurt by it. No lives or even livelihoods are at stake. Why so angry? Why so superior? Why so punitive? Let it go.

    • htxu says:

      Wrong. Sammy Davis was given the wrong envelope in 1964.

      • bonwah says:

        Good point. The scene backstage is undoubtedly more complicated and chaotic than we imagine. There’s a reason why we call it “human error” — it’s very human.

        At the same time, I think it’s also human and natural to wonder “How could that get so messed up?” I don’t wish to pile on anyone, but I’m still hoping PWC will publish a full and detailed explanation that goes beyond just saying “we made a mistake.”

      • Joel says:

        Well then, by all means let’s get out the pitchforks.

    • Jess says:

      I agree. People are being a smidge too over dramatic about it.

  13. Craig says:

    Michelle, l’m a PwC alum as well but don’t think they ought to lose the client over this, nor should Cullinan and (least deservingly) Ruiz get launched, although both obviously need to be pulled from the Oscar gig. Tim Ryan stepped up and took responsibility even if Cullinan did not. They’ll send all new couriers next year and they won’t be posing on (and taking attention from the nominees) the Red Carpet next year, that’s for sure, and probably not tweeting during showtime.

  14. PwC’s reputation is now tarnished because of this. An accounting firm that’s not accurate or meticulous in doing its work is of little use to its clients, particularly one so visible as the Academy. And it’s not the La La Land crew that’s owed an apology, it’s the Moonlight team. The culminating moment of their hardwork is now sullied because of this screwup. It diminishes the joy they should have felt by being declared the winner from the start.

  15. Michelle M. says:

    Pulled from the wrong “pile”? I’m gonna have to call BS on that one, as one pile should have had about 12 envelopes and the other exactly one envelope. How does anyone with half an undistracted brain pull from the wrong pile? Also for the senior PwC partner to say “once we made the mistake we corrected it and owned up to it” is flatly wrong. Neither Cullinan or Ruiz, who had memorized the list of winners, which they proudly bragged about numerous times, ran on to the stage as soon as they heard Faye Dunaway say “La La Land” to “correct” the mistake. Instead they left the correcting of the mistake up to the LLL producer. How much longer would the PwC partners have allowed the confusion to go on if Horowitz hadn’t stepped up to the mic? And saying they “owned up to it” immediately is also untrue. Beatty spoke up and owned up to as much as he could, Kimmel jokingly owned up to it, but you know Cullinan had to have known immediately he was at fault and did HE step up and own the error? No, he was busy cleaning up his Twitter feed. Sorry. I used to work for PW, and I still think they should lose this account.

  16. Bill B. says:

    They made a terrible mistake, but Dunaway should take some of this blame. The card said Emma Stone. I know she’s a notorious bitch, but she also as to be as dumb as a rock.

    • Jess says:

      Warren thought something is fishy and didn’t act on it. Dunaway was not listening to him and just blurted out what he was pointing at.

  17. bonwah says:

    Just to say: I’m pretty sure we’re going to find out in the end that PwC *asks* their accountants to tweet from backstage. PwC has been milking their involvement for PR in every other way; they even toured the ballot briefcases to 11 cities like the Olympic torch before they took them to Hollywood.

    It’s still a totally unforgivable fail by the guy, and by the company. But I think we’re going to find out that the context is more complicated than just “starstruck dude was too busy tweeting selfies with Brie Larson to do his job.”

    Maybe PwC should spend less time trying to sprinkle Oscar stardust on its brand. They could start by skipping the red carpet and putting some boring old unseen accountants backstage instead.

    • Craig says:

      Mostly agree..PwC: stop pimping out your extraordinary methodology and especially your accountants-they are not celebrities but do have a job to do backstage. I bet the real answer is that he was indeed too starstruck to pay attention to his simple task but the irrational / bogus “wrong pile” excuse is frankly less offensive to the Academy than dereliction of duty (easily grounds for dismissal of any and all). I believe the top PwC people thought this through as the least painful (to themselves and the firm) explanation.

  18. xyz321xyz says:

    ““There’s a stack for the backups and the ones that are not the backups and he took from the wrong stack,” Ryan explained.”

    It was the very last award so how could there still be a wrong stack at that point? There should be a pile of opened backups already verified for everything and then another ‘pile’ consisting of a single, unopened envelope left for best picture, no?

    • xyz321xyz says:

      Also why they use a tiny blend in font on the outer envelope and why did nobody make sure to read the envelope before each award was given out and have a synched electronic display telling the card holders which award was up next for verification (in case they someone spaced out and forgot the other side had just presented an award).

  19. Mike Rizzoli says:

    Twitter takes down another starstruck idiot.

  20. Breanna says:

    PwC cowardly blamed one individual for a human error. Brian Cullinan made a mistake and his bosses tossed him to the media sharks. Shame on your PwC for deflecting blame. Your company messed up AND you look terrible for calling out a single employee

    • Susan41 says:

      I agree. Tim Ryan threw him under the bus. Now the guy and his family need bodyguards to protect them from the nuts out there. The guy gave Beatty the wrong envelope. Nobody died and it added a little drama to an otherwise boring awards show. Life goes on.

  21. Steve says:

    With all the commotion around the stupidity of the PwC partner who couldn’t perform the basic function of his role, or the stupidity of Beatty , who couldnt figure out that having Emma Stone as the “winner” was probably an error, you might think that what happened actually mattered. The fact is that Moonlight will still be one of the lowest grossing movies ever to win best picture and no one is going to want to see it (in any significant numbers) after it won. In addition the Oscars had one of the lowest ratings scores which just goes to prove that people in this country are tired of the incessant onslaught of a hundred plus awards shows giving accolades upon accolades to a bunch of insecure narcissistic people. People in Hollywood like to think that everyone loves what they do and really cares how good they are doing it. It was great to read in the press that this is not the case. We also dont care about what these people think (assuming they can actually think for themselves rather the regurgitating some party line.) But then again, actors are known for memorizing other peoples’ words

    • Eli says:

      You have no clue what you’re talking about. Moonlight, a very independent film, was made on a 5 million dollar budget and already earned 22,3 million domestic and another 10 million abroad on limited release. It’s a financial success already. It will most likely open on wide release and maybe even follow the success of Brokeback Mountain.

    • RX says:

      Steve’s right! I can’t STAND it when people don’t think for themselves and just regurgitate some party line as if they were feeble minded Trump supporters doing the Orange One’s bidding by dutifully watching all the onslaught of awards shows and repeating the same tired wish-fulfillment fantasies that Americans no longer watch movies, tv shows or listen to music, or are in any way influenced by powerful people on BOTH sides of the political spectrum. Hear, hear, Steve! It’s people like you that’ll make Hollywood change it’s wicked ways! Hear hear!

      Oh, wait Steve, you’ve got a little fecal matter on your lips there, bud. Here’s a napkin.

    • Mooned says:

      Also, one of the worst. I still can’t believe that movie won. It was crearly the worst of the bunch (and I say that, even if Fences is not a movie but a filmed play).

  22. Jimmy says:

    This jerkoff Cullinan was too worried about getting his cellphone ready for a selfie. Fire him.

    • paulgardner880@yahoo.com says:

      Celeb groupy Cullinan should be fried and fired. But Price Waterhouse has held the accounting post tooooo long. Fire em too!

  23. Jimmy says:

    They going to fire this moron?

  24. Tina says:

    I saw a story on how they stopped using Marc Friedland’s lovely envelopes with very exquisite, readable letters; and tried to save money using those cheesy envelopes and cards with bad font instead. No wonder Warren Beatty didn’t notice the wrong label on the exterior? Even the cards had very small print at the bottom. Geez. I’m stunned Tim Ryan thinks that doing the right thing is how he wants them to be judged. What else should they have done? Lied? Blamed it on someone else? Take a lesson in honesty, forthrightness and graciousness from producer, Jordon Horowitz. He saved your ass; not Brian. Just apologize profusely, pray you’re not fired and promise that Cullinan will stop using social media at the Oscars. There’s a reason it’s illegal to Tweet and drive.

  25. Barbara Adams says:

    Too much tweeting. Should have taken his responsiblities more seriously.

  26. peterblood71 says:

    All Cullinan had to do was glance at the front of the envelope with the award type printing to confirm which envelope it was before handing it to Beatty. Why WOULDN’T you do that as a matter of course? No excuses. Pretty lame.

    • Diego Garcia says:

      He was too busy checking his phone and tweeting to pay attention… fuck smartphones! I was already pissed off with that whole excursion bus people all distracted by their phones, unable to even make eye contact with Kimmel for two seconds (I know ppl would like to have a memory of that, but, c’mon! the whole thing was being televised. Can you be in the moment just for a change?! So, the same thing happened at the end, but, this time with epic proportions!

  27. Michael F. says:

    “Cullinan pulled the lead actress envelope that was in the “backup” pile and handed it to Beatty. “There’s a stack for the backups and the ones that are not the backups and he took from the wrong stack,” Ryan explained.”

    Can Cullinan read english? If so, why did he hand the envelope to Beatty without first reading what was on the exterior of the envelope? Unforgivable “mistake”.

  28. Ryan Holznagel says:

    A good clear statement, and I appreciate how he and PWC are taking full responsibility here. Good for them.

    Still, it seems slightly bizarre that they didn’t have a more foolproof system in place here, doesn’t it? Like, they don’t put the no-longer-needed envelopes in a separate container as the night goes on, or… something?

    I’m sympathetic to the guy who screwed up, but honestly, if they don’t have a foolproof physical system in place then it’s all on him to make sure he’s handing them the envelope that says BEST PICTURE. How he could blow his job, on the biggest category of the night, is hard to imagine.

  29. Jadmin says:

    Nothing else to do for ten minutes, so still trying to figure this one out from couple hours ago….

    If Cullinan *Stage Left* with Beatty and Dunaway to hand wrong envelope (seems most now agree he was Stage Left. Most other sites have updated) – how did he take backstage pic of Stone – who exited Stage *Right* with Dicaprio and the first red envelope ….after she received BA award? (Cullinan took pic later deleted from Twitter)

    Anyone?

  30. sherrymecom says:

    Good democratic move…but isn’t this just how yall roll…just a bunch of crackheads!

  31. Rudy Mario says:

    This England based company shoukd be fired along with the Oscar administrators responsible for hiring this foreign firm. Also deport them. There are plenty of Americans who can count and tally. Period.

    Make the Oscars great again!

    • Anonymous says:

      All of the Big 4 accounting firms are headquartered outside the U.S. and are thus foreign firms. The last of the former Big 8 to have been U.S. based was Arthur Andersen, driven out of business by their involvement in the Enron scandal. U.S.A.!

  32. Friendly Fred says:

    I’m sick and tired of people (it’s usually politicians and sports stars) “owning up to the issue” without taking any consequence whatsoever for “owning up to the issue.” Yes, you fucked up PWC. You owned up to it. And now you should be fired. That would actually complete the “owning up” equation.

  33. Faye Kanews says:

    Never heard of “Measure Twice & Cut Once” in the Accounting Business I guess?

    Funnier still is the Academy thinking the rest of the world even knows who the hell Jimmy Kimmel is and even funnier than that is that Jimmy Kimmel thinks the rest of the world knows who Steve Harvey is.

    America has so lost its way. #MAGA

    • Thomas Lake says:

      What? Are you saying getting Kimmel and Steve Harvey more recognized around the world will “Make America Great Again,” or are you saying that achieving that goal will require replacing Kimmel with someone more famous, or are you saying America would be great again if we stopped thinking we are the center of the universe? Maybe you were just babbling so you could use the #MAGA tag. None of what you said makes any sense and we are all dumber for having read it.

  34. JAdmin says:

    Whaaa? This article: Cullinan stage right (DailyMail had Cullinan stage left/Ruiz stage right till 1 hr ago in different article) where he snaps Twitter pic of Stone (now deleted) who had exited stage right together with DiCaprio red envelope in hand. But DailyMail pic 1 hr ago (gone?) had Beatty and Dunaway entering stage left/opposite non-used stairway prop ? So how Cullinan hand wrong envelope from stage right across to stage left from wrong table stage right? Long arm. Long sword to fall on. Wish I had watched this part in real time. Mystery deepens. (Insert spooky/scary sounds here…)

  35. Liza says:

    No one died. Get over it and move on. Sheesh.

  36. Till says:

    Come on it’s just a mistake, no need to fire the guy, he already feels so bad about it. What’s important is that MOONLIGHT WON OVER LLL!!! That’s what everyone should talk about!

  37. Bill Weeden says:

    “…with “La La Land” producer Jordan Horowitz delivering the news to the world that “Moonlight” had made the error.”

    You’re clearly going to want to clear this up.

  38. Lisa says:

    Right. Since when does Price Waterhouse print up nice cards for the losers? Do they send the ones who didn’t win the ‘loser’ card afterward? What a ridiculous excuse.

    • Liza says:

      You need to re-read the article. There were no nice cards for the losers. There were cards for Emma Stone (winner) and Moonlight (winner). There wasn’t a card for La La Land as winner of Best Picture. Beatty was handed the backup card for Emma Stone. To his credit, he knew something was wrong, but FD read the card anyway.

  39. L S Londre says:

    Opening for next year’s Academy Awards. Bring back Kimmel, for sure, with Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty getting out of “Back to the Future” Delorean. Give them two of the same, correct envelopes.

  40. Tony says:

    Wrong pile? The SOB didn’t think to double check the outside the envelope prior to handing her it out?!? This isn’t rocket science, folks. Any high school student council officer could do this. PWC should be fired. Sometimes “I’m sorry, I feel awful” just isn’t enough.

    • indio22 says:

      Agreed, if I had that role, I would be triple checking before handing out an envelope. That said, there were a number of poorly designed aspects to the process, that contributed to the failure. For example, did you notice the rather small lettering only on one side of the envelop, indicating the award category? I would have the award category in BIG LETTERS on both sides of the envelope, as an additional safeguard to handing out the wrong envelope, and as a better indication to the presenter that they have the wrong envelope. Also on the card itself in BIG LETTERS I would have the category at the top of the card, to hopefully also clue in the presenter so she/he looks there first and notices there is a problem. Probably some creative type person designed that envelop with color and font etc thinking hey this looks nice. I would get some process people in there and makes some changes for next year.

      • bonwah says:

        +1 for the design issue. I also noticed how tiny (if handsome) the “Best Actress” and “Best Picture” were at the bottom of the card.

  41. Jiminy Critic says:

    It was the best thing that could have happened for both films. Unlike most years Oscar winning films, they will never be forgotten. PWC, on the other hand, is toast.

  42. L S Londre says:

    Under the 9P’s of marketing, not a good “presentation” which will have long-term branding and promotional implications for “the official accountant for the Academy Awards” PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC), at the 2017 Academy Awards last night.

    A huge accounting mistake, turned into a brand nightmare, by PwC not getting the envelopes correct to the star presenters in Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty.

    Thought Kimmel was funny with the quick “Steve Harvey” quip. Another “Steve Harvey” moment.

    A “spectacular blunder” or a real doozy, in the history of the Oscar ceremonies. As an associate, how would you like to be at a PwC client today?

  43. Ruth Deutsch says:

    It’s getting so abundantly clear that our President believes the world revolves around him. He needs a profound wake up call from “his boss”!!!

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