Oscars are hottest ticket in town

Scarce admissions create behind-the-scenes maneuvering

Nicolas Chartier won’t be attending the Oscars, but his ticket won’t go unused.

“The Hurt Locker” producer has been named persona non grata by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and it won’t take the org long to find a lucky recipient who will now be able to watch the Academy Awards in person rather than be on the outside looking in.

Every year, tickets to the Oscars are among the hottest commodities in Hollywood. This year, demand is even greater.

In part, it’s because there are 10 films up for best picture — meaning more seats for their respective producers. But there are also more nominees than usual in other categories.

In a town where Oscar tickets are far more in demand than courtside seats at a Lakers game or the best boxes at the Hollywood Bowl, the logistics of deciding who will be among the lucky 3,300 attendees is something of a mystery. Generally, tix are distributed through an array of back-channel requests.

“We do have about 30 more nominees this year over last year, which translates to 60 more seats to find,” said Kimberly Roush, the Academy’s director of membership, who oversees ticketing. “That increase, though, is not completely attributable to the best picture race, as we have more nominees in other categories as well.”

From the studios’ perspective, “the biggest change has been to try to obtain more tickets for nominees,” said one source familiar with ticket distribution, “but it hasn’t been horrible.”

Officially at least, studios generally receive an allotment of tickets based on the number of films they release each year. For example, the big studios — Warner Bros., Universal, Paramount, Fox, Sony, Disney — which boast the largest output of films receive the greatest number of ducats. They can distribute them as they see fit. Smaller outfits — Overture, Lionsgate, the Weinstein Co., etc. — receive fewer.

The larger studios generally get at least six orchestra tickets apiece and give them to their top-ranking execs — think Barry Meyer, Brad Grey and Tom Rothman. Top marketing, production and other execs are often spread throughout the auditorium.

Producers for the best picture nominees are generally seated in the orchestra section of the Kodak. But, because of demand, this year some producers may get pushed up to the parterre section. The parterre is on the orchestra level of the venue but toward the back of the room. And those who normally sit in the parterre could get bumped up to the mezzanine.

Negotiations often ensue when studios, seeking tickets for their nominees, have lists that extend beyond their normal allotment. The requests sometimes roll in at the start of the process, right after the noms are announced. Bargaining begins as they submit their requests for a large increase, but they willingly settle for far fewer.

“We’ll usually overask,” said one source who asked not to be named. “We had one nominee who requested 11 tickets and got six, and another who asked for eight and got six. But one time, someone asked for six and got six.” Hope springs eternal.

Whether or not they are affiliated with a studio, all 5,800 Academy members are entitled to enter a lottery each year, hoping to have the opportunity to buy tickets at a cost of $1,200-$1,500. Only 400 win seats. A studio may pick up the tab, but not necessarily.

Also, tickets won via the lottery must be used by the person who has been selected. Tickets are nontransferable, and each has the attendee’s name inscribed. A photo ID is required to enter the Kodak.

Dialogue between nominees, studios and the Academy becomes a chess match — jockeying to stay three moves ahead in determining if, and how, seats may become available and who will get them.

Roush said: “Tickets are in such great demand that it’s difficult to make everyone happy. There just aren’t enough seats to go around. We also have to balance the needs and desires of the nominees, Academy members, studios, industry executives and everyone else who wants to be in the room.”

One source said nominees in smaller categories with no major studio affiliation have a more difficult time obtaining anything beyond their two-ticket allotments.

But the jockeying isn’t limited to getting a good seat in the Kodak.

After the ceremony, less than half the Oscargoers head directly into the adjacent Governors Ball. Admission to the Kodak does not guarantee admission to the after-party, and Governors Ball tickets come at a hefty pricetag of $800.

“Everyone wants a Governors Ball ticket, and those are at a premium,” said a studio source. “There just aren’t enough.”

Even those with the best luck will have to navigate logistics.

Arriving at the Oscars in time to sashay down the red carpet, grab a drink and settle in by showtime can be exhausting. Stretches of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue, as well as many nearby streets, are shut down. Even the exit ramp at Highland off the Hollywood Freeway is closed.

Most limo drivers should have enough Oscar experience and expertise to navigate the closures. And experts say leaving early should help reduce the stress that will only increase as showtime approaches.

But who in Hollywood wants to be the first to arrive?