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Oscar’s accountants expose their secrets

Three men know who wins 48 hours before awards
/ Source: The Associated Press

The keepers of Hollywood’s 24 biggest secrets shrink from the spotlight and wouldn’t dream of name-dropping in a town that thrives on gossip.

What fun is that?

Of course, the ability to stay quiet makes Greg Garrison, Rick Rosas and Brad Oltmanns the ideal keepers of the hush-hush information that can catapult a career.

Their secrets? The winners of the Academy Awards.

The three accountants will know who’s going home with Oscar a full 48 hours before the envelopes are opened on the Feb. 27 telecast.

Usually just two of them know. But PricewaterhouseCoopers is breaking in a rookie this year. Oltmanns, a 24-year employee, is joining veterans Rosas and Garrison on the ballot team. Garrison is working his last Oscars before transferring to the firm’s New York office.

Besides the winners, the trio have another secret they must keep — this one forever: Who came in second in each category. Some years, races have been decided by a single vote, Garrison revealed.

“There have been some very close elections, but we don’t tell anybody, so the academy doesn’t know and they like it that way,” he said.

No security breachesThe firm boasts it hasn’t had a security breach in 71 years of tabulating one of the world’s most anticipated contests.

One of the reasons is that each of the 5,808 ballots mailed to academy members Feb. 2 contains a control number that corresponds to the voting member.

If a voter’s ballot is lost or stolen — it happened in 2000 — they report it to the academy. Their control number is voided and a new ballot with a different control number is sent out.

“If somebody was trying to print up duplicate ballots and then mail them in, we’d know,” Garrison said.

Ballots are due at PricewaterhouseCoopers’ office by 5 p.m. on Feb. 22.

And if yours arrives at 5:01?

“We’ll still take the ballot. There’s no need to have a scene in our lobby,” Garrison said, “but when we count them, we’re going to push it aside.”

No hanging chad here; Oscar voters make their selections using pencil, pen or in one case, according to Rosas, a crayon.

Neatness counts, too.

“If it’s a case where we can’t tell who they’re trying to vote for, we won’t count that vote in that category,” Rosas said. “We’re not here to interpret or to make a judgment call.”

In an era of worrisome electronic voting, Oscar may have a better idea: each step of the tabulating process is done by hand, at the academy’s insistence.

“None of this information is in computers where it can be hacked out at any time,” said Bruce Davis, the academy’s executive director.

Ballots counted in secret
Garrison, Rosas and Oltmanns take three days to count the final ballots, finishing on the Friday before the Sunday night show. They tabulate in a secured, windowless conference room — psst, at a secret location — just big enough to contain them, a few carefully chosen assistants and 5,808 pieces of paper.

On the day of the show, accompanied by tuxedo-clad Los Angeles police officers, the men take separate routes to the Kodak Theatre carrying briefcases containing two sets of envelopes with the winners’ names.

No, the briefcases aren’t handcuffed to them. That’s a stunt reserved for, uh, lesser award shows.

“MTV, probably,” Garrison cracked.

He and his colleagues memorize the winning movies in each category in case of any goofs by star presenters. Like when Sharon Stone accidentally sent an unopened envelope off with a previous winner and was left — somewhat uncharacteristically — without anything to say.

So what happens to the unused envelopes at the end of the show?

Some are given to winners as souvenirs; others are destroyed or wind up in Garrison’s briefcase until he opens it the next year to put in a new set.

“I’ve actually got a bunch of them at my house,” he confessed.

Is he tempted to sell them on eBay?

“That falls into the fireable offense category,” Rosas joked.

During the Oscar show, Garrison and Oltmanns have to stand in the wings for three-plus hours, handing their envelopes to presenters before they walk out.

“You get to see some really neat moments backstage as a winner comes off,” Garrison said. “The presenters are very nervous before they go on.”

Meanwhile, Rosas will stand by “at an undisclosed location in the theater,” he said, laughing.

“In case Brad gets so nervous he faints,” Garrison joked.

Bathroom breaks are ill-advised since categories come up too quickly. The men won’t consume liquids before or during the show. But afterward, all bets are off.

“My strongest sensation at that time is thirst,” Garrison said, “so we go to the Governors Ball and we fix that.”