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Preparing for Academy Award nominations

Sigourney Weaver will announce the list on Tuesday
/ Source: The Associated Press

5:38:30 a.m. — that’s the moment Hollywood hype turns hyperactive.

It’s the precise time Tuesday morning when the 76th annual Academy Award nominations will be announced to the world, creating a frenzy among all who make movies, make money from movies or make time to see movies.

But almost a week before the clamor, a small army of behind-the-scenes men and women met in a shadowy theater on the third floor of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences headquarters to plot the details of “nominations eve.”

As the contenders are announced, big-time actors will eye the live television broadcast, hungry to hear their own names.

Then squads of publicists, managers, agents and stylists will scramble to get the nominees: a) attention, b) better scripts, c) bigger money and d) new outfits flashy enough to make People magazine, yet subdued enough to dodge snarking from E! carpet maven Joan Rivers.

Back at the studios, marketing executives will relaunch months-old movies with ad campaigns touting their nominations in a bid to spin hot Oscar buzz into cold box-office cash.

Keeping secrets, staying organizedAnd it all starts at the Academy. On Wednesday afternoon, about 40 staffers gathered for a read-through that outlined — down to the minute — where employees should be and what they’ll be doing prior to the nominations.

Above all came the warning: loose lips can spoil the fun.

“The only reason for the secrecy is to make it more fun,” said Academy Director of Communications John Pavlik. “It builds suspense.”

And be careful when using walkie-talkies — you never know when someone could be eavesdropping with a scanner.

“If you’re talking on the radio,” Pavlik told the group, “do not make any reference in any way, matter, shape or form to anything that might conceivably allow people to figure out who a specific nominee is. Don’t say, ’Hey, I need those 42 pictures of so-and-so up here!”’

Other need-to-know details revealed:

  • When will the final list of nominees arrive from the tightlipped accountants at PricewaterhouseCoopers? At 9 p.m. Monday, shoving the preparations into overdrive.
  • How many security guards will lock-down the Academy’s Beverly Hills headquarters overnight, preventing secrets from leaking out before 5:38:30 a.m.? About 20.
  • At what point in the wee hours will Sigourney Weaver arrive to rehearse reading the nominations? Approximately 3:40 a.m.
  • How long will it take to fill the Oscar Web site with the nominees, their bios, awards history, trivia and photos? About eight hours.

Is that enough time? Web editor Paul Carroll smiled: “It’s a little close.”

The start of a long processThis is just the beginning. In the weeks ahead, gag writers will devise jokes during skull sessions with host Billy Crystal; first-time Oscar producer Joe Roth and veteran director Louis J. Horvitz will try to fill the show with stars and ensure it will end on time; and chef Wolfgang Puck will concoct a gourmet menu for the Governors Ball, the traditional first stop for partying celebrities after the Feb. 29 awards ceremony.

The crush of awards activities was made all the more hectic this year when the Academy moved up the Oscar ceremony by a month.

The first hurdle is nominations day, and the crew is ready for it to come — and go.

“It’s rough,” said Academy media coordinator Leslie Unger, who’ll spend much of that Tuesday morning wrangling nearly 370 journalists from about 24 countries. “For many of us, we’re here all day Monday, we get out for maybe a couple hours, go home, get a shower, and you try to convince yourself it’s a new day and come back at 8:30 p.m. to be here all night.”

Even taking a break isn’t much of a break, she says.

“It’s those moments when you sit down when you realize how tired you are.”