The accountants who determine the Oscar winners take their jobs very, very seriously
While the movie-watching public and the movie-making elite both wait patiently for the Oscars on Sunday, Rick Rosas and Brian Cullinan are ahead of the game: They’re the only two people in the whole world who know in advance who will win an Academy Award.
In fact, for some categories, they might already know: the last Oscar votes rolled in on Tuesday and, as the PwC accountants chosen to do the final count on Oscar ballots, they started their tallies the next day. The Oscar vote-counting process goes on for months, continuing throughout the nominations process, but the homestretch that is the finals lasts less than a week.
“As accountants, we keep confidential information every day,” says Rosas. “This is the one time there’s a little heightened interest in it.”
And when it comes to secrecy, the Oscars are definitely not messing around. To wit:
- A small team of people (about six people, not including Rosas and Cullinan) split up the ballots so that nobody is counting an entire category, which means nobody knows how the different entries stack up. Those subtotals are added up by Rosas and Cullinan. By Friday evening, the two accountants will know all the winners.
- Though they won’t disclose how many vote are received, there are about 6,000 voting members of the Academy. All of the counting is done by hand. “It’s old-school,” says Cullinan. “It’s as boring as it sounds. You have lots and lots of stacks of little pieces of paper.”
- All of the categories are counted several times, and extra if there’s a tie (which has happened). There has never been a post-awards recount required.
- The Academy provides triplicates of cards listing each movie in every category. Rosas and Cullinan put the winning cards in the envelopes; the losing cards and extras are destroyed.
- Two identical and complete sets of cards are put in two identical briefcases. This year, PwC has introduced a new style of briefcase — seen above — which is the first one to bear the Academy’s logo as well as the accounting firm’s.
- Having rehearsed their blocking on Saturday, Rosas and Cullinan will travel to the show separately, in cars with security details. They carry the briefcases down the red carpet, pausing for interviews, and each take their places on opposite sides of the stage. As presenters come on from either side, they’ll be handed the right cards.
When the envelopes are opened, the number in the know will balloon from two people to tens of millions.
PwC has been counting Oscar ballots for decades, and Rosas said the process is pretty well fine-tuned; this is Cullinan’s first year on the Oscar beat, but Rosas is a veteran. It’s a busy few days, but no all-nighters are required, particularly because they already know what they’ll wear on Sunday. (Tuxes, natch.) That’s a good thing, because after the Oscars are over, it’ll be straight into tax season. Not that they mind being busy for a few days — heading the Oscars team is an honor at PwC offices, they say.
“Especially for those who aren’t in the business world, [the Oscars are] what we’re known for,” says Cullinan. “To be asked to do it is probably, as an accountant, as much fun as you can have.”
(MORE: What Makes an Oscar Winner)