Last year’s best picture mix-up played out as one of the most shocking moments in Oscars history, and the Academy has taken extra precautions to make sure it never happens again.
In the closing moments of the 89th Oscars, representatives from accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, which tabulates the Academy’s balloting data, handed presenters Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty the incorrect category envelope as they headed to the podium, which led the pair to mistakenly announce La La Land as the best picture of 2017 over the actual winner, Moonlight. Show producers rushed the stage to amend the error as the audience watched in disbelief.
Now, the Associated Press reports that PwC chairman and senior partner Tim Ryan has implemented new procedures to prevent such a gaffe from happening at the upcoming March 4 ceremony. He devised the revamped safeguarding procedures with Academy participation, having interviewed the PwC partners responsible for the snafu, show producers, presenters, stage managers, and the filmmakers involved in the production of both La La Land and Moonlight.
“One of the most disappointing things to me was all the great work that had been done, not only last year but over the last 83 years, around accuracy, confidentiality integrity of that process,” Ryan told the AP of PwC’s history with the Academy. “And where we got it wrong was on the handing over of the envelope.”
Thus, the first measure takes the form of a planned exchange between celebrity presenters and PwC accountants, during which the announcing party will confirm that they have the correct category envelope before stepping onto the stage.
In addition to two partners stationed on either side of the Oscars stage, a third balloting partner will now sit with Oscar producers inside the show’s control room. That person will have all winner envelopes in their possession, and will have the roster of victors committed to their memory “as a safety control,” Ryan told the AP. All three partners will attend the show’s rehearsals and practice what to do in the event of a mistake with the envelopes.
“It took a long time to respond last year when there was a mistake that we made,” Ryan explained. “So we’re formally practicing the what-ifs.”
While they still work for PwC, the accountants responsible for last year’s fiasco, Brian Cullinan and Martha Ruiz, have been replaced for the 90th Academy Awards and will not oversee the envelopes at the Dolby Theatre. The pair landed in hot water with both the Academy and PwC after taking selfies and backstage photos during the telecast, including a since-deleted snapshot of Emma Stone taken shortly before Cullinan handed Beatty and Dunaway the wrong envelope. Their actions subsequently triggered the Academy to ban PwC reps from using cell phones and social media during the ceremony. New PwC partners participating at the 2018 Oscars include 14-year Academy Awards veteran Rick Rosas and colleague Kimberly Bourdon.
“Let me tell you, I don’t think this error will ever happen again or would happen again,” Academy CEO Dawn Hudson added. “We put in a lot of protocols to make sure it won’t, but I don’t think it will anyway. I think everyone will be very focused on getting that right.”
On top of calculating vote totals for the Academy’s annual list of nominees and winners, PwC’s 83-year relationship with the group includes handling its audits, taxes, and the development of the digital voting process Oscar has adopted in recent years.
Final Oscar voting begins Feb. 20 and ends on Feb. 27. The 90th Academy Awards will be handed out Sunday, March 4 at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood. ABC’s broadcast of the ceremony, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, begins at 6:30 p.m. ET.