From A-List Whisperer to Beauty Rescuer: people who keep the Oscar economy buzzing

February 4, 2015, 11:00 AM UTC
An Oscar statue is seen at the nominations announcement for the 87th Academy Awards in Beverly Hills, California
An Oscar statue is seen at the nominations announcement for the 87th Academy Awards in Beverly Hills, California January 15, 2015. REUTERS/Phil McCarten (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) - RTR4LJMS
Photograph by Phil McCarten — Reuters

It takes a village to keep the Oscar economy buzzing. Industries cluster around the event and invest gobs of cash into covering it (the media), clothing it (fashion), campaigning for votes (the studios, unless a nominee manages to fund her own For Your Considerations) and picking up the travel tab for nominees (the studios, distributors, whomever writes the big checks).

Los Angelenos in the beauty business benefit significantly, charging into the thousands for services from hair and make-up to spray tanning and waxing. Meanwhile, over on the Other Coast, Andrew Saffir of The Cinema Society — a haute marketing company on which studio brass rely to promote films in New York City — works overtime to throw buzzy premiere parties and screenings for Academy Awards contenders, wrangling brand sponsors to absorb much of the bill and reportedly earning up to $25,000 for each to-do. Here, Saffir and fellow members of the Oscar economy talk business, ordering enough truffle mac and cheese to feed 1,700 people, juggling eight makeup clients at the same time and why winning a golden statuette offers greater clout (if not an instant path to getting rich).

The Awards Expert

SAVANNAH, GA - NOVEMBER 01: Scott Feinberg attends the closing reception during the 17th Annual Savannah Film Festival on November 1, 2014 in Savannah, Georgia. (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for SCAD)

Scott Feinberg, who chronicles Oscars' cutthroat campaign season for The Hollywood Reporter:

"People spend according to whether or not they think it'll make a difference, so you know, if there's a clear-cut frontrunner, and it’s not your movie, then you probably spend a little less.

"And some people target more then others: You know, 'We realize we're not going to compete for Best Actor or Best Picture but maybe we can make a run at Best Actress or something more narrow like Best Original screenplay and spend accordingly. But in years like 2010 and 2011, when you had The King's Speech and The Social Network up against each other and both feeling they had a great shot, it was just record amounts of money that were spent by those two camps. They didn't want to lose because they spent a little bit less than their competition.

"It really became a phenomenon to spend a lot of money going after Oscars in the year of 1998-1999 — that was when [mega-producer Harvey Weinstein's] Shakespeare in Love was going up against Saving Private Ryan, which was the first big contender ever to come out of Dreamworks [the studio Steven Spielberg launched in 1994]. There was just a lot on the line for a lot of different parties on that one and so they just set the precedent as they come driving up each other in terms of spending."

On actress/former nominee Ann Dowd maxing her credit card and borrowing $7,000 from friends to foot the bill for her awards season campaign in 2012-2013 because she had no financial support from the studio:

"The famous example I think is Ann Dowd from the movie 'Compliance,' who had a distributor [Magnolia Pictures] that just wasn't supporting the movie.

"They felt that the movie's already come out on DVD by the time she was getting some attention and they had nothing to gain by spending money to promote her, so she was on her own essentially.

"She had to fly herself around even when she was an honoree or a panelist of something. They weren't helping out, so she went to some award shows — the Independent Spirit Awards for instance — where she had her seat and they gave her a plus one courtesy of the award show, but that was it, because there wasn't a studio that was going to support her. It's not like you can't be honored if you're not gonna buy a table, but it's very unusual that a studio wouldn't want to do that to push their own film's visibility."

The Oscar Winner

PARK CITY, UT - JANUARY 25: Cinematographer Ross Kauffman accepts the Excellence in Cinematography Award: Documentary for the film "E-TEAM" onstage at the Awards Night Ceremony at Basin Recreation Field House during the 2014 Sundance Film Festival on January 25, 2014 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for Sundance Film Festival)

Ross Kauffman, Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker of 2004's Born Into Brothels and 2014's E-Team and creative director of the content agency Fictionless:

"At a certain point in this endeavor — making Born Into Brothels — we were literally $80,000 in credit card debt. We didn't know if the film would ever see the light of day.

"For us, a home run was getting into Sundance, getting a distributor, getting on HBO. So for all the critical success that the film had, I mean no one ever, ever expected it and nor did we even know if we'd get out of debt. Which we finally did. … Selling the film before the Oscars helped. The Oscars help in opening doors. It's nice to have the Oscar because people know I'm 'for real' I guess, not that anyone else isn't for real but when you say, 'Oh, I won an Oscar,' it really helps to open doors for me so I can really meet with a variety of people.

"The possibilities might be a little bit wider, if I take advantage of them. So that's where the Oscar comes in. It doesn't mean money. It doesn't mean anything other than it helps open some other doors."

The A-List Whisperer

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 01: Founder of Cinema Society, Andrew Saffir speaks at a special screening of "Hear Our Stories. Share Yours." at Tribeca Grand Hotel on October 1, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for The Estee Lauder Companies)

Andrew Saffir, founder of The Cinema Society, which partners with studios and luxury brand-sponsors to throw star-studded, triple-VIP, buzz-generating screenings in New York City for such Oscar-bait films as Still Alice, The Imitation Game and Whiplash:

"I really kind of set out to create something that was very different from what I felt existed — it was not sort of a big, impersonal, 1,200-person premiere but rather a smaller, just more intimate and exciting environment where every single person in the room was someone you either know or wanted to know or was really more of a safe haven and, quite frankly, a fun haven … Basically what I was offering to [the studios] was access to a wealth of great people in New York — celebrities, influencers, fashion people and so forth and kind of tapping into all that is New York — while being able to also offer them kind of a fully paid-for evening.

"Certainly stakes are high and there's a lot of ego involved and so forth — I don't mean my ego but the ego of, you know, a lot of the various players — but at the end of the day, what we're all striving for is a great evening and celebration of a great film and that provides great joy and pleasure for me."

The Beauty Rescuer

Amy Rittiner, celebrity makeup artist (clients: Chrissy Teigen, Molly Sims) whose in-demand services range from $200-$2,000:

"On the day of an award show, it is crucial to plan the schedule down to the minute, adding in cushion time wherever possible. Los Angeles is notorious for bad traffic and late people, so to protect my business I account for this.

"When I first arrive at the hotel, we look at the gown and decide together on the final look. Next, the client puts on a comfy robe, a hydrating facemask and some good music.

"Over the years I've mastered the art of applying makeup in stressful situations. There's often two to three artists working on one person, FaceTime meetings, live tweeting, breast-feeding and a video crew. My assistant is my saving grace. She keeps me fed, watered and on time!

"One year, for the Oscars, I had eight clients all at the same hotel. I set up my makeup station on a room service table and rolled from room to room all day. Needless to say, I got a ton of requests for touch-ups in the elevator."

The Belle of the Ball

Andrea Drake Brooks of Sequoia Productions, who oversees the Oscars' seven-figure, Wolfgang Puck-catered Governors blowout (and manages to keep everything within budget):

"We've got over 400-450 staff and then on top of that we have all of the guests, which is from 1,500 to more like 1,700 guests, and it becomes a very intimate, packed room quite quickly.

"Guests can come in and never have to move: All the food and drinks are brought to them. … We're talking caviar, we're talking truffles — those are probably two of your most expensive items — very, very high-end, bite-sized, but still with the comfort. You'll have your truffle or lobster mac and cheese, or your caviar baked potato."

(Not to mention hundreds upon hundreds of bottles of Sterling Vineyards wine, Piper-Heidsieck bubbly and Johnnie Walker Scotch whisky drinks. For those with dietary restrictions: Vegan and gluten-free options available. This is Hollywood!)


Erin Carlson is an entertainment writer and former editor at The Hollywood Reporter. Follow her on Twitter at @ErinLCarlson.

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