Cheryl Cecchetto thinks nothing of throwing a barbecue for 70 people at her home during her busiest time of the year — awards season in Hollywood. Cecchetto has plenty of event-producing experience: For 26 consecutive years, the founder and president of Sequoia Productions has overseen every last detail of the entertainment industry's biggest celebration, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Governors Ball, the party that immediately follows the Oscar ceremony, which this year will feature specially commissioned drawings of filmmaking luminaries over the years.
Cecchetto, who once worked as an assistant to Shelley Winters and who also produces the film academy's Governors Awards in November and the Television Academy's Governors Ball, took time from what one can only imagine was a crazy-making week of planning to talk to The Envelope about getting the contract for such impressive gigs.
I read in your book "Passion to Create" that you had worked at Ambrosia, a catering company. They were the events company that landed the first off-premise catering contract for the Governors Ball. How did you take over such a big client?
I was their floor manager, but their producer never showed up at the meetings. The owner of Ambrosia asked me to go. The academy would ask questions — "How about this? How about that?" I put up my hand for everything. I love massive organization. I find it very exciting. I was actually an actress and their event coordinator for a couple of years until everything grew and I started to love it. And I could see how my theatrical background was absolutely a great fit. Then the academy asked if I would come on as their coordinator. That's how I made the leap.
When you started with the academy, you've said the ball was just a matter of a tablecloth and nice flowers. Now it's a genuine spectacular. How have you kept one of the most prestigious special-events jobs for 26 years?
As the event world progressed, we progressed with it. We had such layers of expertise on a level that I don't think a lot of event producers do have. Because I can clear the table and bartend and [Sequoia Vice President] Gary Levitt is a trained chef. And because we had years and years of experience behind us, we can really give them a great history of what has worked and what has not worked.
What's your biggest fear?
It's that I know that I've got to top myself every year. You know when I know an event is right? When we're in the thick of producing it and when I start worrying about the following year, I know we're there. When I don't worry about the following year, we're not there yet. Believe me, we are quite worried about how we're going to top the Emmys next year.
Is it fair to say you're a combination control freak and expert delegater?
I think it's very fair to say that. But I'm so excited when someone brings in their own ideas. So, yes, give me the goods and I'll back down, but give me the goods.
What's your best Worst Story Ever?
The first year we did the ball at Hollywood and Highland, I had huge tanks of fish hovering over the tables — about 30 fish, with three or four koi in each tank. We were about 20 minutes from the start of the ball and the fish started jumping out of the tanks. We had to get a fish wrangler to move them away. I was standing on a chair, in my gown and my heels, pointing out to the wrangler: "Koi, koi, koi. Koi, koi, koi."
How do you stop the panic at a moment like that?
I have a sort of mechanism that switches on and says, "You have to solve this." If you solve it with panic, stress, anger or fear, if you go to the dark side, then you are going to take everybody to the dark side with you. If you go the other way, everyone will say, here's our cheerleader. Now let's go and rah, rah, rah with her. And that's what happens.