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Academy Awards 2014: Readying for red carpet is serious work

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For most Oscar viewers, the red carpet is little more than a fluffy delight — a few hours filled with insanely expensive dresses, over-caffeinated commentators and false modesty.

But for Joe Lewis, whose job is to make sure the red carpet is ready to be tread upon come Sunday, it's serious business. For the past seven years, Lewis has been contracted by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to hire hundreds of vendors for the big day, overseeing everything from power and lighting to fan bleachers and porta-potties. His company began preparing for the Oscars in September.

Around two weeks before the Academy Awards, Lewis relocated from his home in Manhattan Beach to the Loews Hollywood Hotel so that he could be close to the action. Not that the proximity has helped his sleeping schedule much.

FULL COVERAGE: Oscars 2014

"I got 70 minutes last night," he said with a chuckle Tuesday morning. "But I like the intensity of it. We're essentially building a little city out there." 

The actual red carpet — which begins after the stars exit their limos at the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue and travels all the way up the staircase to the Dolby Theatre entrance — is more than 600 feet long and won't be laid until Friday evening.

Until then, Lewis will repeatedly check the weather forecast — the area is tented in the case of rain (a distinct possibility this year). And on Oscar day, just before the 289 media outlets credentialed for the show arrive, he'll even make sure the carpet has been vacuumed.

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Lewis, of course, isn't the only one busy this week preparing for perhaps the world's splashiest red carpet. The Times spoke to some of those who work the Oscars to get a sense of what goes into readying for the big day.

Suzanne Kolb and Gary Snegaroff, E! Entertainment

At E! — the network home to the Kardashians and Joan Rivers — there is no day bigger than the Oscars.

"Oscar day is our Super Bowl," said Kolb, president of E! Entertainment, who will send 20 cameras and 350 employees to the red carpet this weekend. The plethora of producers, stylists and camera operators will all help create nine hours of Oscar-centric programming set to air on the cable channel Sunday.

"We literally started planning the day after the Oscars last year," said Snegaroff, the executive producer of all of E's red carpet programming.

Though the main event will be Ryan Seacrest interviewing celebrities on the red carpet, dozens of other E! personalities will also be dispatched to critique fashion and cover big parties, like the Governors Ball and the Vanity Fair bash. This week, research teams dig up information on the various Oscar nominees and presenters for Seacrest, who is given a card on every celebrity who might approach his platform. 

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"His first question is thought out, but the rest is often pretty spontaneous," said Kolb. "Ryan is a tremendous draw for celebrities. We don't have to do any bending over backward to get them to stop because he's not a reporter they've never met before from an outlet they've never heard of."

E! representatives will reach out to celebrity publicists in advance in the hopes of locking them into the schedule. But on the red carpet, where hundreds of people are chaotically rubbing elbows, those plans often fly out the window.

"Honestly, if it rains, the limo is gonna be late, or there might be a dress malfunction," said Snegaroff. "You can never count on them, but I get it. They want to look good."

Rick Rosas and Brian Cullinan, PricewaterhouseCoopers

The vote count starts on Wednesday in a windowless room at an undisclosed location. That's where eight PricewaterhouseCoopers employees will begin tabulating the Oscar ballots of 6,028 academy members, which were due Tuesday evening.

In this secretive den, where the group will remain until Friday, they're surrounded by a lot of paper. Roughly 40% of the academy membership still sends ballots in via snail mail, says PWC partner Rosas, and the remaining electronic ballots are printed out.

"It's very quiet in the room," said Rosas. "We're marking our little tally sheets, and just counting from about 9 a.m. to 7 p.m."

Sounds fun, right? They do order Chinese food and pizza occasionally to spice things up, says Rosas' fellow partner, Cullinan. The pair are the only two PWC executives privy to the results, and after counting is complete on Friday, they'll stuff the official envelopes with the winners. (The company that supplies the envelopes prints out the names of all the nominees to allow for all possible outcomes.)

MORE: Complete list of nominees | Play-at-home ballot

On Sunday morning, the duo will remove two identical sets of 24 envelopes — one for each category — from a safe and place them into briefcases. Then the men will hop into separate limos, where each will be driven via escorted limos to the Dolby. An armed security guard will stay with both Rosas and Cullinan, who will each take different routes to the Oscars.

"It's a redundancy, because in L.A. cars can be unpredictable," said Cullinan. "If one of us got stuck in traffic, we'd be in a really bad position."

After walking down the red carpet and speaking with the media, the accountants will head backstage. Flanked by their security escorts, they will stand in the wings for the entirety of the show, handing out the appropriate envelope as the telecast progresses.

"People are surprised when they learn about the level of security that goes into all of this," said Cullinan. "But if the results were to ever leak out ahead of the show, that would be a disaster for everybody involved."

Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir, "Access Hollywood"

It was only a few days ago that the former Olympic figure skaters were in Russia serving as commentators for NBC. But on Tuesday a jet-lagged Lipinski, 31, and Weir, 29, got on another plane to head from New York to Los Angeles to prep for their next gig: Offering their opinions on Oscars fashion for "Access Hollywood."

And there wasn't much downtime on the flight, either. Because he missed many of the season's high-profile awards shows while he was in Sochi, Weir prepared a binder filled to the brim with pictures of Oscar nominees to study in the air.

"I definitely am going to be prepared," he said, "because a few years ago, I did a red carpet gig at the Independent Spirit Awards and I didn't know how to say Gabourey Sidibe. I have to learn the proper pronunciation this time around." 

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Once he touches down — a slew of Oscar screeners in tow — he and Lipinski will head on a shopping excursion trailed by "Access" cameras. The pair will begin the search for their own Oscar looks at Decades, a popular vintage couture shop that was the subject of a Bravo reality show.

"I'm going to look long and hard for something fabulous," Weir said. "People were so into my fashion in Sochi that I feel like I'll let everyone down if I don't really bring it."

Before Sunday, Weir says he'll get a manicure and a facial because his skin is "hating its life after piling on makeup" for the past month. He'll also wash and blow-dry his weave.

Lipinski, meanwhile, is taking a more relaxed approach to the new job.

"I do not have a binder," she said, laughing. "I pretend I'm going to do all of these things to get ready with Johnny, like working out. But I'm usually eating a candy bar 10 minutes before we leave."

Baz Bamigboye, London Daily Mail

In the press room, the hotel ballroom where Oscar winners are taken after receiving their golden statues, it seems everybody knows "Baz." In the two decades that the Daily Mail entertainment writer has been traveling from London to Los Angeles to cover the Academy Awards, he's made a lot of friends — some of them more recognizable than others.

In 2009, after spotting Bamigboye among the crowd of journalists, Kate Winslet rushed from the stage to give the reporter a big hug.

"I was very touched by that," Bamigboye recalled on Monday, a day after he'd arrived in town from the U.K. — two tuxedos in tow, "just in case." When he first began traveling to L.A. for the Oscars, he was one of the few British journalists at the event. Now he has to compete for space with the Telegraph, the Guardian and the Independent.

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"I see them, but I don't mix around with them; they are my competition, after all," the 56-year-old said.

Which isn't to say Bamigboye isn't convivial. Before he heads to the red carpet — U.S. cellphone, U.K. cellphone, Blackberry and dark glasses in pocket — he makes sure he has some candies to distribute to those he's standing with outside the Dolby. Because of the time difference, his print deadline approaches almost immediately after the telecast begins.

"Then I work out what parties I want to cover," he said. "I play the room, but don't stay long. I don't drink that much alcohol, which is unusual for a showbiz writer. But you can't cover these things if you're pissed, frankly."

Chris Connelly, red carpet emcee

On the red carpet, his voice echoes over a loud speaker like the Wizard of Oz. It's never entirely clear where the sound is coming from, and yet everyone pays attention to it — particularly the fans seated in the bleachers, eager to hear which celebrities have just arrived on the red carpet.

The man behind the curtain is Connelly, a veteran journalist who emcees the red carpet for the academy. The former MTV host, who now works as a reporter for ESPN, is actually visible in plain sight at the event: He's posted on a platform right in the middle of the carpet, though he can be difficult to spot in the melee.

Not only does he have to worry about spotting celebrities amid the crowd, and then interviewing some of them, but he's also tasked with riling up the onlookers. 

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"Like a lot of people in this town who try to warm up audiences, you just want to get people comfortable with applauding and yelling," Connelly said. "But they're pretty excited already, so it's not very hard."

But Connelly tries not to talk too much. He fears spewing a "constant line of chatter" will annoy journalists trying to conduct interviews of their own.

"I'm not a cattle auctioneer," he joked. "I want people to be able to soak up the fun of the carpet a little bit. I'm just like a male ballet dancer, holding up the ballerina."

amy.kaufman@latimes.com 

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