It’s the Early Birds That Get to Squirm


Who are all these people?

That would perhaps be the question a first-time observer would ask when viewing the scene at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences at 5 a.m. Tuesday morning.

Despite the early hour, the academy was bubbling over with publicists, journalists and producers handicapping the nominations. No potential nominees were in sight, but a record 1,100 other people showed up this year before the crack of dawn representing studios, actors, television stations and print media.

“This year we had more than usual,” said Stephanie Beck, spokeswoman for the academy. “There are many more films nominated from more countries that have never been nominated in the past"--prompting more television crews from around the world to show up, she said.

The tradition of waking in the wee hours of the morning began in 1987. Born of a dual purpose, the idea satisfied both the morning TV talk shows in need of higher ratings and the Hollywood publicity machine ready to move into action as early as possible.

“This was another way to get recognition for your film--and it works,” said Pete Hammond, coordinating producer of the entertainment TV program “Access Hollywood.” “So now you have to get up this early for almost all the other awards shows too. I’ve never seen so many publicists in one room so early in the morning.”


By 5 a.m., half an hour before the announcements were to be made, the breakfast room was buzzing with light conversation. “Where did you park?” “What time did you get up?”

“This is the latest I’ve ever come in,” one woman said at 5:08 a.m.

A few lighthearted complaints too: “Where is the bottled water?” asked Miramax publicist Janet Hill. “This is Hollywood, isn’t it? We need to bring the Evian lady over here.”

The aroma of coffee, bacon and eggs filled the air but most people were too nervous to eat anything.

“I forgot my [identification] badge, I forgot my beeper, my stomach is in knots,” said Tony Angellotti, who is helping Miramax with publicity.

DreamWorks publicist Vivian Mayer said she was “hopeful” for her studio’s “Saving Private Ryan.” But wanting to take some pressure off the situation, she glanced around the room and noted: “Everybody looks better than I thought so early in the morning.”

Anticipation is a difficult thing, said Miramax’s Hill.

“This is usually a big moment for us,” she said. “I have more of a sense of excitement than nervousness.”

A few minutes before the announcement room opened, cell phones were ringing and television camera lights heated up the room.

Then the doors to the main auditorium were opened and the stampede began. Though usually a well-heeled group, the assembled promoters and journalists on this occasion were rowdy, prompting the usher to plead, “Please, people, be civilized. Please, no pushing.”

His words fell on deaf ears, though everyone made it to the auditorium without incident.

But then, the real nail-biting began. As they sat waiting for the announcements, the publicists unfolded their own personal lists of predictions and hopes for the clients they are representing. After all, their livelihoods depend on how well they get the word out for their employers. In Hollywood, silence is death.

With two minutes to the announcements, the entire room fell quiet. Tension mounted as actor Kevin Spacey and academy President Robert Rehme came out to read the list of nominees.

Then as the announcements were made, gasps and shrieks of joy were heard; people pounded tables in excitement.

“Yes!” exclaimed Gail Brownstein, a veteran publicist helping Gramercy Pictures, as the company’s “Elizabeth” was announced as a nominee for best picture of the year. “Oh my God! Did you hear me screaming?” she squealed to her colleague on a cell phone.

“Gwyneth--that’s good for us! Judi--that’s good for us!” said one man, referring to the best actress and best supporting actress nominees Gwyneth Paltrow and Judi Dench of “Shakespeare in Love.”

With 23 nods to Miramax from the academy, Angellotti could not have had a better morning.

“It’s very gratifying to work so hard on behalf of these films and see the academy recognize them,” he said.

Then the real work began as Angellotti rushed off to make phone calls for the next six hours.


Most Nominations

“Shakespeare in Love”: 13

“Saving Private Ryan”: 11

“Elizabeth”: 7

“The Thin Red Line”: 7

“Life Is Beautiful”: 7

“Armageddon”: 4

“Gods and Monsters”: 3

“Pleasantville”: 3

“The Truman Show”: 3

“Affliction”: 2

“Central Station”: 2

“A Civil Action”: 2

“Hilary and Jackie”: 2

“The Mask of Zorro”: 2

“Out of Sight”: 2

“Primary Colors”: 2

“The Prince of Egypt”: 2

“A Simple Plan”: 2

“What Dreams May Come”: 2