To longtime Academy Awards photographer Al Seib, the Oscars red carpet is Hollywood’s own 405 Freeway.
After capturing the ceremony for the Los Angeles Times for more than 30 years, staff photographer Seib describes Oscars’ glamorous arrivals area as only a true Angeleno can: in terms of its traffic patterns. Typically, there’s a lane for the movie stars and their dates, who make frequent pit stops to chat with reporters and smile for the cameras. There’s also a lane for other esteemed guests, who tend to cause traffic jams by rubbernecking at the rare sight of a Meryl Streep or a Brad Pitt in the wild.
And in the middle, there’s even a carpool lane, reserved for security and A-listers who need to get from Point A to Point B in good time.
This Sunday, however, the crimson road to the Dolby Theatre will operate a little differently. A shimmering gold partition running nearly the entire length of the carpet will separate the famous attendees from others. On the now-private celebrity side, the carpool lane has been removed, allowing for a roomier, free-flowing space similar to the less structured Oscars carpets of 15 or 20 years ago.
“It’s funny,” Seib told the L.A. Times ahead of the show. “What was old becomes new again.”
Another major alteration to this year’s carpet setup involves the fans, who are usually stationed in rows of bleachers overlooking the event. This weekend, in an effort to give photographers a cleaner backdrop for their celebrity subjects, the fan sections have been downsized and relocated to ground-level “pods.” But Seib is still hopeful the stars might step in front of the stargazers.
“I kind of liked it when you had the people in the background,” he admitted. “It made it more electric and more ‘wow.’ ”
But for photographers like The Times’ Jay L. Clendenin, tasked with shooting Oscar fashion, the simpler the background, the better.
“We want clean shots of them to show their fashion, show their face, and we don’t want people standing behind or coming out of their heads or whatever,” Clendenin said. “And if you listen, you can hear a lot of the other photographers yelling at anybody who dares step on the carpet. I’m not one of those. I just take pictures of the aftermath.”
Seib is optimistic, however, that the new fan setup — in closer proximity to the carpet — will encourage more celebrity-fan interactions.
“In the past, George Clooney would jump the lines, and he would go over there and sign stuff for the fans,” Seib recalled. “That still could happen, because now these fans aren’t going to have those two lanes between them. The fans are actually more right there with the talent. There are just fewer of them.”
And then, of course, there’s the weather, which has turned out to be rather dismal for Oscar Sunday, with gray skies and some rain. When it comes to battling the elements on Hollywood’s biggest night (and day), Seib has on occasion seen flooded, squishy carpets and drenched news crews.
This year, the academy has erected a simple, giant tent covering the path to the theater, designed to keep the carpet dry without impeding the water’s natural drainage cycle. Mild panic set in as a storm rolled in right at carpet opening. The tent protected attendees from much—but not all—of the deluge, with crews scrambling to stop leaks and sweep collecting rainwater off the roof.
“We have a leak in the red carpet next to the stage,” one crew member barked into his walkie-talkie. “I repeat: there’s a leak in the tent.” Soon, men wielding giant poles sprinted to the rescue, shoving water off the thin plastic cover and prompting the loudest cheers yet ahead of star arrivals.
“It becomes a little bit of a Catch-22 when you have the awards show earlier in the season,” Seib said. “February’s the big rain month in California, so having it in early February ... you’re taking your chances.”
“The tenting is awesome,” added Clendenin, who has been covering the Oscars since 2008. “Unless it warms up, then we are all living in a greenhouse for four-plus hours. It’s not the best conditions for the photographers, who are penned in like cattle, but the talent don’t seem to notice.”
Overall, the two words Seib used to characterize the carpet this year were “simple” and “elegant.”
“In previous years, you had those rolling LED screens and monitors and things like that,” he said. “They’ve kind of done away with all that.”