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The Man Behind the Oscar Envelopes -- A Visit With Marc Friedland

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During the first twelve years of the Oscars, the Academy released the winners' names to newspapers before the start of the ceremony. That way, the winner's list would be published and on stands immediately after the Oscar ceremony in the newspapers' evening edition. Believe it or not, that actually worked well with no leaks until 1940 when the Los Angeles Times infamously printed the winners' names before the ceremony. As a result of this blunder, the Academy decided that the voting results be kept an absolute secret until revealed during the ceremony -- giving birth to The Envelope.

Until a few years ago, Oscar envelopes were functional, but a bit frumpy. Enter Marc Friedland, the Creative Director of Los Angeles' Marc Friedland Couture Communications, and a designer who could be considered the Diana Vreeland of invitations, cards, mailers, stationery, and envelopes.

Under Friedland's enchanted vision, the Academy Award envelopes and enclosed winner cards have been elevated to elegant works of art. Tom Hanks was the first presenter to open Friedland's design during the 2011 Academy Awards, holding it up to the camera saying, "Look at these envelopes -- they are works of art themselves."

Photo courtesy of Marc Friedland:

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Friedland comments:

It's not just an envelope -- it's an iconic commemorative artifact. Billions of people are fixated on that one jawdropping moment when the envelope is opened. Creating them is a huge artistic process. The envelope is entirely handmade, and sourced using the finest of papers and dyes from around the world. And these envelopes hold so much emotion. Looking at all of the nominees' names printed so beautifully on these cards stirs something in you.

Photo courtesy of Marc Friedland:
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Friedland continues:

Of course, I don't know who the Oscars will go to -- only the accounting partners of PriceWaterhouseCooper know, and they commit those names to memory before the show. Since the award recipients are known only to the accounting partners, we must print an award recipient card for every nominee, and then deliver three entire and identical sets of envelopes to PriceWaterhouseCooper, who then tabulate, insert, and seal the winner cards inside. Two of the accounting partners have a set, and there is a backup third set in case anything should happen to the first two sets. Only those awarded the Oscar actually receive the envelope to take home as a special keepsake. PriceWaterhouseCooper destroy the rest of them because they don't want them floating around, or winding up on E-Bay. It breaks my heart a little that most of them have to be destroyed, but (laughs) under the circumstances, it's fine.

Also unbeknownst to most people is that all aspects of the envelopes are engineered like a German car -- from making sure the enclosed cards can be extracted from the envelopes easily to making sure the light hits the paper correctly.

Photo by Cole Trider:
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When I visited Friedland's studio, it was mere hours before PriceWaterhouseCooper arrived to retrieve the envelopes (two Fridays before the telecast), and a small armada of craftspeople were busy fine tuning to make sure every last millimeter was perfect. Some were smoothing out wrinkles on the envelope lining with hot air dryers; others were trimming the red ribbon to affix on the back.

The labor that goes into making the envelope is a movie unto itself.

The tiny, embossed gold Oscar statue seen on the envelope is originally carved by a tradesman from a sculpted piece of brass. The official font is a classic art deco, Hollywood Regency style licensed from the Richard Neutra estate. And the envelope's opulent, iridescent gold paper (carefully patterned to protect from forgery) is created by hand in Germany in the world's oldest paper mill. It's amazing to ponder the envelope's obscure beginnings in the Bavarian Alps paper mill ends up being seen on television by billions.

Photo by Cole Trider:
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In addition to the iconic envelopes, Friedland designs exquisite invitations, and mailings to the Academy's other awards season events including the Nominees Luncheon, and the Foreign Film Nominees Reception.

When he's not designing for the Academy, Friedland's crafting the most innovative, beautiful, and personality-packed invitations and stationery for clients ranging from everyday citizens to celebrities including John Travolta and Steve Wynn.

And for those of you throwing your own Oscar parties, Friedland, in partnership with Evite Postmark, has created the only Academy sanctioned digital invitations for free featuring ten different gorgeous, glitzy styles.

And the party doesn't stop there. Friedland has also designed a fabulous set of red carpet Oscar bingo cards with categories including "backless gowns," and "celebrity baby bump."

Happily, the Academy has extended Friedland and his envelopes for another three years. With this announcement, his smiles widens, "I feel like I've won the Academy Award for Best Envelope!"

Marc Friedland:
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