“Who won best picture?”
“Whose name is inside the envelope?”
“Can you give me a hint?”
As Oscar balloting co-leaders, we’re often asked a variety of questions around our involvement in the Academy Awards®. Most of these questions we can’t answer - it’s our job to keep the results a secret until the moment the envelopes are opened on stage.
But, there are some frequently asked questions we can answer, and in this post we’ll share them. When it comes to the results, however, our lips are sealed!
What is PwC’s involvement and history with the Oscars®―how long have you been counting the ballots?
Since 1934, PwC has overseen all aspects of the Oscars voting process: ensuring the integrity and accuracy of the balloting, maintaining sole custody of all votes and tabulations, and remaining responsible for the confidentiality of the results, which are kept under wraps until they are announced during the live telecast.
What are your roles specifically―what do you do as the ballot counters?
Simply, we’re the people responsible for counting the Oscars votes submitted by Academy members. More than 6,000 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences members are eligible to vote. It’s our job to count those votes for both the nomination and final rounds. While it sounds like a glamorous gig, the task of actually counting votes—over and over again—is intense. The process is managed with the utmost secrecy by ourselves and our team, and we never take shortcuts.
Nominations were announced last week - what happens next?
Academy members prepare to complete and submit their final votes. After final voting closes a week before the live Oscars telecast, we start counting. It takes approximately three days to count the final ballots. Secrecy and accuracy is our top priority. While we have a team counting the ballots, none of our team members see more than a portion of the ballots in any category. The final tabulation of the winners is only done by the two of us. Once complete, we’re the only two people in the world who know the final results before the live telecast.
After checking (and rechecking...and checking again) the final results, we identify the names with the highest number of votes in each category, and insert the cards into sealed envelopes that will be opened during the ceremony. The envelopes are placed into the briefcases, and secured in a secret location until it’s time to depart for the show.
If something were to happen to the ballots, what is the backup system?
You can’t be too careful! We have two sets of results envelopes, each packed in its own briefcase - one for each of us. The morning of the awards we arrive separately at the show. LA traffic can be unpredictable! At the event, we are both backstage to hand the envelopes to the presenters.
We also memorize Every. Single. Winner. In. Every. Single. Category. The winners’ names are not typed into a computer or written down, to avoid potential lost slips of paper or breaches of security.
Is hard to keep the secret? Do people try to get you to reveal the winners?
We take our jobs very seriously and have been leading the balloting process on behalf of PwC for a few years, so it’s easy to keep the secret. Our colleagues, friends, and families know by now that we keep our lips sealed, so they know better than to try to get us to reveal the results before the show.
Celebrities, on the other hand, jokingly try to get us to reveal the results on the red carpet just before the show. In 2014 Cate Blanchett teasingly tried to take the briefcase out of Brian’s hands. It was surreal for Brian, as he knew her name was in one of the envelopes in his briefcase - best actress!
What happens backstage? Do you hand off the envelopes to the Academy or do you give each one to the presenters?
We hand each envelope directly to the presenter in each category. We are positioned on either side of the stage, so we can hand envelopes from stage right or stage left, depending on where the presenter is entering. We don’t leave for the entire show - not even for a bathroom break! We’re so focused on doing our jobs that we don’t mind the hours of standing.
What else do you keep in the briefcase besides the winning envelopes?
Snacks! It’s a long night, and a granola bar is often our only sustenance until after the show. Other than that, only the envelopes go inside the briefcase, in the order in which they will be presented.
What’s the best part of being Oscars co-balloting leaders?
The overall experience. From nominations, tallying the votes, carrying the all-important briefcases, and walking the red carpet on Oscars’ night, we feel as though we have the best jobs in accounting. It’s humbling to be in charge of one of the best kept secrets in Hollywood.