by John Lopez, Vanity Fair
PricewaterhouseCoopers's Rick Rosas and Brad Oltmanns are two individuals who take the Oscars more seriously than probably anyone else in the traffic-snarled city that sprawls out below us, perched as we are in a secret downtown-Los Angeles lair of the Oscars' hand-picked accounting firm. They are the Chosen Ones--and we mean that literally. These are the guys who are personally selected out of all of PwC's auditors to count the 2013 Oscar ballots.
Why we're here: to trip them up and see if they'll divulge even the least verboten of their secrets, naturally. And so far, it's not going well. They both have the practiced nonchalance of L.A.P.D. detectives--those who do good cop/bad cop in their sleep. Oltmanns is the friendly one, laughing jovially at your facile questions. Rosas is an impenetrable wall. When we ask what they can share about the vote-counting process, he says, "I think it's easier if you ask and we'll confirm or deny."
Total pros! And they should be--Oltmanns has been onOscar duty for 9 years, Rosas for 12, and PricewaterhouseCoopers has always been the only firm to tally Oscar ballots; this is its 79th year doing so. To our burning questions:
Is it true that there's a secret secured room somewhere in PricewaterhouseCoopers's offices, guarded by Tolkien-esque mountain trolls?
"We never disclose where it is. So it's not necessarily here in this building. But there is a secret room," Oltmanns says.
Is that room locked by retina-scan or DNA-recognition technology, or anything else commonly seen in the modern Bondian oeuvre?
Oltmanns pauses before replying, "No, but we do have a couple of little technology things. But we don't do the retina one. One of our security guys actually suggested it this year, but . . . we weren't going to do it." When we ask how the Academy's new online-voting system has affected the tallying process, he diffuses any controversy: "As it relates to us, while it has changed the method that the voters' preference comes to us, it really hasn't changed the responsibility we have."
What we do manage to get out of them: A crew of more than 12 helpers support the pair during the nominating process, which gets narrowed down to four assistants for the actual Oscar counting. The worker bees, however, work in pieces, and only Oltmanns and Rosas have the access neededto consolidate the results. This week, they picked up all the last Oscar ballots from the Academy at five p.m. on Tuesday, as the tardiest Academy members slipped in their votes just under the deadline. (Per Rosas, "We get a few every year. They walk in at 4:15 or 4:45. But [the ballots] have to be in our possession at five p.m.") They begin the count today, Wednesday, and will know some of the winners by day's end; they know more on Thursday, and by Friday they know all. At that point, Oltmanns and Rosas have also memorized the results and quiz each other until Sunday's ceremony so that no insolent presenter can mess it up or pull a fast one when he or she announces a winner. (Oltmanns admits Rosas is faster.) We ask if that worse-case scenario has ever happened, and Rosas responds coolly: "Not under our tenure."
(Apparently, Sharon Stone and Quincy Jones once presented two categories in a row and accidentally gave away the second envelope to the first winner; Oltmanns and Rosas's Jedi predecessor Frank Johnson calmly whispered the answer to Jones offstage as Stone stalled for time.)
The day of the ceremony is, it follows, the truest test of their powers. They tux up and each take a complete set of envelopes in a briefcase that never leaves their eyes. They are separately escorted to the ceremony via two secret routes, accompanied by off-duty L.A.P.D. officers with itchy trigger fingers. "They're not there for us," Oltmanns stresses with a smile. "They're there for the envelope."
Rosas echoes the point, laughing: "If we go down, their first order is to grab the bag, then call a medic." Have the cops ever had to come into play? "No," Oltmanns responds. "But we'd go out of our way not to tell you."
Next, the pair walk the red carpet into the theater, where each camps out on different sides of the stage. Says Rosas, "We're always on the same side--we're both superstitious. Brad's always on stage right, and I'm always on stage left."
Finally comes the most grueling part--staying focused through the entire ceremony to make sure every winner is correctly announced, all while deflecting the backstage barbs of comedians and presenters who can't help but needle them about the results. "The worst are the comics," says Rosas. "We're sport for them. When Robin Williams or Jack Black sees us, it's like, 'Ah, fun!'"
However, Oltmanns quickly adds that spouses can be just as bad. Once on the red carpet, a desperate wife appealed to Oltmanns's heart, asking to know if her husband had lost so she could actually enjoy the show. Fortunately, Oltmanns has no heart: "I [thought], 'You're out of your mind.'"
Rosas's greatest test came his first year, when Russell Crowe presented the award for best actress. He was also nominated for best actor, and Rosas had to stand next to him in the wings, knowing that Crowe had lost--and knowing that Crowe knew Rosas knew the results. "I was afraid he was going to come in and give me the Maximus look," he says.
Here, good cop Oltmanns jumps in to remind us that the job has some remarkable rewards--like seeing A-list stars stand fast under the spotlight when they win, only to become overwhelmed with tears and emotion when they get backstage. "To be able to see it after they have left the stage and it sinks in--it's a special moment," he says. We then make the mistake of asking who's cried. Oltmanns shakes his head--no. And with that, we're escorted from the building.
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