February 28, 2017

How To Prevent Oscar Envelope Screwups

I've been watching the Academy Awards for over 25 years. Every year they make a show of ensuring us that the results are carefully tabulated and protected by some very boring-looking accountants in tuxedos with briefcases.
I've always understood that these accountants are like the Secret Service of the Oscars: if the wrong person is presented with an award, they'll leap onstage to catch the bullet like Clint Eastwood in In The Line of Fire and correct the error.

The worst-case scenario happened this year, but the accountants acted too slowly.

Price Waterhouse Coopers has been counting votes and handing out award envelopes for over 80 years, and Sunday night's "biggest screwup in Oscars history" (The Hollywood Reporter) shows that PWC has gotten lazy, and made too many concessions to convenience at the expense of security.
Giving the Oscar to the wrong Best Picture is the biggest mistake they could commit. Letting the mistake happen, then not correcting it for a few minutes is cruel to the actual winners and the mistakenly announced winners too.
In the wake of this catastrophe, I am sure PWC and the Academy will make corrections to their processes. Here are my ideas to better secure their system:

One briefcase only: whether they print two sets of envelopes for redundancy or stage convenience, two sets of envelopes made this error possible.
This comprehensive WaPo story details how PWC goes to great lengths to ensure the envelopes make it to the theater on time. If one accountant's car gets stuck in traffic or hit by a meteor, they're covered, but do two accountants on each side of the stage make the results more secure? It may be less convenient to have only one set of envelopes, but it would prevent this error from occurring.

If you must have two briefcases: Warren Beatty was supposed to present the Best Picture award, but he was given the duplicate Best Actress envelope (Emma Stone had just received the award a few minutes earlier.) Why did the PWC accountant still have that duplicate envelope? While each award is presented onstage, the PWC accountant could:
  • Open the duplicate envelope offstage,
  • Confirm the onstage presentation and the duplicate envelope match,
  • Then shred the duplicate envelope to guarantee it doesn't get given to Warren Beatty in error.

Note the category Best Picture
in small text at the bottom.
Layout of the award card: Award winners traditionally keep the card (and their statuette) and the design of the card seems to make concessions to aesthetics over clarity. To help prevent errors, they should redesign the card:
  • The category "Best Picture", or "Best Actress in a Leading Role", and so on should be in large type at the top, not in attractive small italics at the bottom (see photo).
  • Awards for acting should not include the name of the movie. I have not seen a photo of her card, but apparently the Best Actress card said
    EMMA STONE "LA LA LAND"
    This may seem excessive, but if the card had just said
    BEST ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE EMMA STONE,
    perhaps Faye Dunaway would not have blurted out "La La Land!" off the card.
Pick award presenters under 75 years old (or at least make them wear their reading glasses!)
This might sound harsh and ageist, but Best Picture presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway are 79 and 76 years old. Beatty was clearly confused by reading the wrong card and did not ask for help, he simply passed the buck to Dunaway, who thought he was playing the moment for fun and did not seem to know anything was wrong.

A combination of some or all of these remedies would have prevented this screwup. Let's hope the Oscars can be presented without another hitch for another 89 years.