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Two accountants from PwC guard the most important briefcases in Hollywood
At the Oscars on Sunday two partners from accountancy firm PwC will be escorted to the event by the Los Angeles Police Department. They’ll be far from the most famous people walking down the red carpet at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood — but without them, there’s no show.
Brian Cullinan and Martha L. Ruiz are the only people in the world who know the 24 Oscar winners before the envelopes are opened on stage during the ceremony. That’s because PwC has run the balloting for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences for the past 83 years.
MarketWatch’s London-based news partner FN caught up with Cullinan and Ruiz in mid-February, when voting was underway. This is an edited transcript of the conversation.
FN: So the two of you count the votes? Walk me through the process.
Cullinan: We have a pretty big team that helps Martha and myself work through this each year, and a lot of work goes in in the planning stages and getting ready for the balloting.
Now the voting is ongoing for the finals, and will continue through [Feb. 21] when the polls close at 5 p.m. Los Angeles time. Martha, myself and the team then begin the counting. Our teams work in small groups so that none of them actually know who won any of the categories and it’s really only Martha and myself who ultimately know who won before the show. We count up the smaller groups. They all only see a piece of it but never see the whole thing.
[We] select the cards for the winners and put those into the respective envelopes … on Friday and Saturday and then bring the briefcase carrying those envelopes to the red carpet and to the show on Sunday, where both of us stand back stage, one on each side of the stage and we hand the envelopes to the presenters right before they walk out.
FN: How does security for this work? Could the list of winners be hacked if someone got into your computer to find an electronic copy?
Cullinan: When we close the envelopes, that’s the only place that the winner is written down. We make sure that we memorise them all. We don’t have a piece of paper or anything with us that indicates who the winners are, for security reasons. If you were to lose that or drop that or somehow misplace it, that wouldn’t be good.
Ruiz: One thing we get asked very often is does the company that does the actual envelopes and cards know who the final winners are? One of the things the academy does is ensure that we get a showcard for each nominee. Once we get to the end of the week and we know the winners, it will be Brian and me that put the winning cards in the envelopes and seal them up.
FN: What would happen if you fell ill or got stuck in traffic?
“La La Land” is a favorite to win the Oscar’s best picture category, but the reason may have less to do with film quality, and more to do with the main characters’ lines of work. Photo: Dale Robinette
Cullinan: From a security perspective, we double up everything. That’s why there’s two of us. We have two briefcases, that are identical, and we have two entire sets of winning envelopes. Martha carries one of those briefcases, I carry the other. We go to the show separately with police escorts. I used to think it was for our security, it’s really for the briefcase [laughs]. We take different routes to get there just because of the kinds of things that can happen in L.A. traffic. We want to make sure that no matter what happens, one of us gets there. We’ve never really had a problem with that.
FN: I get that this is work, but it must be good fun as well — your highlight of the year?
Ruiz: It’s a lot of fun.
Cullinan: A lot of times there’ll be a kind of reversal of roles where sometimes celebrities will come over to us and ask if they can get their picture taken with us, which is kind of funny.
FN: Really? Which celebrities?
Cullian: A couple of years ago, in the green room where they hang out a little bit before the show, I walked in and Samuel L. Jackson was there. He happened to be sitting with John Travolta and Travolta’s wife, Kelly Preston. Samuel asked if he could take a picture of me with the briefcase, and Travolta wanted to get in it with his wife, so the two of them and myself are there and Samuel Jackson took the picture. I forgot to ask him to send me a copy.
FN: How did you get these roles?
Cullinan: This is my fourth year. In 83 years that we’ve been doing this, I’m the 13th partner and Martha is the 14th. So we haven’t had that many people have this role in 83 years. And this is the 89th Academy Awards, so you can see PwC has been doing this almost since the beginning.
I got involved when my predecessor, who was doing it, retired from the firm. That’s usually what happens. I didn’t have to think about it too long before I said OK.
Ruiz: I’m a tax partner. Prior to being asked to take on this role I was actually involved on the accounts. As Brian said, you don’t have to think about the question too long.
FN: 83 years? Doesn’t this work come up for tender?
Cullinan: It doesn’t come up for tender. As long as our relationship is good and strong and we do a good job, which we always do, the academy has been pleased I think with how we’ve been involved. It’s such a long term relationship that we know intricately how everything works, the timing of it, the process that we use, and they have absolute trust in us and what we do. We’re involved in many things with the academy — we assist in the election of their board of governors, we assist with the Student Academy Awards. It’s just been a good, long standing relationship. We hope we’re doing this 83 years from now as well.
Via: Meet the two people
A curious morsel of Oscar lore originated on March 29, 1993, when Marisa Tomei was crowned Best Supporting Actress for “My Cousin Vinny.” The following year, The Hollywood Reporter and Entertainment Weekly printed rumors that presenter Jack Palance had announced the wrong name ― a seemingly credible possibility given Tomei’s unanticipated victory (she hadn’t earned a Golden Globe nomination, and “My Cousin Vinny” wasn’t typical Oscar fare). These whispers were debunked in the same breath, but the damage was done. As Gawker noted in a 2015 retrospective about the drama, this alleged mishap persists as Oscar mythology.
There’s no tangible reason to believe Tomei wasn’t the rightful champion. PricewaterhouseCoopers, the accounting firm that tabulates Oscar ballots, employs meticulous checks and balances to ensure no mistakes are made. But the Tomei fodder raises a valid question: What would happen if an erroneous winner is announced during the telecast? Maybe a presenter reads a name from the teleprompter instead of the envelope (which Palance supposedly did), or maybe someone decides to coronate their own winner.
PwC has protocol should such a glitch occur. Heading into Oscar night, only two people know the winners list: Brian Cullinan and Martha Ruiz, who supervise the counting procedures. They’re the briefcase holders who walk the red carpet every year and often appear at some point during the show.
The tally involves enough “redundancies” to ensure accuracy, as does the stuffing of the envelopes. “It’s him checking me and me checking him, and we do it multiple times against each other to make sure that when we leave and are ultimately handing the envelopes to someone, we’re very confident they’re getting the right envelopes and the contents in them are accurate,” Ruiz said.
Throughout the telecast, Cullinan and Ruiz are stationed on opposite sides backstage. The duo will have memorized the winners, thereby preventing the need to list them on any documentation that could land in the wrong hands. As the night progresses, Cullinan and Ruiz ensure every category’s presentation is factual. Should a presenter declare a false winner for any reason, they are prepared to tell the nearest stage manager, who will immediately alert the show’s producers.
Cullinan and Ruiz, who spoke to The Huffington Post last week, say the exact procedure is unknown because no mistake of that kind has been made in the Oscars’ 88-year history.
“We would make sure that the correct person was known very quickly,” Cullinan said. “Whether that entails stopping the show, us walking onstage, us signaling to the stage manager — that’s really a game-time decision, if something like that were to happen. Again, it’s so unlikely.”
This further punctures the Tomei rumor. Cullinan and Ruiz were not at PwC in 1993, but they are certain it’s a “conspiracy theory.”
“It was something about the way [Palance] read it, or his reaction to the envelope, that created that rumor,” Cullinan said. “Our team was absolutely sure, and they counted it and recounted it a bunch of times, and it was her.”
HuffPost reached out to Oscar publicist Steve Rohr for details about what exactly would unfold if a mistake is made. “I’ll be in touch,” he said in response. He was not in touch.
Clarification: As a reader pointed out, a similar scenario did once occur. In 1964, Sammy Davis Jr. was given the wrong envelope. Davis was presenting Best Adaptation or Treatment Score, but ended up announcing the Best Original Score recipient instead. “They gave me the wrong envelope?” he asked upon realizing what had just happened. A PwC representative quickly emerged to hand him the proper information. “Wait’ll the NAACP hears about this!” he joked.
The exhibition “Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors” opened Thursday at Washington D.C.’s Hirshhorn Gallery. The show features 70 years of the iconic Japanese artist’s work, including six of her buzzy “infinity rooms.” The mirrored, enclosed spaces are meant to be experienced alone to give the viewer an impression of entering a boundless realm with surfaces reflecting one another back and forth, forever.
Every day, thousands of museum visitors are expected to wait in line to enter these profoundly trippy rooms for approximately one minute at a time. Often, patrons will commemorate this minute with a photograph. The photos will likely, then, be uploaded to various social networks. Each digital image, itself a snapshot of infinite reflected images, will join an endless stream of so many more. As the museum hashtag aptly calls it, #InfiniteKusama.
So even if you never see “Infinity Mirrors” in person, you’ll surely see it spread across your various timelines and feeds. As images of the exhibition disperse wildly across the web, Kusama’s work operates in a state of in-between, with one foot in the material museum space and another in the immaterial world of the internet.
When Kusama began creating art as a child in 1930s Japan, there was, of course, no such thing as the internet. And yet ― through her paintings, sculptures and, most of all, “infinity room” installations ― the artist seems to divine the future of a sprawling space where our immaterial selves can proliferate, congregate, mutate and network.
A space of radical connectivity and profound isolation.
Today we have the World Wide Web, and the social networking that comes with it. Early in her career, Kusama had, or rather made, “infinity nets.” Her fixation with “infinity nets” originated when young Yayoi, a 6-year-old living in Matsumoto, Japan, began to hallucinate fields of polka dots that spread ravenously across every surface, object and person she perceived. To assuage the dread these phantom images incited, Kusama gave them concrete form. She began obsessively drawing and painting webs of polka dots and arcs that stretched as far and wide as the spots in her mind ― webs she called “infinity nets.”
“My nets grew beyond myself and beyond the canvases I was covering with them,” Kusama said in 1964. “They began to cover the walls and the ceiling and finally the whole universe.” She saw these works as images “without beginning, end, or center,” physical manifestations of her unceasing visions.
This endless, ephemeral expanse is today most closely mirrored by the internet, which reaches in every direction at once ― a horizontal playground of images, words, people and ideas. Zoom out, and all those profile pictures, tweets, memes and hot takes begin to resemble polka dots, hungry for camaraderie and visibility.
The “Infinity Mirrors” exhibition begins with a video greeting from Kusama herself, followed by a selection of her early works on paper, made in the 1950s, when Kusama first relocated from Japan to New York. The delicate works are abstract, flat expanses teeming with latticework; they recall bodily cells, honeycombs or clusters of bacteria seen from under a microscope. They are more corporeal, more organic, than the later work Kusama is most known for. They are also far less photogenic.
Here, Kusama is still operating in the material, natural realm, not having yet explored the option of transcending it.
It was 1965 when Yayoi Kusama first incorporated mirrors into her artistic practice. She had been in the process of creating “Accumulations” ― soft sculptures of phallic tubers that concretized her intense phobia of men and sex. Between 1962 and 1964, she made countless iterations of the drooping tentacles, but found the labor involved in making them physically and emotionally taxing. Kusama realized, then, that a mirror would allow her to exceed her own physical limits. Its reflective surfaces could balloon a finite number of sculptures into an unending field of them, echoing one another back and forth ad infinitum.
“Infinity Mirror Room ― Phalli’s Field,” Kusama’s first “Infinity Room,” is the first featured in the show. The ground is swarming with the red polka-dotted phalluses, each slightly distinct in length and girth. The walls are entirely mirrored, creating the disorienting illusion of a space that is limitless yet slightly claustrophobic. The viewer activates the space, and within it, she is multiplied and made strange. She comes face to face (to face) with infinite images of herself, captured from myriad angles and perspectives. She is everywhere and nowhere. She takes a selfie of her many selves.
Just walking into the space, one becomes an image. Taking a photo only amplifies the sensation.
The impact of confronting innumerable repetitions of the self is not just aesthetic; Kusama argues it’s psychological. “When the people see their own reflection multiplied to infinity,” the artist said, “they then sense that there is no limit to man’s ability to project himself into endless space.” It’s a realization not far removed from the idea that one can transform an identity online by creating multiple usernames and accounts, or effectively warp an image using flattering angles and filters.
And just like that, the rigid boundaries that distinguish the discrete, certain self begin to wither. Kusama referred to this happening, of shedding your ego and melting into the “infinity net” of the universe, as “self-obliteration.” It is the experience her work aims to induce.
When Kusama first exhibited “Phalli’s Field” in 1965 at Castellane Gallery in New York, she posed for a series of photos in the space, a ritual she would continue to enact with most of her later “infinity rooms.” As art historian Briony Fer noted: “Kusama seems to have been keenly aware of the relationship between her installations and the photographs that were taken of them. A dispersal is enacted on the body to produce a proliferation of the body in pieces in the photographs as much as the installations themselves.”
The now iconic images of Kusama, shot by photographer Eikoh Hosoe, feature the artist dressed in a red jumpsuit, stretched languidly amongst the woolly barnacles ― part supermodel, part corpse. With her outfit, Kusama camouflages into her environment, eliminating the distinction between foreground and background, viewer and artwork. With her pose, the artist references the ways women’s bodies, in media and pop culture, have always been perceived first and foremost as images to be consumed. Even the artist, when a woman, becomes an object.
Through her photos, Kusama coopts the male gaze, becoming both creator and artwork, subject and object. It’s a ritual enacted by many young women today, who take selfies to allot agency to the female gaze, taking control of their own image-making and image-being at once.
The “Infinity Mirror” exhibition contains a variety of “Infinity Rooms,” each inviting the viewer to experience a different breed of discombobulating wonder. “Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity” features strings of golden LED lights dangling throughout the space, twinkling on and off against the black glass floor. It’s like entering a pitch-black forest and being greeted by choreographed fireflies.
Another, “Dots Obsession — Love Transformed into Dots,” invites the viewer into a giant, pink polka dot filled with even more pink polka dots. For Kusama, these dots symbolize everything from the smallest specks to the biggest orbs. Throughout her career, she’s compared them to love, disease, the sun and the moon, the planet, the populous and the entire universe.
All of the “Infinity Rooms” are alike, however, in that they are meant to be experienced alone. Within their confines, viewers enter an uncanny pocket of isolation in the middle of a bustling museum, where they are forced to encounter a wholly singular kaleidoscope of themselves. Is this connectedness? Seclusion? Narcissism? Self-obliteration?
You face yourself as an element of your environment, not looking at the world but fully immersed in it, yourself a succession of selves. “Lose yourself in the timeless stream of eternity,” Kusama said. Upload your image to float amongst the countless other #InfiniteKusama content shared across virtual streams of all kinds.
Amidst all the buzz of Kusama’s selfie-happy show, some will be tempted to dismiss the exhibition as frivolous art-as-entertainment, little more than a vacuous selfie op. And yet, Kusama’s lifetime of art stems directly from her lifelong battle with mental illness. “Painting saved my life,” she said in an interview with The Telegraph. “When I wanted to commit suicide, my doctor encouraged me to paint more. I fight pain, anxiety and fear every day, and art is the only method I have found to relieve my illness.”
Kusama has lived in a psychiatric facility in Tokyo since 1975, and continues to make art there for eight hours every day, as she approaches 88 years old. In this respect, Kusama’s art practice parallels portions of the internet that offer platforms of self-expression for many marginalized, oppressed or misunderstood communities. The show is only shallow in that it privileges the sacredness of surfaces; it’s only vain in that it forces you to confront yourself, over and over again. These factors intensify the works’ depth, relevance and significance. Like the online corners devoted to self-care and self-love, Kusama’s art possesses the power to save lives, including her own.
Although “Infinity Mirrors” is not didactically political, it makes a clear argument for the power of unlimited love. Love of oneself, love of others, love of earth and moon and universe and pumpkin. Following the model of the polka dot, Kusama shows how quickly boundaries between all things dissolve. Her work zooms out to show how people, like dots, resemble one another, and similarly, how much they need one another. “Polka dots can’t stay alone,” she told an interviewer in the 1960s.
In the video introduction to the Hirshhorn show, Kusama, 87, speaks into the camera. She is wearing a red bob wig, matching lipstick, and a red polka-dotted dress, barely distinguishable from the work behind her. “The young generation is in control of an enormous future,” she says. Kusama reaches out to the next generation ― more resistant to labels and judgments than their predecessors, who live their lives both in person and on screen ― with tremendous hope.
Yayoi Kusama is one of the most influential artists of our time. Her work offered a stunning premonition of the world to come, her immersive installations speaking to the elemental, human urges that precipitated the internet’s omnipotence. Kusama understands our human desire to share, to transform, to be seen and to disappear. She understands our urge to exist in both the material and immaterial worlds at once, and that the latter offered opportunities for connectivity and self-effacement the real world never could.
“Polka dots symbolize disease,” she said in an interview with BOMB Magainze, hinting at the sick and strange desire to multiply oneself like a contagion ― to go viral.
“Infinity Mirrors” is a majestic exhibition from an artist whose grasp of the world is profoundly prophetic. The show looks so damn good on Instagram feeds and iPhone screens because, in effect, it belongs there, stretched across the infinite web of surfaces and reflections that Kusama first dreamed of over 70 years ago.
Feel free to hashtag #InfniteKusama.
“Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirros” runs until May 14 at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C. It heads to the Seattle Art Museum from June 30–Sept. 10; The Broad in Los Angeles from October 2017–January 2018; the Art Gallery of Ontario from March–May 2018; and the Cleveland Museum of Art from July–October 2018.
Via: How Yayoi Kusama
The 89th annual Academy Awards are fast approaching, and as we love to do, HuffPost is taking a look back at a past Oscar ceremony.
The year was 1987. “Platoon” took home the award for Best Picture, while Paul Newman and Marlee Matlin won the night’s top acting honors for their work in the films “The Color of Money” and “Children of a Lesser God,” respectively.
The red carpet was as star-studded as you’d imagine. Everyone from Bette Davis to Tom Hanks to then-couple Matthew Broderick and Jennifer Grey was in attendance, leaving us with some pretty great photographic memories.
Check out our favorites below:
The 89th annual Academy Awards air Feb. 26 on ABC.