Tag Archives: oscars

Backstage at the Oscars: Transforming the Dolby Theatre for the show

On a normal day, the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood is a movie theater, with the surrounding shopping complex overrun by tourists. It’s hard to believe this is the home of the Oscars — which makes the transformation even more impressive.

The day I visited the Dolby Theatre was definitely not a normal day. It was less than a week before the 87th Academy Awards and I was there to see what it took to change the theater for Hollywood’s biggest, most glamorous night.

In the days leading up to the Oscars, the Dolby Theatre’s auditorium is one of the hardest places to get into. And don’t even think about whipping out your phone to snap a picture.

The most closely guarded area is the stage, with its glitzy set. From backstage, I could see it as rehearsals played out, but in no way could I shoot video or photos. Security is so tight you’re instructed to wear your media credentials backward, so they can’t be photographed and replicated. That’s more strict than some White House events I’ve covered.

The Dolby Theatre’s transformation for the Oscars started in January, when a crew of about 20 to 30 people began to strip the 3,400-seat venue of some of its movie theater components, including a selection of speakers, trusses, cables, seats and rigging motors.

David Gray, vice president of global services and industry relations for Dolby Labs, oversees the theater’s conversion. He said one of the most nerve-wracking tasks is packing up the 60×32-foot movie screen.

“We have to roll it up, which is time consuming because it’s really big and we don’t want to get it dirty. We don’t want to scratch it. We don’t want to put anything through it.”

One type of technology the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences does not like to rely on is rigging motors, which help lift and lower things like scenery or scrims or lights. Instead the Academy prefers ropes, pulleys and man power.

Gray explained, “The Academy uses very few motors in the Oscars. Motors can fail, and in their case it would be deadly. Not deadly in terms of people, but deadly in terms of the show. They’re still using the old pipe and ropes and counterweights. So all the stuff flies in on that.”

For this Oscars, Dolby added surround speakers and boosted the acoustic absorption in the mezzanine levels. Gray hopes the audience in the theater will get a more immersive experience, especially with the movie clips.

“The clips in stereo are kind of flat,” he explained. “When you’re here live, you’re watching the clips on little monitors. It’s way nicer to have the sound be big and normal, because the picture is on the little monitor.”

For audiences at home, movie clips and music performances will be in Dolby 5.1 surround sound. Home viewers with a surround sound setup can have a similar sound experience as the celebrities.

All the audio and video from the show is piped into broadcast trucks stationed just behind the Dolby Theatre in an area nicknamed the broadcast compound. Hundreds of thousands of miles of cables from the red-carpet area and inside the theater dead-end into those trucks, which serve as mobile control rooms.

With hundreds of millions of people watching from more than 200 countries, there are multiple backup plans and redundancies.

“The signal has multiple fiber feeds, but we also have satellite feeds,” said Steve Venezia, Dolby Labs’ worldwide senior director for contact services. “So they can cut from one feed to another pretty seamlessly.”

One of the trickier parts of the broadcast is melding the live orchestra performance with what’s happening on stage. That’s because, to make room for more seats, the orchestra is not in the auditorium but one mile away at Capitol Records. The live music is piped through fiber optic cables back to the theater. According to Dolby, the entire latency from the Oscar broadcast trucks to Capitol Records and back is about 2.7 milliseconds.

“We just keep trying to get that latency down as close to zero,” audio director Paul Sandweiss explained, “so that performers can hear exactly what the orchestra is doing, and the orchestra can respond with them so they are all seamlessly performing together.”

The Greenroom, where presenters and honorees can relax, was still being constructed at the back of the stage. Crew members were nailing the door into place and trying to figure out how to drag a 500-pound table into the room without cracking the floor tiles.

This is the 13th year Architectural Digest has produced the backstage lounge, and it’s become a sort of showcase for show sponsor Samsung, which struck marketing gold last year with Ellen DeGeneres’ selfie on a Note 3.

When you first enter the Greenroom, there’s a wall of 16 Samsung displays designed to mimic a window view of Los Angeles from atop the Hollywood Hills. Architectural Digest says the room also includes Galaxy Tab S tablets and Samsung smart TVs, including a curved UHD TV.

New this year, to top last year’s Twitter Mirror in the Greenroom, will be a so-called “GIF-Cam ” powered by Twitter, to capture celebrities’ reactions. According to Twitter, the cam takes a series of four photos and makes a GIF out of them. Celebrities can also put their signatures on them.

And when it’s all over and the final golden statuette has been handed out and the Governors Ball is closed down, Dolby says its team can convert the theater back to cinema mode in only 14 hours. And then it’ll be a wrap, until next year.

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Oscars nominees see online piracy surge

American Sniper would win best picture and Birdman’s Alejandro Inarritu best director if the Oscars were determined by online piracy rates, a study says.

It suggests being nominated in one of the four major categories has a particularly profound effect on illegal downloads of indie and art house films.

The authors suggest that producers of such movies become more flexible about how and when their titles are released.

But one industry expert said that was easier said than done.

Still AliceMany of the nominated films are publicising their nominations

The report was carried out by Irdeto, a US company that sells piracy controls to the pay-TV sector.

It used “crawler” software to monitor downloads via Bittorrent peer-to-peer file-sharing services around the world and says its figures represent the minimum number of illegal downloads.

As part of the study, the company compared the amount of piracy in the week before nominations with the week after.

Selma, Wild, American Sniper, Still Alice and Birdman saw some of the biggest swings in popularity, and each accounted for more than 100,000 downloads.

By contrast, two other films that had been tipped for the awards but failed to secure nominations in the major categories did not experience similar demand: Mr Turner has been downloaded 9,086 times since 15 January, and Inherent Vice has been downloaded 53,008 times, according to the study.

Title Illegal downloads since nomination Piracy rate increase Major nominations
American Sniper 1,389,819 230% Picture, actor
Gone Girl 1,252,074 83% Actress
Birdman 796,697 192% Picture, director, actor
The Theory of Everything 776,239 161% Picture, actress, actor
The Grand Budapest Hotel 636,292 41% Picture, director
The Imitation Game 467,700 175% Picture, director, actor
Whiplash 325,782 171% Picture
Boyhood 244,270 23% Picture, director
Wild 163,652 (pre-nomination piracy not detected) Actress
Selma 144,075 1033% Picture
Foxcatcher 118,323 78% Director, actor
Still Alice 108,660 194% Actress
Two Days, One Night 85,166 73% Actress

For comparison’s sake, the study also provided download figures for three big-budget mainstream films over the same post-nomination period:

  • Interstellar – 1.4 million downloads
  • The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies – 1.3 million downloads
  • John Wick – 1.3 million downloads

Collapsed windows

Irdeto suggests the Oscar nominations and resulting media coverage drove many users to search for the films on illegal sites, and it noted the DVDs used to let Academy Awards voters watch and judge the movies sometimes became the source of the pirated files.

WhiplashWhiplash is one of the indie films vying for the best picture award

The company acknowledged that not every download represented a lost sale, but it suggested the activity was particularly damaging to films that would not be classed a conventional “blockbusters”.

“The Oscars are traditionally a time for independent and less mainstream movies to generate significant revenues,” said Rory O’Connor, the company’s vice-president of sales.

“In the past, such high quality movies could be funded through the Oscars mechanism by reaching a broader public – [distributors] might not have had such a big budget to publicise the films first time round, but they could then piggyback the Oscars media campaign.

“But that mechanism is breaking down because of piracy.”

He added that a solution would be for “windows” – used to stagger a film’s initial cinema release and its later screenings in other countries and sale on other formats – to be “collapsed”.

So, if a film was nominated, it could be offered for rent or sale around the world shortly after, to provide an alternative to piracy.

“People are willing to pay premium pricing for good quality and early availability [on their home TV], so I think there is an opportunity to compensate for the revenue that may be lost from a cinematic release,” Mr O’Connor said.

The Grand Budapest HotelThe Grand Budapest Hotel has still seen high levels of piracy despite being available to rent or buy in many countries

‘Caught in a bind’

However, an adviser to the Independent Film and Television Alliance said its members had less latitude to act than the major studios, which control their own films’ releases.

Bertrand Moullier said smaller movies often relied on funding from local distributors who bought the release rights before filming started.

These distributors might be unwilling to suddenly change their plans, he said, because of concerns the films would then clash with others coming out locally at the same time.

Oscars statuesThe Academy Awards winners will be announced on 22 February

“We are caught in a bit of a bind because [the idea of] beating piracy by releasing a movie everywhere in a saturation-release pattern to beat the peer-to-peer sharers is logically right,” said Mr Moullier.

“Unfortunately, it also goes against the grain of how independent films must be assembled and put together.

“But [relying on local distributors] is also a very effective way of making sure a film gets the right adapted marketing strategy in each of the cultures where it’s shown.”

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