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Oscar's Final Take of the Night

The Governors Ball is a year in the making, but these backstage luminaries won't see their names in lights. They just have to make sure they get it right.

March 23, 2000|Jeannine Stein

If the hottest ticket in town Sunday night is the Academy Awards show at the Shrine Auditorium, the second hottest may be the post-Oscar Governors Ball.

This is the official celebration following the telecast and usually the first party stop of the night. It's where some 1,650 people--winners, nominees, presenters, industry movers and shakers and other VIPs-- show up to eat, dance, schmooze and revel in the glow of Oscar gold.

After three-plus hours of white knuckling it at the awards (not to mention weeks spent dieting to squeeze into those clothes), guests can't wait to relax and chow down. They'll do so in the Shrine's huge Exposition Hall, converted from a cavernous space into a spectacular gala.

This is a mega-production, months in planning with endless details like:

* 40 pounds of caviar;

* 25 pounds of black truffles (at $1,000 a pound);

* 5,400 plates, 6,000 wine glasses;

* 960 bottles of wine;

* 100 pounds of coffee;

* 3,500 yards of gray fleece for the chair covers;

* About 7,000 orange-red Mercedes roses;

* 225 anthuriums;

* 120 gallons of custom-dyed petroleum oil and 56 pounds of safety glass used in creating tabletop flower arrangements.

It's a daunting task for one night of revelry. The ball will be staffed by some 1,000 workers doing everything from pointing guests to the bathrooms to operating video projectors and patrolling for party crashers.

"It's a little like making a movie," says ball producer Cheryl Cecchetto, "but you only have one take."

"If you have a team [of people who] trust each other," adds ball chairman and academy Vice President Sid Ganis, "then that creates a forum for getting it right."

The Production

Guests this year will wine, dine and dance in a contemporary-style setting designed to usher in the new millennium. Although academy officials won't release figures, the cost of the event has been estimated to be as high as $800,000.

One day before setting up camp at the Shrine to oversee daily party preparations, Cecchetto sits in the Culver City office of her company, Sequoia Productions. Her staff bustles about answering phones, faxing, and huddling in meetings.

She's responsible for hiring vendors, from beverage providers to caterers to security to providers of table, dish and kitchen rentals for the ball and pre-show reception. The logistics of the ball also include providing photo ID badges and parking for 1,000 people working different shifts.

Cecchetto also books the entertainment (chosen by ball Vice Chairman Alan Bergman); this year it includes Lon Norman and the Pat Longo Orchestra, and the Chuck Wansley Band.

Cecchetto, a veteran producer of 11 post-Oscar bashes, started thinking about the 2000 ball while the dinner plates were being cleared from tables at last year's ball at the Music Center. The post-Oscar party this year would have to be different from the classically romantic theme of 1999, represent the new millennium and be within budget.

Her formal timeline began in October with a meeting with the Governors Ball committee, which favored decor that would read modern but not futuristic--no robots, no spaceship theme. She then met with event designer Douglas Johnson in November.

"Ultimately it's his design," said Cecchetto, "but I gave him some direction so he knew where I was coming from. We'd go back and forth on certain things, then he came up with his design. That's when I jumped in and said, 'OK, how is this really going to work?' "

The Design

Douglas Johnson took inspiration for this year's Governors Ball from an unlikely place: a construction site in Spain.

"It was the way they draped the netting to keep the dust and everything from falling down on people," he explains. "The way they draped it, it was scalloped around the building, and I thought it was such a cool idea."

How that translates to the Shrine Auditorium is in rows of enormous angular arches suspended from the ceiling of the hall. Made of metal and wrapped in stretchy white fabric, they will change hues via colored lights.

Johnson's decor also includes a scrim across the ceiling onto which will be projected scenes of clouds, water and fire. Square and boat-shaped tables feature table coverings of stretched orange netting and silver organza runners. Some of the 1,800 chairs will be covered in charcoal gray fleece. Place settings include white china, modern Calvin Klein stemware and sleek flatware.

The dance floor, smack in the middle of the room, will have lounge areas on either side, where guests can relax on leather-like and faux-fur-covered sofas. Musicians will perform from a balcony overhead. A huge acrylic "Oscar bar," with an Oscar statue rendered in enormous mosaic blocks, will be at one end.

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