On a trip to Tinseltown, John Byrne visited the current home of the Academy Awards - the Dolby Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard.
Since the opening of the Dolby (then Kodak) Theatre in 2001, the annual Academy Awards knees-up has taken place there, just feet away from the famous Grauman’s Theatre, the cinema on Hollywood Boulevard whose concrete forecourt is filled with hand and shoe prints of Hollywood legends.
From George Clooney all the way back to silent era superstar Douglas Fairbanks, the pavement offers a veritable who’s who of Hollywood. But inside the Dolby Theatre is where today's stars get lauded and tomorrow’s stars are anointed.
And while the venue looks impressive any time of the year, nothing beats the Academy Awards, which is traditionally Hollywood's glitziest event since its inception in 1929, when the event was held at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, just across the road from its current location.
When it’s Oscar time, the red carpet stretches from the stairs of the Dolby Theatre (which is the centrepiece of the Hollywood & Highland shopping and dining complex), down to the street and then a quarter-mile east, up to Cahuenga Boulevard.
Of course, it’s the biggest red carpet area on the planet.
While walking up the steps leading to the Dolby Theatre, you can’t but notice columns displaying the names of winners of the Academy Award for Best Picture - and they’re all there. Once inside the theatre, you immediately get a great sense of space, as the foyer boasts a very high ceiling, with an impressive staircase leading to the auditorium.
Inside the auditorium there are over 3,000 seats, and on Oscars night the stalls fill with nominees and movie producers, while the circle is reserved for members of the Academy, allocated seats through an annual draw system.
To the left and right of the auditorium, the boxes and shallow seated areas are reserved for the top brass of the academy, as well as invited Hollywood legends.
The stage is impressively broad and deep, as is the orchestra pit - which, I was informed by the tour guide (who, in true Hollywood style, is an otherwise unemployed actor looking for a break), is the largest in the USA. But one of the masterstrokes is the venue’s hidden wiring, a mind-boggling 78 miles of it. Wandering through the rows of seats and glancing at the stage, there isn’t an inch of wiring cable on show. But behind every seat in the venue is a power socket. The phrase ‘everything’s covered’ couldn’t be more apt.
One of the curiosities on Oscar night is the amount of body doubles assembled outside the auditorium, ready to pounce when required. If anyone at the ceremony needs to visit the loo, or when each winner disappears after collecting their award, a double takes their seat, so that every seat remains full for the duration of the event, which goes on for a bum-numbing 3-4 hours.
I also visited the VIP area, where the super famous can unwind with a martini or two. It’s nothing spectacular, but once outside you can see the most impressive aspect of the bar: its special, exterior glass ‘fogs up’, preventing outsiders from seeing who's inside or what’s happening. Genius!
Another thing to note: when the various winners are announced, they’re ushered into a conference room in the Loews Renaissance Hotel, situated just behind the Hollywood & Highland centre, where they sign an agreement that prevents them from selling their Oscar to anyone but the Academy, and for just $1. Then, and only then, they’re interviewed and photographed with their statuette.
As I said, these guys have everything covered on Oscar night.
Be sure to join us on RTÉ Entertainment from 10pm tonight where we will be covering all the Academy Award action as it happens.