A star-struck PricewaterhouseCooper accountant is at the centre of a probe after a meticulous procedure for announcing the Best Picture Oscar went disastrously awry, handing victory to La La Land before declaring Moonlight as the real winner.
In a gaffe on Sunday that stunned the Dolby Theatre crowd in Hollywood and a television audience worldwide, presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were handed the wrong envelope for the movie industry's top award.
Brian Cullinan, the PwC auditor, has been blamed for the biggest mistake in Oscars history, after the accountancy firm disclosed he personally handed Warren Beatty the wrong best picture envelope and then failed to correct the mistake quickly enough.
It appears that he may have become distracted by his smartphone backstage while he posted an image to social media.
The Wall Street Journal and celebrity website TMZ.com reported that Cullinan, who was one of two people responsible for handing out the sealed envelopes on Sunday, posted a backstage photo of actress Emma Stone on Twitter minutes before the mix-up.
The photo from his Twitter account was later deleted but was still viewable on Monday on a cached archive of the page.
PricewaterhouseCoopers U.S. chairman Tim Ryan told USA Today on Monday that Cullinan was the person who handed the envelope to Beatty.
PwC did not respond to requests for comment on Cullinan's tweet, nor his role in the envelope fiasco. Reuters say that Cullinan could not immediately be reached for comment.
The mistake was not rectified until the La La Land cast and producers were on stage giving their acceptance speeches. It was left to the musical's producer, Jordan Horowitz, to put things right.
"Guys, guys, I'm sorry. No. There's a mistake," Horowitz said. "Moonlight, you guys won best picture. This is not a joke."
It took PricewaterhouseCoopers, which has been overseeing Academy Awards balloting for 83 years, three hours to issue a statement confirming that Beatty and Dunaway "had mistakenly been given the wrong category envelope."
"We are currently investigating how this could have happened, and deeply regret that this occurred," the accountants said in a statement on Monday. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which organises the Oscars, has made no comment.
An embarrassed Beatty carried the envelope in his hand to the glitzy Governor's Ball after the show, with the writing clearly saying "actress in a leading role." La La Land star Stone had been awarded that Oscar moments before.
Brand management experts said it could take years for PricewaterhouseCooper (PwC) to recover.