Anatomy of the Oscars’ Press Room

Last Oscar's Sunday Vision sat down - wine in hand, zoom call rolling - to watch the 96th Academy Awards, and chat to a certain oscar-nominated director!

(Image: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences)

After months of competitive campaigns, pedantic pollsters, sweet speeches, acting awards being passed back and forth, and endless Oppenhiemer sweeps, the final event of the 2024 film award season was upon us. At long last the 96th Academy Awards had finally arrived, and with it a hoard of excited nominees eagerly awaiting their chance to hold that glittering golden man, and speak their thanks to their peers and fans.

This year the 96th Oscars also saw Academy ghosts of past, present and future haunt the ceremony’s Dolby Theatre. The ceremony looked backwards by lovingly resurrecting an old tradition of asking previous acting winners to present the awards, moved forwards by reaching new theatrical heights with the inclusion of Ryan Gosling’s momentous musical performance ‘I’m Just Ken’, and presently stagnated ever so slightly in its repeat host Jimmy Kimmel’s inability to move past the same lame jokes. Yes we know that you think the movies are too long, can we move on to the winners? 

“Dressed in my business black on top and cozy pink trackpants on the bottom – looking a little like a walking advertisement for the Barbieheimer meme – I logged on to the zoom call to rule all zoom calls”

– Kaitlyn Beattie-Zarb

But now this article won’t linger on these ghosts of Oscars’ night for too long (that’s the job of another piece)… because whilst the crowds of celebrities chatted, cheered and celebrated the night away in the main theatre, behind the scenes in an exclusive back room a smattering of well-dressed journalists, ladened with numbered signs, quick reflexes, cameras and maybe a glass of champers or two, gathered to snatch that – oh so important – pull quote from the night’s winners.

Yes during the 96th Oscars night, York Vision had the incredible chance to glimpse the chaos, competition, conversation and – let’s be honest – sometimes long periods of sleep-deprived boredom, within this most selective of press rooms.

And all from the comfort of our own house. No, we didn’t fly to LA with a week’s notice and university classes the next day. No, we didn’t actually rub shoulders with the world’s top entertainment journalists, nor breathe the same air as actual Oscar winners. 

However, Vision did receive exclusive access to the long sought after Academy Awards virtual press room, the zoom call to rule all zoom calls. So dressed in my business black on top and cozy pink trackpants on the bottom – looking a little like a walking advertisement for the Barbieheimer meme – I logged on to this deeply nerveracking zoom call, questions prepped, and trigger finger ready to raise my little virtual hand and ask as many questions as possible.

(Image: Kaitlyn Beattie-Zarb)

And I didn’t have to wait long. As the actual ceremony raced along, the winners of Best Animated Short so too raced into the press room, all smiles. This awarded pair of filmmakers had just won for “War Is Over: The Music of John and Yoko” As the physical journalists breezed through questions about John Lennon’s legacy, Yoko Ono’s son’s involvement and the impact of this film on real world conflicts, I received a private chat stating “You will be our first virtual question.”

My heart froze… I was getting my question asked so early in the night, on only the third award! What if they only let me ask one question all night? Should I save my one question for Robert Downey Jr, Emma Stone, Christopher Nolan or any of the other big stars destined to make their way to the press room? But alas, before my turn had even commenced, another journalist asked my question and the PR organisers hustled the winners out of the room – saving me from having to make any tough choices. 

And then the waiting commenced. Through Jimmy Kimmel’s meandering monologues, adorable appearances from Messi the dog, and the many comedic bits from the presenter pairs that graced the stage, no further winners graced our press room. So I enjoyed watching the ceremony for a while uninterrupted. I wrote more questions during the ITV commentary breaks (sorry Jonathon Ross). I was quite comfortable to not have to focus on two screens at once, and just as I settled in for a sip of sparkling wine- We were back! 

Sandra really brought something to the character in the transparency of her acting … She (creates a character that) really stands by herself in her decisions.”

– Justine Triet

Into the press room rushes a sley of newly minted winners. Often these press room appearances came at the most inconvenient of times – I’m incredibly sorry to say I had to miss out on interviewing the winner of Best Adapted Screenplay (the incredibly talented Cord Jefferson who won for the even more incredible American Fiction) because I was just too excited to watch Robert Downey Jr win his Oscar. 

Following Best Adapted Screenplay was of course Best Original Screenplay, awarded to the French courtroom drama film, Anatomy of a Fall. As the screenwriting couple of Justine Triet and Arthur Harari made their way into the room I was certain that this was the pair to try to talk to. After their nomination reaction went viral in January, and with Justine also nominated for Best Director, I was eager to learn more about the long process of bringing such an eloquent, dialogue-heavy story to life. 

So, I clicked the little zoom hand. I waited with baited breathe, listening to Justine talk in both French and English about the intriguing mystery of her ambiguous ending. I revised my question options after my starting points were continually presented to the Oscar nominated director. And then I once again recieved that adrenaline inducing message. “You will be the first virtual question.”

“Here we go, get the question ready, is the order correct, don’t forget to introduce yourself, Don’t talk too quickly, or for too long. Okay it’s time.” I said to myself, as the adrenaline rose.

As they introduced ‘Kaitlyn from York Vision’ I leapt straight up, cleared my throat and began.  With only our voices transmitted into the LA press room, I felt something like the fourth ghost of the Dolby theatre; my question echoed across the pond, causing Justine, Arthur and their translator all to jump!

In all seriousness, I was incredibly honoured to ask a question of Justine (the only female director nominated this year), and even as I improvised a new question on the spot, her clarity of thought and the broad inspirations of her movie made the task an easy one.

Arthur Harari and Justine Triet pose backstage with the Oscar® for Original Screenplay during the live ABC telecast of the 96th Oscars® at Dolby® Theatre at Ovation Hollywood on Sunday, March 10, 2024.
(Image: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences)

I was most keen to focus the conversation briefly upon the character that fuels the intriguing screenplay, and the array of uniquely balanced events and distinctly written scenes within this Oscar-winning courtroom drama. That key character is Sandra, a writer who is taken to court after her husband is found dead beneath a high window under mysterious circumstances. Played by the Oscar-nominated Sandra Huller, this character’s most endearing quality isn’t necessarily just the ambiguity of whether she committed murder… but the multifaceted qualities of her character, her emotional journey and the layers that are peeled back scene after scene, word after word, throughout this fascinating film. 

Keen to learn as much as possible about Sandra I asked Justine: 

“Congratulations on such a wonderful screenplay and a wonderful film.  I just wanted to ask you about Sandra.  She is such an incredibly intriguing, multi-facetted and relatable female character.  It honestly stuck with me, particularly the lingering notion of whether she did it.  How did you go about writing such a powerful female character?

Justine’s response was as intelligent as it was endearing. Initially answering in English, she found the construction of Sandra too complex for her 2nd language, and returned to her native french – translator standing by! 

“I think Sandra is really interesting.  Because she’s — she’s playing it really — in a very — sorry I switch in French because it’s too complicated in English for me.”

“Well, Sandra (Huller) really brought something to the character in the transparency of her acting and the way in which she never tries to seduce. And something about this way of being makes us really want to believe her despite the fact that she doesn’t give us exactly what we might expect.

Justine then elaborated about the modernity the actress Sandra brings to the character:

“She broke from a kind of more old fashioned form of acting that might have been facetious or double-faced in a kind of stylistic sense.

“Most of this decision is just about the body… it’s not theatrical on set and I think she’s really modern in her way of playing this woman. I’m watching a lot of crime stories of things like this but for me Sandra brings something very new.”

“She really stands by herself in her decisions.”

After this exciting encounter with one of my favourite directors about one of my favourite screenplays of my top films of the year you would think the rest of the night would have been a bit of a let down. 

To see their gratitude, reactions and dreams come true up close is the true gift of the Oscars’ press room – and one I won’t forget anytime soon.

– Kaitlyn Beattie-Zarb

But believe me, being on a zoom call for 5 hours straight when – at any moment – a PR person in LA could send you a zoom message saying you are next in line to chat to Christopher Nolan or Emma Stone – well lets just say I didn’t feel a need to sleep any time soon! 

Unfortunately this screenwriter encounter remained my only question of the night, although I did get select multiple times, only for the Oscar’s PR team to run out of time and usher the winners away.

So long question for Billie Elish about being the youngest double Oscar winner ever.

Farewell question for Christopher Nolan about what he hopes people will takes away from Oppenheimer.

But in all honesty, just listening to these big names discuss their work and glimpsing their pure reactions first hand was more than enough. I was most delighted to be able to watch when the press room was caught up in fits of giggles instead of a fight for questions during John Cena’s nude appearance. Most ammused watching the press room struggle to ask Bille Eilish questions whilst also trying to listen out for the big Best Picture announcement. Most grateful to be in the zoom call as Emma Stone gave us an energetic update on the state of her dress- “They sewed me back in” she came in laughing!

It was the joy of my Vision career to be able to witness the more mundane moments behind Hollywood’s biggest night. The moments of realism, humility and gratitude that the winners share with the more private press room, away from the flashy lights of the main ceremony. It felt like a glimpse into the real lives and real dreams of these most photographed of industry legends, many of whom have so long waited for this most prestidious of awards. To see their gratitude, reactions and dreams come true up close is the true gift of the Oscars’ press room – and one I won’t forget anytime soon.

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