In the Bleachers with the Fans
The fans screamed "Russell, come here" and "There's Robert Redford!" Cameras clicked away. Fans screamed "Hey look, Sandra Bullock and Hugh Grant are coming in together." Everyone pushed forward when Nicole Kidman waved, then walked over to shake hands with fans. Yes, it's Oscar® Sunday and I’m in Hollywood.
In 2002, I seized an opportunity to attend the Oscars. No, I wasn't sitting in the audience in the new Kodak Theatre, rubbing shoulders with the glitterati. I was in what's called the fan bleachers.
A word of explanation might be necessary here. The Motion Picture Academy, the folks who stage the annual Oscars show, see fans as an integral part of the day's events. So, every year they set aside bleachers along the red carpet arrival area for fans to sit. This year the fan bleachers were across the red carpet from the media covering the stars’ arrivals, so the fans are a backdrop for the arrivals. It's hard to imagine not having all those screaming fans. Fans make the stars feel wanted and add excitement for all those TV viewers around the world.
In the past, the Motion Picture Academy allowed fans to camp out in the bleachers or for days in advance. By camping out, I mean in sleeping bags. Last year, they didn't allow anyone in the bleachers until the morning of the event, so people lined up on the sidewalk. A handful of hardy soles brought tents.
This year, the events of September eleventh prompted new security measures. The Academy posted an application form on their Web site and invited fans to mail the form, along with a photo, their Social Security number and an ID number off a driver's license or passport. Then they ran security checks. I was notified about 10 days before Oscar Sunday that I was number 135 of 400 to be allowed in the fan bleachers. My letter instructed me to be in line at 7am across the street from the entrance to the red carpet area. That left a lot of time until the action. The stars started to arrive around 3pm and all had apparently arrived by 5pm.
Now, I'm not one of those big star fans (does anyone admit to that, anyway?), but I am a fan of film and the power it can have on others. And, there's nothing like seeing an event as it happens and not through the eyes of someone else. It's one of factors that prompted me to become a reporter in an earlier life. Anyway, the Oscars has long been on my 'must-do' list. This year seemed a particularly good time to go, because the Oscars were coming back to Hollywood after 40 years of being staged in downtown Los Angeles or near the USC campus.
Back to those fans now. Sisters Sandi Stratton and Babe Churchill are the grand dames of movie fans. They've sat in the fan bleachers every year for 33 years. Never missed a year. They and a few friends now all wear red tee-shirts with the "Bleacher Creatures" moniker. Another group called "Oscar Chatters" formed a few years ago. I ended up sitting with both these groups. I found some fans came to Hollywood from Arizona, Texas and Minnesota. And, I traveled there from Washington state.
All fans seem to ask for is seeing their favorite stars wave at them. A little recognition by stars for their fans. So, when Nicole Kidman waved, then started walking over to our area, everyone pushed to the front of the bleachers. Cameras clicked as she neared. Then, she surprised most of us by shaking hands with a couple fans. More pictures. But, a red carpet monitor quickly walked over, pulled her away and apparently told her that's a no-no. He sent her back to the media side of the red carpet. Guess who didn’t get a good photo of Nicole Kidman. Right...I didn’t.
I can't say I got a lot of good pictures. Most of them just show a crowd of people with a few recognizable faces as they move along the red carpet. More than 3,000 people arrived in a two-hour period. But, I did have a lot of fun watching stars and meeting fans.
One more item checked off my must-do list.