Oscars’ Billion Viewer Envelope
By ROBERT W. WELKOS
“And the envelope, please….”
It is one of Hollywood’s most iconic phrases, uttered by presenters at the Academy Awards each year and followed by another equally famous quote: “And the Oscar goes to….”
But throughout much of Oscar’s history whenever the pinprick moment arrived when a celebrity presenter would open the envelope and announce the winning nominee, there was nothing special about the envelope itself as opposed to the golden statuette that the winners would clutch while thanking whomever on live TV.
That is, until Marc Friedland decided that the Oscar envelope needed to be its own icon.
The L.A. stationer had an idea: design a classy-looking envelope, that was easy to open and that would provide a treasured keepsake to the winners along with the glittering golden statuette that they clutched in their hands in triumph.
Friedland, owner of Marc Friedland Couture Communications, persuaded the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to have him design an envelope that would not only look elegant to the 1 billion global TV viewers but also be constructed in such a way that celebrity presenters wouldn’t struggle opening the envelopes to the groans and laughter of audiences.
“When I started thinking about this, I wanted something that would be timeless, involving the glamour of Hollywood, but not a period piece. But also something that transcended fashion and trends,” Friedland, 54, told HollywoodNews. “We had to design something that looks great and performs well, too. Like the quintessential Hollywood actress who has to look good on screen but also be talented.”
On Sunday, March 2, the Academy Awards will again be featuring Friedland-designed envelopes. This will mark the fourth year that Friedland’s envelopes will be in use.
And, since there are two dozen categories, Friedland noted, only the presenters and winners will be seen touching the envelopes, making the moment even more special.
Each envelope is handcrafted out of four different papers using 10 different processes, he explains.
The outside of each envelope is made of metallic-gold paper stock with subtle repeats of the Oscar statuettes.
Inside the envelope, the creators note, is a heavyweight ecru card featuring deco gold foil and is accented with a gold-leaf embossed Oscar statuette along with the phrase, “And the Oscar goes to…” The winner’s name is printed in charcoal ink and is mounted onto a matching red lacquer hand-wrapped frame. The back of the card introduces a new feature, indicating the specific award category visible to the audience and viewers, they add.
Each envelope is then securely fastened with a rich red double-faced satin ribbon and a red lacquered and gold embossed seal featuring the PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) logo, they also note.
Friedland said it takes a team of 10 workers 110 man-hours to make the cards. Each card is engraved with the phrase, in gold lettering, “And the Oscar goes to….”
“This year, there are 121 nominees,” Friedland said. “We do three sets. So, there are 363 nominee cards in all.”
Two sets of envelopes are delivered to the accounting firm of PricewaterhouseCoopers, which has been tabulating the Oscar balloting for 80 years. A third set of envelopes is kept separately in case of an emergency. The winning envelopes are then hand-carried to the ceremony by two PwC accountants who are the only ones who know the identities of the winners before they are announced on stage.
Until Friedland came along, Oscar envelopes were usually drab white—if they were used at all. In the early years of the Academy Awards, movie stars would simply read the names out loud from the stage, but when the Los Angeles Times published the list before the 1940 ceremony, the Academy abandoned that custom and went to envelopes.
At that 1940 ceremony, for example, actor Spencer Tracy remarks from the podium: “Need I say, it is a privilege and an honor to announce this winner, Miss Vivien Leigh in ‘Gone with the Wind.’”
What would the Oscars be without the opening of the envelopes?
Remember 1969, when actress Ingrid Bergman opened the envelope to announce best actress of 1968 and was surprised at what she saw? “The winners…it’s a tie!” a confused but happy Bergman said. “The winners are Katharine Hepburn for ‘The Lion in the (sic) Winter’ and Barbra Streisand….”
Even with the new envelopes, some presenters can have fun with the moment.
Last year, even with the newer envelopes designed to minimize onstage miscues, actress Sandra Bullock, announcing best editor for Argo, made a funny face as she appeared (pretended?) to struggle with opening the envelope.
Friedland was in the audience last year when he was surprised to see the Oscar for best picture being announced via a live feed from the White House by First Lady Michelle Obama. He recalled that his firm had been asked to make four sets of nominee envelopes last year but wasn’t told that the reason was because the White House needed a set. Normally, he noted, anything that enters the White House is searched by the Secret Service, but arrangements were made to bypass that process so that the name of the best picture wouldn’t leak out before the First Lady opened the envelope.
“Michelle Obama opened the sealed envelope on live TV from the White House without anybody seeing the contents (before she did),” he added.
“And the Oscar goes to….” she said, before opening the seal, lifting the flap and announcing the best picture: “Argo! Congratulations.”
Another memorable Oscar moment.
Friedland couldn’t be happier.