As an experienced Zoomer, I got ready for the Oscars this year with a dress shirt and pajama pants on.
Being the Daily Bruin’s theater, film and television editor this year came with some unforeseen challenges as the entertainment industry essentially ground to a halt. But through my year of remotely sourcing and pushing out stories, it was inspiring to see how artists found creative ways to adapt to such unprecedented circumstances.
Unlike past editors who have been able to attend the Oscars in person, I was afforded the opportunity to cover the 93rd Academy Awards from the comfort of my home – the hustle and bustle of Hollywood’s biggest night replaced with the occasional familial disruptions a thin wall away. Needless to say, it was an unforgettable experience, but perhaps not for the reasons I was expecting.
The COVID-19 pandemic has upended the Oscars production this year, slimming down the on-site presence significantly for safety reasons. As a result, many other journalists and I were prompted to sign up for the Virtual Media Center in lieu of the usual in-person press room. The application opened a little over a month before the ceremony and my approval came in two weeks after.
It was the Oscars’ first time going partly virtual, meaning I was left waiting to receive the necessary logistics on my coverage for the night. I was in the dark for most of the week until the Zoom link for the Virtual Media Center was finally sent on the day of the event.
2:00-5:00 PM PST
Journalists slowly trickled into the Zoom meeting an hour and a half before the show’s broadcast. The initial 200 journalists soon ballooned into over 400 Zoom participants. What would not have been possible in an in-person setting was for me to see press dialing in from all over the world, some in professional studios and others like me at home. Soon, the Academy started doing sound and visuals checks for each outlet but stopped after a few dozen outlets.
To accommodate for the virtual setting, we were also provided a pool feed online to see the event as it unfolded in full. I was prepared with three screens out in front of me, one for the feed, another for the Virtual Media Center and one more for my midterm materials. I imagine it would have been difficult to work on calculus problems at an in-person Oscars show, so to some extent, I was grateful for the opportunity to multitask.
In a turn of events, the performances for the Best Original Song category were no longer interspersed into the main ceremony but instead were held in the pre-show “Oscars: Into the Spotlight.” I caught the tail end of H.E.R.’s performance of “Fight For You,” leading me to reminisce about the infectious high of an in-person concert. For me – and likely many others – much of the ceremony was filled with bittersweet reminders of what could have been.
The main event promptly started at 5pm, with Regina King kicking things off in an absolutely stunning Louis Vuitton gown. After the first category winner was announced, the virtual press room finally started to come to life. The Academy informed us of the interview proceedings, whereby we would use the raise hand buttons and wait to be called on.
It was an orderly process for the most part, but technical issues were inevitable. Some outlets that were called on never replied and others had lag or sound issues that made for awkward pauses, but that just comes with the virtual territory. The bigger networks were inevitably given more opportunity to ask questions and it was hard to be called on amid a pool of 400+ journalists.
And for my part, I had to constantly flip back and forth between the press room and the pool feed to track the winners and note down any worthwhile quotes for the wrap-up article. Sitting in front of the screens for the lengthy event took a toll, so I made several trips to my kitchen for snacks and dinner.
There were also moments of improvisation as I tried to figure out the most efficient route to get the article done on time. I ended up using my phone to transcribe in real-time some interviews of winners like Chloé Zhao or Daniel Kaluuya, rather than wait for the Academy to upload the transcripts.
It being my first time in a press room, seeing the interactions between the press and the talents was amusing to say the least. I saw in real-time viral moments like an outlet mistakenly refer to Kaluuya as working with King, who directed a different film than the one Kaluuya was nominated for, and another big network representative asking Yuh-Jung Youn if she smelled Brad Pitt backstage. It wasn’t hard to empathize with the exasperation on the winners’ faces.
The ceremony eventually came to a close in a rather anticlimactic fashion as soon as the Best Actor bombshell was announced. A few more talents came into the press room for their interviews and that was it for the press section. Overall, there were moments when I felt like I was in the thick of the action – yet more often than not, I was just a typical viewer rather than a member of the press.
But as much as I miss the in-person experience, I’m still grateful to be able to provide coverage of the Oscars. First-time ventures are never easy, and I think the Academy did its best to accommodate the press in a virtual setting.
Despite the ups and downs, this year’s Oscars definitely made my room feel bigger than it is.