Yes, there will still be bleachers for fans at this year's Academy Awards -- despite earlier rumors that they would be banned. But getting a bleacher seat will be much tougher than before, and don't plan to camp out ahead of time to get one.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will announce today that it is implementing stricter procedures to determine who can watch the celebrity arrivals from the bleachers at the 74th annual Academy Awards, which this year moves to its new home in Hollywood at the Kodak Theatre.
For the last few months, fans and industry people alike have speculated that the academy would ban the bleachers because of concerns about security and traffic around the new site. Fans will still be able to catch a glimpse of their favorite stars from the bleachers, academy officials said. But the days of fans camping out at the Oscar site days in advance in hopes of getting a bleacher seat on Oscar Sunday are over.
This year, fans will have bleacher seats by advance reservation only. They must submit an application including their name, passport and Social Security numbers, and agree to be subject to a background check. Once fans have been vetted, they will be assigned seats.
Fans will also be subjected to a metal detector test -- don't feel bad, the stars must go through one as well -- and wear an identification badge with their photograph. The applications will be available beginning Wednesday on the academy's Web site, http://www.oscars.org.
"The prevailing wisdom here is that these folks are such an important part of the event we wanted to keep them," said Ric Robertson, the academy's executive administrator. The bleachers will be on the north side of Hollywood Boulevard next to the Kodak Theatre, which is part of the new Hollywood & Highland complex. About 400 bleacher seats will be available, the same as in past years. The red carpet for celebrities and guests will run down Hollywood Boulevard outside the theater.
The relocation of the Oscars to the Kodak Theatre brings the industry's most important awards show to its fabled home, but it has also created some logistical challenges.
The outside site is smaller than the Oscars' former homes, the Shrine Auditorium and the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. All businesses near the Kodak Theatre will be closed March 24, the date of the ceremony. And nearby residents will be subjected to closed street traffic for several days before the ceremony.
In years past, seats on the bleachers were given on a first-come, first-served basis. To get seats, fans would set up "tent cities" outside the bleacher site, three or four days before the ceremony. This year, the city of Los Angeles has yet to determine whether it will allow people to camp out to line the streets as the celebrities arrive, said Robertson. But in discussions with the merchants, it was made clear that they did not want the fans staked out in front of their stores.
"Some of the neighbors haven't exactly been thrilled with having their sidewalk turn into tent city," Robertson said.
The academy's decision to keep the bleachers will surely bring relief to the legions of celebrity spectators who make the trek to the Oscar site every year. The academy decided that it could not do away with the frenetic energy that excitable fans create for the stars on the red carpet. It is a tradition as wedded to the Oscars as thanking agents and dressing in designer gowns.
Whether it was Clark Gable waving at his adoring fans in the '30s, soldiers saluting the stars during World War II or an unknown starlet losing her slip and throwing it to the crowds in the '50s, the bleachers have always been a focal point for celebrity worship at Hollywood's most glamorous event -- and one of the most -- watched televised events in the world.
One of the only notable contretemps in the bleachers was in 1996, when director Milos Forman was nominated for "The People vs. Larry Flynt," and protesters infiltrated the bleachers holding signs against pornography. Any real protests over the years -- such as during the Vietnam War, the 1996 Jesse Jackson-led protest against the lack of minority representation in Hollywood, or opposition to director Elia Kazan receiving an honorary Oscar in 1999 -- have been held outside the bleacher area, usually far from cameras and reporters.
"Very little has transpired on the bleachers in terms of drama," said Oscar historian Damien Bona, author of "Inside Oscar 2: A Year by Year History of the Oscars."
"People who are willing to wait a couple of days in line are usually not very political."
And perhaps nothing represents the era of celebrity worship more than the 400 people who have traveled from all over the world to catch a momentary glimpse of a movie star.
Their enthusiasm for the celebrities is something the stars themselves are prepped for by the publicists who walk them down the red carpet. The shouts, clapping and buzzing from the fans in the bleachers, along with the flashes from the paparazzi, make for a frenzied environment that gets the stars hyped.
"I told Juliette Binoche, 'When you get there and theyrecognize you, it will be like nothing you have ever seen or heard or felt,'" said Melody Korenbrott, head of Block Korenbrott PR, describing the deafening noise and blinding flashes on the red carpet. "I told her, 'Enjoy it.' It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience for some people."