Oscar fever grips LA

It is impossible for anyone to be in Los Angeles during March and not realise that something big is coming.

The Oscars bring to an end a three-month movie awards season, which starts with the Golden Globe nominations in mid-December.

But even in a city which is obsessed with the film industry all the year, the arrival of what many people elsewhere see as “just another awards ceremony” – the Academy Awards – transforms everything.

The Oscar billboard on Sunset Boulevard

The first thing you notice as you drive along Hollywood’s boulevards is the red, blue and gold Oscars banners, hanging from lamp-posts, disappearing into the distance.

Each bears this year’s motif – an Oscar, against a red or blue background, wrapped in a blue or red 2000. As the ceremony approaches, an increasing number of streets are adorned in this way.

Sunset Boulevard boasts a billboard the size of a house, bearing the same emblem. After dark, the neon 2000 lights up. And beneath the banners and billboards, news stands are littered with Oscar-fronted magazines.

All the film adverts in local papers now proudly display their nominations. Some distributors go even further to take advantage of their nominations by re-releasing shortlisted films.

Eight-times nominated American Beauty, which was first released here last September, is now showing again across town.

The cinemas themselves are joining the bandwagon, plastering the nominations across their own billboards. One chain is even giving away special-edition Oscars cups with all large soft drinks.

As the days go by, an increasing amount of air-time on the local TV channels is devoted to the awards.

The news programmes boost the number of pundits invited in to predict the winners – some even invite viewers to call in to discuss their favourites.

The daytime television shows are more interested in other predictions – what will the stars be wearing, and who will they turn up with? And hardly a day goes by without a nominee or two turning up as guests on the many late night talk shows. As well as coverage on the regular shows, most channels also have their own special programmes, while at least two film channels are running special Oscars seasons.

Magazines are dominated by the event

And this year, the awards have been receiving more unwelcome television coverage too. There’s been much hilarity from the local TV anchors after the Academy’s double embarrassment of mislaying first a batch of Oscars ballot papers followed by the statuettes themselves.

At the Shrine Auditorium in downtown Los Angeles, where this year’s ceremony is taking place, workmen have been busy for days.

The ground floor of the car park has been converted into kitchens, a reception area and a giant banqueting hall, where the post-awards Governor’s Ball is held. Outside, a grandstand – known as the Bleachers – has been built alongside the car park where the famous red-carpet will be laid. This is where Oscars-mania hits its peak.

Much like people queuing outside Wimbledon or the Harrods sale in London, fans come from across the country to camp in the street for days in advance to get the best seats to glimpse the stars as they arrive on the night.

But while Hollywood’s glitterati are enjoying the ceremony and post-Oscar parties in restaurants, hotels or often on converted parking lots – what is there for the public? The local papers are full of adverts for exclusive Oscar-watching parties.

They range in price from $55 (£35) a ticket to $750 (£479) each for Martin Scorsese’s exclusive black tie charity event. His advert boasts that 50 nominees and winners will attend.

And for people without that much to spend, the official Oscars chef has published his menu, so that they can recreate the atmosphere in their own homes. But even as Oscar excitement reaches fever pitch, one thing about Hollywood never changes. The film sets continue to buzz, as the show must go on. The studios are already thinking about the 2001 Oscars.


A version of this article previously appeared on the BBC News website.