One Step Closer to the Prize

Beverly Hills- The race starts today.

The morning the Academy Awards announce their nominations is when the fog of early Awards Season is lifted and the contenders are thrust into focus.

Reading between the lines of the announcement, the media looks for what is called the "snub". Who got snubbed and whogot a nod? Dreamgirls got snubbed because they didn't get nominated for Best Picture. I guess if you get eight nominations and not the top one, its a snub.

The nominations made it clear that the Best Actor Oscar will go to Forest Whitaker and Best Actress to Helen Mirren. Consensus has it that Martin Scoresese will finally get a Director Oscar.

A nomination can change a career. Jennifer Hudson, nominated for Best Supporting Actress in Dreamgirls, has come from nowhere reality television star to center stage in Hollywood. Eddie Murphy can now get some respect for acting, not just playing a clown. Sasha Baron Cohen, whose Borat is considered in the low-brow comedy genre, is taken seriously with a nomination for best adapted screenplay.

The actual nominations event is run like a CIA clandestine project. A lot of employees at the Academy know who the actual nominees are before they are announced and the Academy takes every effort to keep the knowledge from getting out prematurely. Cellphones, cameras, Blackberrys and other communication devices are not allowed on the upper floors of the Academy building where the information is processed. The media arrives in the middle of the night to set-up for the 5:38:30 a.m. PST live announcement. They shut down the theater from 3:30 a.m. to 5:15 a.m. to have rehearsals and everyone must vacate the area with all TV cameras pointed down and all microphones turned off. A security force checks all bags and all attendees are issued badges that you have to get photographed for in advance, yet no photo is actually placed on the badge itself.

After the announcements, all hell breaks loose. Publicists call their clients. The actor that reads the nominees, in this case Salma Hayek, is mobbed by media to comment on what she just read. TV shows, print, radio and photographers jockey for position.

Ms. Hayek was very accomodating. Her friend, Penelope Cruz, was nominated for Best Actress for her role in Volver, and she pumped her fist on live television when it was announced. She later said to the media that she thought is was a great day for Hispanics with Cruz, Adriana Barraza, and Alejandro González Iñárritu getting nods from the Academy. One television interviewer asked what she was wearing, and Hayek put her hands up to the camera lenses in a mock protest.

For a photographer, covering the event, which is pretty much the same every year, is a challenge. The whole thing is over in less than five minutes. The president of the Academy, Sid Ganis, walks out to the podium, introduces Salma Hayek, and they both read off from a teleprompter as five panels behind them show the nominees. The theater is small and well lit.

You pretty much have to shoot from the center if you want a photo of the announcers with all five panels shown behind them.

I used three cameras, one with a wide-angle 16mm-35mm lens for an overall shot, a medium-range 70mm-200mm zoom lens to get a variety of photos during the event and the third body with a 24mm-105mm lens with a flash for post-announcement photos. I brought a fourth body along to set-up a remote camera, but wasn't allowed to set it up. (No unmanned cameras).
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