PricewaterhouseCoopers: ‘We made a mistake’ at Oscars.
The accountants did it? We all watched in shock as it happened. Now we know exactly what happened.
PricewaterhouseCoopers, which has handled the accounting for the Academy Awards since 1934, apologized early Monday for giving the wrong envelope to presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway before the two actors announced
La La Land as best picture at Sunday night’s Oscars. Actually,
Moonlight won the top prize. In Beatty’s hand was a spare best-actress envelope. Emma Stone already had been given her winning envelope, but two sets are printed: one for each of the two PwC representatives who wait in the wings to distribute the envelopes to presenters.
“At the end of the day, we made a human error,” Tim Ryan, U.S. chairman and senior partner of PwC told USA TODAY on Monday. “We made a mistake. What happened was, our partner on the left side of the stage, Brian Cullinan, he handed the wrong envelope to Warren Beatty. And then the second we realized that, we notified the appropriate parties and corrected the mistake.”
But the La La Land speeches already had been given, and the celebrating had begun. “We apologize to the cast of
La La Land for having to have made those speeches in the time it took to (correct it),” Ryan says. “Immediately when it was announced, again, because of our mistake, both our partners who knew who the winner was — and they’re the only two who know — they realized the mistake.
“It was a little chaotic and just took time to get out onstage and let people know the mistake was made. And unfortunately that took enough time to get through 21⁄2 acceptance speeches.”
It’s puzzling because the Oscar process — counting the votes, determining the winners, filling the envelopes, packing two briefcases, toting them to the ceremony, handing the envelopers to presenters — is long-established.
Before the show, Cullinan, who is chairman of PwC’s U.S. board, and Martha Ruiz, a tax partner at PwC, described how the winning envelopes are handled.
After voting closes a week before the show, accountants start tabulating, which takes about three days. Secrecy and accuracy are the watchwords. “None of our team members see more than a portion of the ballots in any category. The final tabulation of the winners is only done by the two of us,” Cullinan and Ruiz wrote in The Huffington Post.
They check and recheck, then insert two sets of the cards declaring the winners into sealed envelopes, which are secured in a secret location until they are brought to the show.
“We are both backstage to hand the envelopes to the presenters. We also memorize Every. Single. Winner. In. Every. Single. Category. The winners’ names are not typed into a computer or written down, to avoid potential lost slips of paper or breaches of security,” Cullinan and Ruiz said.
Here’s where it gets even more fascinating: It could only have been a PricewaterhouseCoopers rep who gave the wrong envelope to Beatty and Dunaway. Backstage, Cullinan and Ruiz “hand each envelope directly to the presenter in each category. We are positioned on either side of the stage, so we can hand envelopes from stage right or stage left.”
Ryan says he has apologized to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and is contacting the producers of La La Land and Moonlight.
But not to worry, says Anthony Sabino, a law professor at St. John’s University’s Peter J. Tobin College of Business. It was a “black eye” for PwC, but black eyes heal.
“After decades of flawless performance, it was bound to happen eventually,” he says. “For an event as complex and as secretive as the Academy Awards, PwC’s sterling record still stands out.”
“At the end of the day, we made a human error. ... It was a little chaotic and just took time to get out onstage.” Tim Ryan, PricewaterhouseCoopers
Speeches already had begun as PricewaterhouseCoopers reps and stage managers gather around what turned out to be the wrong envelope.
Presenter Warren Beatty and host Jimmy Kimmel, left, try to restore order after the best-picture mix-up Sunday night.