“You’ll never work in this town again” is often threatened in Hollywood but this time, it appears that they really mean it.
The President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, says that the two PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) accountants involved in that historic Oscar night snafu will not be back. Ever.
Isaacs was reacting to the historic Oscars mix-up during the 89th Academy Awards. At the end of the ceremony, presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway came on stage to reveal the winner for Best Picture. Beatty began to speak, looked at the envelope and paused. Dunaway laughed, teased Beatty for being “impossible” and read La La Land from the card, proclaiming the flick the winner.
There was just one problem: Moonlight was the winner for Best Picture. Beatty was given the wrong envelope.
(You can read more about what happened here.)
It was a pretty stunning turn of events for the Academy – and for PwC. The venerable accounting firm has been responsible for tallying the votes for the Oscars for the past 83 years without incident.
Only two people know the winners in advance. This year, those two people were accountants Brian Cullinan and Martha Ruiz. It was their job to tally the votes and memorize the winners before stuffing the envelopes. At the actual awards ceremony, the pair distributed the envelopes to the presenters who announced the results.
(You can read more about how the votes and tallied and make it to the stage here.)
However, Isaacs alleges that Cullinan, who handed the wrong envelope to Beatty, was distracted backstage. Reports suggest that he might have been tweeting: he tweeted and then deleted a picture of Best Actress winner Emma Stone just before the announcement for Best Picture. Isaacs later told the Associated Press that Cullinan and Ruiz had been barred from working with the event in the future. An Academy spokesperson confirmed that statement.
A spokesperson also confirmed Isaac’s statements that the Academy was reviewing its future relationship with PwC.
Immediately after the awards ceremony, PwC issued the following statement:
We sincerely apologize to Moonlight, La La Land, Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, and Oscar viewers for the error that was made during the award announcement for Best Picture. The presenters had mistakenly been given the wrong category envelope and when discovered, was immediately corrected. We are currently investigating how this could have happened, and deeply regret that this occurred.
We appreciate the grace with which the nominees, the Academy, ABC, and Jimmy Kimmel handled the situation.
The following day, Tim Ryan, U.S. chairman and senior partner of PwC, admitted, “At the end of the day we made a human error. 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.”
A spokesperson confirmed the statement but did not offer anything further.
Les Moonves, President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of CBS, later remarked in an interview that “[t]he accountants have one job to do, that’s to give Warren Beatty the right envelope. That’s what these people are paid a lot of money to do. If they were my accountant, I would fire them.”
Of course, Moonves isn’t quite right: the accountants had more to do than just hand out envelopes. The balloting process is done manually, and it takes approximately 1,700 manpower hours to count and verify votes in 24 different categories from nearly 7,000 voting members. If one person were doing all of the work, it would take nearly a full year, or 43 work weeks, to count and verify the ballots.
That said, when things go wrong, you don’t typically hear public calls for the heads of the accountants – usually, it’s the lawyers (writes the tax lawyer).