The two accountants in charge of handing out the envelopes at the 2017 Academy Awards “froze” when La La Land was mistakenly announced as the Best Picture winner over Moonlight, this according to the show’s stage manager.
Gary Natoli spoke to The Wrap about what occurred backstage as the events unfolded, saying Brian Cullinan and Martha Ruiz, accountants with PricewaterhouseCoopers who handled the Oscars balloting, didn’t react fast enough when the mistake was made.
“I’m sure they’re very lovely people, but they just didn’t have the disposition for this,” Natoli said. “You need somebody who’s going to be confident and unafraid.”
“I was in the wings stage left with Jimmy [Kimmel] when they announced La La Land,” Natoli explained. “We watched for about 10 more seconds, and during that entire time, Martha was no more than five feet away from us. When La La Land was announced, she did not try to get my attention, she did not say anything. And she’s supposed to have memorized the winners.”
The veteran stage manager said he immediately told other stage managers in the wings to get Cullinan and Ruiz onstage to correct the error. But, he added, both the accountants hesitated.
On top of admitting fault in the error, PwC also said that Cullinan and Ruiz did not follow protocol for correcting the error “quickly enough.” They only appeared onstage after multiple La La Land creators gave speeches – more than two minutes after La La Land was incorrectly named the winner.
Natoli revealed he and fellow stage manager, John Esposito, who stood in the wings next to PwC partner Cullinan, had had a conversation with the accountant about procedures should a nominee be announced as the incorrect winner.
“I guess Brian had done an interview where he was asked about it, so he came up to John and me and told us that in the interview, he said, ‘Well, we would tell the stage managers and check with each other and react.’ And then he said to us, ‘Is that what we do?’” Natoli said.
“I said, ‘If you know who the winner is, you don’t need to check with each other. You need to immediately go out and rectify the situation, ideally before the wrong winners get to the mic.’ And he said, ‘OK, good, that’s what we thought,’” Natoli continued.