For two days of the year, there are only two people in the world who know the secret to the winners of that year’s Academy Awards.
Rick Rosas and Brad Oltmanns, also known as “the men holding the briefcases on the red carpet,” are accountants at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), the firm that has been counting Oscar ballots for the last 79 years. They are among just 12 people who have led the balloting team since 1935.
“We get a lot of light hearted, kidding questioning during Oscar season from different people that we talk to in our daily job, friends and family,” said Oltmanns, who has co-led the balloting team since 2005. “But people know that this is something that Rick and I take very seriously. I’ve never once been concerned at all about the security being compromised.”
The majority of ballots pile into their office in the last few days before the awards show, when the 5,800 voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences either mail them in or, for the first time this year, vote electronically. Though they won’t disclose exact figures, they say turnout is “always very high” -- likely to beat any government election.
By Friday before the awards, four of their colleagues each hand-count a small portion of the votes for each category, so that none knows the final results. From that point on, only Rosas and Oltmanns know the winners in all 24 categories. Then the secrecy and security kick into high gear.
Each nominee has a pre-printed card. Once the winner is selected, the rest of the cards in that category are run through the paper shredder.
“On Saturday, Rick and I prepare the envelopes with the award winner’s name inside of it,” said Oltmanns. “We do that in a super-secret location, very secure from prying eyes, and have the envelopes kept under lock and key.”
On the Sunday of the awards, Rosas and Oltmanns suit up in their tuxes – owned, not rented – and take separate routes to the show, accompanied by security, each holding duplicates of the winners’ envelopes.
“It would be hard not to be nervous or excited about it,” said Rosas, who is in his 12th year leading the Oscar balloting. “But I take it easy early in the morning and have one ritual that I do every year: reading the Oscar predictions on Sunday morning. I admit to that perverse pleasure.”
During the show, Rosas and Oltmanns are backstage on opposite sides – “We are superstitious, so we stand on the same side every year,” said Rosas.
They hand the envelope to the celebrity presenter immediately before they walk onto the stage to announce the winner. Contact is usually minimal but Rosas said his favorites have been Julie Andrews (“charming, nice and unbelievably gracious”) and Russell Crowe (“loose and friendly”). Oltmanns’ favorite encounter was during his first Academy Awards.
“Julia Roberts was just so natural, so friendly and relaxed,” he said. “And for me it was the first time interacting with any of the celebrities, so I’ll never forget that moment. It was really special and a lot of fun.”
By the end of the evening, of course, Rosas and Oltmanns’ tightly held secrets are revealed as the winners are announced. But there is one aspect of the Academy Awards only they will ever know: the almost-winners.
“Every single year there are close races and Rick and I count, recount, count, recount again, just to be sure that we’ve got it dead-accurate,” said Oltmanns.
And the final tallies can be close, occasionally with someone winning by a single vote.
“The runner-up,” said Rosas, “will never know.”