Anne Thompson -- our editor-at-large, a veteran Oscar journalist and the mind behind Indiewire's Thompson on Hollywood blog -- also got a ticket, and I was grateful to have her at my side for most of the night. Not only is she a fun time, but she also knew the ropes (check out her take on the evening here). Without her, I surely would have ended up getting lost somewhere in the mammoth labyrinth of checkpoints, carpets and cocktails and never made it to my seat.
Anne came and met me at my weekend digs at the officially named "Comfort Inn By The Hollywood Walk of Fame," which while far from glamorous, is conveniently located just 5 or 6 blocks from the Dolby Theater. Potentially the only two people who literally walked to the Oscars, we got to the baracade at Sunset and Highland and waved down one of a good dozen police officers guarding Oscar central from a mix of tourists, paparazzi and Fred Phelps-followers holding trademark "God Hates Fags" signs (I guess in honor of the Oscars nominating Tony Kushner and "How To Survive a Plague"...can't we lock these people up, already?). The police checked our credentials and then escorted us up 500 feet of closed off road to the edge of the red carpet.
This is when things starting getting crazy. We stood waiting to be motioned onto the carpet, with Anne Hathaway and Adele both getting out of their limos something like 15 feet from us. People from all sides are screaming various celebrities' names as you push along through a maze of red, through metal detectors and onto the main stretch of the carpet. On the left walk the A-listers that make various stops with the red carpet pre-show folks. On the right -- which is where I was rightfully led -- walks everyone else. Anne (Thompson, not Hathaway) told me to try and walk as slowly as possible and take it all in -- which was difficult to pull off when a seemingly endless array of different Academy employees kept popping up to aggressively tell us to move along. Or to stop taking photos. Even though literally hundreds of official photographers were shooting the V.I.P. half of red carpet on the other side of us, personal iPhone photos were not permitted. Though it was hard to find a single person adhering to the rule. I mean, for most of us this was a pretty rare and extraordinarily photo-opp-appropriate context. I don't think I've seen so many selfies being taken at the same time in the same place.
We finally got into the Dolby Theater, where for one last stretch of red carpet the A-list/no-list segregation was removed and we all walked as one. I stood in awe as the likes of Adele, Emmanuelle Riva, Joseph-Gordon Levitt and Quvenzhané Wallis (dog purse in tow!) walked alongside us. Jessica Chastain and her grandmother even stopped to talk to Anne, with Ms. Chastain being as angelic and sweet as you'd expect (I just stood awkwardly behind Anne, smiling like an idiot and trying to sneak a photo).
Then we were led up some stairs and into a circle-shaped lobby where basically everybody attending the ceremony stood in a giant blob of gowns and tuxedos, sucking back hors d'oeuvres and champagne. We had like 20 minutes until the show started, which I utilized for a much needed trip to the bathroom. I felt sorry for my opposite sex as I walked past the epic line to the ladies room (where Naomi Watts was probably 40th in line, with her husband Liev Schreiber keeping her company) and to the mens line, where exactly three people were waiting to use one of 10 luxury urinals: myself, John Stamos and Eddie Redmayne. When all three of us finally got the go-ahead, I ended up smack dab in the middle of them. I don't think I've ever stared so motionlessly and directly in front of myself.
An announcer warned we had 6 minutes to find our seats or we would be locked out of the theater until the first commercial break, so I found Anne and we high-tailed it up four giant flights of stairs to our seats on the second mezzazine. They were literally one row in front of the furthest row from the stage, but I wasn't about to complain. We were seated next to close friends of one of the members of the "Skyfall" sound editing team, and a definite highlight came later on when that film was the second one announced to have tied for the award, with our rowmates freaking right out as a result.
There were definitely some nifty aspects to being in house. You got to see various backstage ongoings (like Charlize Theron and Channing Tatum chatting it up to the side of the stage before their ballroom dancing number or staff quietly and frantically switching over set pieces during commercial breaks), and I suspect the view also made the musical numbers much more impressive than they were on a television (I'm not a fan of "Les Miserables," but I still got chills watching the entire cast belt out the musical's finale while giant French flags poured down from the rafters).
The number one question I got afterwards, though, was what was really happening when Mark Wahlberg and "Ted" presented an award. The answer: A television screen showed a pre-taped clip of Wahlberg and his animated friend while Wahlberg stood on stage in the dark waiting for the camera to cut to him in real-time to open the envelope. Mysteries of live television revealed!