For 15 years Art Streiber has taken his camera behind the scenes at the movie industry’s most exclusive party: the Academy Awards. From dress rehearsals to sound checks, from seat warmers to stagehands, from oversize statuettes to smaller-than-they-look-on-film stars, everything and everyone is fair game. The result is a rare glimpse into the soul of the Hollywood machine.
Heaven Can Wait
“I’m always looking for this shot because it just says ‘backstage.’ Every year during the telecast, I position myself in the wings on stage right. That’s where the majority of presenters enter because it’s attached to the green room, where people who are about to go onstage are held. Stage right is where all the sets and the pianos for the musical numbers are stored. And everybody exits stage right. This photo of Zoe Saldana, who was a presenter for Best Animated Feature Film, was taken in 2015. She’s waiting with stage manager John Esposito.”
“The telecast is Sunday night. I start shooting on Wednesday, and I’m there from eight in the morning to eight at night. Those are long days in comfortable shoes. I want to be there early because I don’t want to miss anything. And I want the people who are working to get the show together to have me in their sight lines, to know I’m there: The security guards. The people who are putting out the flowers. The people who are installing the red carpet and the huge statues of Oscar. Also, over the course of Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, all of the performers come in to rehearse. That’s Jennifer Hudson [below] in 2013, rehearsing “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” from Dreamgirls. She’s not dressed in her gown, but she’s in her heels because she wants to practice walking. The women all bring their heels. Some of them also bring their three gown choices and hold them up and look at the monitor to see which gown plays better on TV. ”
“The red carpet is a war zone in tuxedos. Not only is it wall-to-wall people, but now there’s actually a red stanchion divider that runs along Hollywood Boulevard to keep the stars separate from ticket holders who might not be well known to the public. To get this shot in 2014, I was kneeling down, because even though backstage photographers—there are only five or six of us—are allowed to roam, behind me were 30 other credentialed photographers. If I stood up, they’d be yelling at me by name. They’re already yelling at her. The goal: to get Lupita Nyong’o, who would soon win Best Supporting Actress for 12 Years a Slave, to look at them. This is like open season.”
“There is a bar where winners can come, have a drink, and gather their thoughts before facing the deadline press. Later in the night, as the big prizes are awarded, you get what I call ‘A-list gridlock.’ All of a sudden it’s a traffic jam of big stars. This 2013 photo [top] was taken in that bar, and it’s a real congratulatory moment. Anne Hathaway, who’d just won Best Supporting Actress for Les Misérables, is hugging Meryl Streep, who had just presented Daniel Day-Lewis, who’s to her right, with his Best Actor Oscar for Lincoln. The Oscar on a chair [below] is in that same bar a year later. It belongs to Spike Jonze, who’d just won Best Original Screenplay for Her. Also in 2014, I caught host Ellen DeGeneres [below] trying out a gag in the audience during her first day of rehearsals.”
“I love this 2013 shot in the winners’ lounge. The gowns! The bling! The glass of champagne! Anne Hathaway is on the left, having just won for Les Miz, and Jennifer Lawrence is on the right, clutching her Best Actress statuette for Silver Linings Playbook. For some reason both of the Oscar heads face inward, as if in a maternal embrace. Those statuettes are really heavy: eight-and-a-half pounds. You can see that both actresses are holding on for dear life. Are they comparing notes? It’s nine o’clock, but it ain’t over. They still have parties to go to. And the next morning they’ll get up at 4 a.m. and do the morning shows. So yes, it’s glamorous and fabulous, and yet I have empathy. These are working actors and actresses. I have a lot of respect for them.”
All photographs by Art Streiber