The room where no one says cheese

March 1, 2011

You’ve just won your Oscar, given your acceptance speech to the world and are whisked off stage. The world watching on television goes to a commercial break as you are escorted off to meet the press, first stop “The Photo Room”.

Actress Melissa Leo holds her Oscar for performance by an actress in a supporting role for "The Fighter" backstage at the 83rd Academy Awards in Hollywood, California, February 27, 2011. REUTERS/Mike Blake

You come around a corner and step up onto a 60-foot long low-rise stage. Behind you are three 10-foot golden Oscar statuettes, each surrounded by a bouquet of colorful flowers. In front of you is a grandstand of 60 well-dressed photographers who all want you to hold up your award and look at them, and no one says cheese.

In actuality “The Photo Room” has very little to do with the art of photography on Oscar night. We have all come in days prior and hung strobe lights, tested power packs, synced our data feeds out of our digital cameras, inputed IPTC codes, selected the IP addresses back to our editors and tweaked our lighting from edge to edge. On Oscar night it’s all about the winner looking at you.

Oscar winner for best actress for her role in "Black Swan", Natalie Portman, poses backstage at the 83rd Academy Awards in Hollywood, California, February 27, 2011.    REUTERS/Mike Blake

So the photographers yell: “to your left,” “to your right,” “over here,” “kiss the trophy,” “look up,” “look down” and “it’s me.”

They yell, I yell, “put the Oscars together” and “get closer.” We are all trying to compose a picture as if we are the only photographer in the room and have the undivided attention of the winner and their magical award.

There are three tape marks on the stage and the stars stop to pose at each mark, each time controlling the flow of data in the photographers cameras by the turn of their head or the wave of their arm. The flashes go off faster than banks of strobe lights, they’re bombarded with requests and then it’s all over. They are whisked off to another room where there are no cameras, but a room full of reporters and their questions and we await the next winner.

British actor Colin Firth, best actor winner for his role in "The King's Speech," poses backstage at the 83rd Academy Awards in Hollywood, California, February 27, 2011. REUTERS/Mike Blake

I remember a few years back setting up lights on a Saturday before the awards, actor Robin Williams was just sitting in the room taking a break from doing rehearsals for the show. We chatted a bit about cycling and baseball and then a little about the room. I had photographed him the previous year after he had won an Oscar, he said something I will never forget: This is a scary room.


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The Oscar photo room sounds 10 times more crazy than the ones we have at the Chinese awards shows here in Taiwan! I’ve always wanted to know what it was like behind the scenes! Thanks Mike!

Posted by Nicky1 | Report as abusive

Hi Mike,

I wasn’t sure how to get in touch with you, so I thought I’d post here! I just wanted to know if any of your photos that are on news sites are for sale, and where i can get them from.

Many thanks,

Posted by tifatifs | Report as abusive