TINSELTOWN POLITICS--In Hollywood, nerds have always held a soft spot for ridicule. Tinseltown has a history of movies making fun of geeks, and there’s even an entertaining list of film titles that reveled in nerd glory.
Rarely, though, have they made it to the Oscars. On Sunday, they did – and this revenge of the nerds has possibly put the Academy Awards at the same laughable low spot that was once the unenviable cellar of the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. and its Golden Globes awards.
Those nerds behind the most humiliating flub in the almost nine decades of Oscar history are the geeks from PricewaterhouseCoopers, the London-based accounting multinational that has handled the balloting process at the Academy Awards for years.
They are the geeks who are responsible for the monumental error at the 89th Academy Awards Sunday night when Hollywood legends Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty mistakenly announced the Oscar for best film had been won by fan favorite “La La Land,” instead of low-budget outlier “Moonlight.”
The morning after the Oscars it’s likely most people who watched the show or had attended in person had even viewed the award-winning film “Moonlight,” but they probably had seen news or online video and pictures of the Dolby Theatre onstage uproar -- and possibly of the pair of PricewaterhouseCoopers accountants identified with the goof.
It wasn’t as if PricewaterhouseCoopers geeks had sought to avoid the limelight before the Oscars, and they certainly couldn’t avoid it afterwards.
The fancy bean-counters behind the incredible goof include Brian Cullinan, a PricewaterhouseCoopers partner who possibly has been doing this Oscars job too long. His biography on the PricewaterhouseCoopers website describes him as a Matt Damon lookalike. Seriously? In his dreams, is this Cornell Ivy Leaguer a Jason Borne wannabe as well?
His Oscar show PricewaterhouseCoopers teammate since 2015 has been Martha Ruiz, a tax partner in the company’s entertainment, media and communications practice. For the Oscars she wore a beautiful red gown that outshone some of the bad choices of a few presenters. Tax deductible as well, no doubt.
And make no mistake, Cullinan and Ruiz obviously see themselves as more than mere accountants and more than just book keepers to the stars. Think of it. They attended the annual Oscar nominee luncheon, rubbed shoulders with the world’s biggest movie stars and basked in the glory of Hollywood believing themselves to be more than just privileged tourists.
They were also themselves the stars of a promotional video on the PricewaterhouseCoopers website, and they likely did more interviews leading up to the Oscars than any accountants since those who testified against Capone.
The pair even boasted their own Twitter accounts on which Cullinan Sunday tweeted photos of himself with Oscar winning composer/singer John Legend and his wife, model and actress Chrissy Teigen.
The tweets, however, stopped after the Oscar disaster, and by Monday morning, news reports had made more mention of the names Brian Cullinan and Martha Ruiz than of most Academy Awards winners.
And The London Sun headlined a story: “Is Brian Cullinan the man who caused the most epic blunder in Oscar’s history?” There were also numerous photos showing Cullinan and Ruiz taking heat, including one where the caption read: “Brian was seen getting a stern talking to by Warren Beatty as he was told of the error.”
In the moments after the worldwide telecast that showed the onstage bewilderment over how this could have happened, the flub that could be called the revenge of nerds Cullinan and Ruiz have brought them more attention than they probably ever thought they would get. Gone were the days of anonymity. Here were the days of notoriety.
As the Oscars show was ending, it quickly became apparent that Dunaway and Beatty had been given the wrong red envelope by the team of nerds from PricewaterhouseCoopers whose only real job at that moment had been to hand them the correct name of the winner.
The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that the star struck Cullinan was seen tweeting backstage just minutes before giving the wrong envelope to Best Picture presenter Warren Beatty — and then tried to cover up that he had been posting on the social media site.
Cullinan tweeted “Best Actress Emma Stone backstage! #PWC” along with a photo of the Oscar-winning actress at 9:05 p.m. Pacific time — about three minutes before Beatty and Dunaway walked on stage to present the award for best picture.
"Mr. Cullinan gave Mr. Beatty the envelope that was supposed to contain the name of the best-picture winner, people close to the production said,” the Journal reported. "In reality, however, Mr. Beatty was given a duplicate copy of the envelope containing Ms. Stone’s name as best actress. As a result, Ms. Dunaway mistakenly named 'La La Land,' in which Ms. Stone starred, as best picture.”
Cullinan later deleted the tweet, but the Journal reported having seen copies of it.
Soon PricewaterhouseCoopers issued a heart-felt apology, promising to investigate how this had happened. EnvelopeGate, some were calling it. Maybe Cullinan and Ruiz weren’t really at fault. If so, our apologies. The producers and cast of “Moonlight” are examples of how to graciously handle terrible mistakes.
But how do you roll back the flub? How do you give the correct winners of “Moonlight” the brief minutes to deservingly bask in their well-earned Oscar glory and make their emotional speeches that they were denied giving before a U.S. audience of 32.9 million and tens of millions more worldwide?
You don’t. How do you write that off?
The Oscars now have an accounting nightmare you once could only imagine in the movies.
(Tony Castro, a former political reporter and columnist, is the author of five books, the most recent being “Looking for Hemingway: Spain, The Bullfights and a Final Rite of Passage” (Lyons Press) He is an occasional contributor to CityWatch. Twitter: https://twitter.com/Tony_Castro).