2021 Oscars Highlight a Big Loss of the Pandemic: The Shared Audience Experience

During Sunday’s Oscars telecast, Sony Pictures Classics co-chief Tom Bernard and I were commiserating by text about how strange it was to be watching the show from our respective homes on the East and West coasts. He reminisced about the first time he went to the Academy Awards as his wife’s guest in 1985 when she was nominated for editing “Amadeus” and how he and longtime SPC partner Michael Barker attended every year thereafter whenever one of their indie movies was nominated (which is a lot — SPC films have been up for 155 Oscars and won 39).

Bernard also texted me a photo that he had shot of me taking a shot of him on the red carpet the last time we were at the Dolby Theatre, on Feb. 9, 2020.

Not being there in person this year made me very nostalgic as it’s such a different experience sitting in your sweats, sharing carrots with your puppy and watching the show on television. As relaxing as that is, I missed planning weeks in advance what vintage jewelry and outfit I was going to wear to Hollywood’s most glamorous night of the year — even knowing nobody would give a damn since all eyes and cameras are focused on the parade of bejeweled, decked-out stars. I may as well just go in my sweats.

But I’ve got to say that there’s nothing like the shared experience of sitting with a live audience as the show unfolds — especially when something goes off the rails!

Top among those memorable, unexpected moments was what went down at the 2017 ceremony. When presenter Warren Beatty was handed the wrong envelope announcing best picture, we all noticed his awkward pregnant pause before passing the honors off to Faye Dunaway to reveal the winner. As we all can recall, “La La Land” was mistakenly named best picture only to find out during the acceptance speeches that in fact “Moonlight” was the actual victor.

Our publisher Michelle Sobrino-Stearns and I, seated next to each other, gasped out loud and engaged in a chorus of WTFs as everyone tried to process the shock of what had just happened. Of course, home audiences had reacted similarly, but there was something about being in that room that fateful evening knowing we were firsthand witnesses to what would go down as the biggest gaffe in Oscar history that made it such a singular experience.

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