Here’s how the Oscars red carpet will change for this year’s controversial TV plan

Josh Rottenberg
Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles — With the Academy Awards just days away, A-listers and nominees throughout Hollywood are already practicing speeches, prepping red carpet sound bites and being fitted for gowns, tuxes and jewels in anticipation of what everyone hopes will be a return to a relatively normal in-person Oscars on Sunday.

But this year, the film academy has thrown a wrench into preparations for the big night: They want everyone to get there early. And in a town that practically invented the concept of “fashionably late,” that’s no small thing.

Workers roll out the red carpet on Hollywood Boulevard in front of the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California, on Feb. 22, 2017, ahead of the 89th Academy Awards ceremony.

Last month, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences sparked controversy when it announced that, in an effort to shave time from the often bloated show, eight below-the-line and short-film awards would be handed out in the hour before the live Oscar telecast begins, with clips from the presentations to be edited later into the broadcast.

This means that, while the cameras won’t start broadcasting live from inside the Dolby Theatre until 5 p.m., the awards will actually be handed out starting at 4 p.m. And with ABC’s red carpet preshow scheduled to run from 3:30 to 5 p.m., that has created a major logistical challenge for all involved.

The decision to deviate from nearly a century of Oscar tradition in pursuit of higher ratings with a tighter and more entertainment-driven show has received widespread criticism from academy members. In an open letter earlier this month, more than 70 Oscar winners, including James Cameron, Kathleen Kennedy and John Williams, said the plan would do “irreparable damage” to the Oscars’ reputation by treating certain less starry nominees as “second-class citizens.”

But the academy has insisted that it wants every nominee to be treated with equal respect — and to that end, they have asked those attending the Oscars to be inside the Dolby at 4 p.m.

“I want everybody to come in at 4 o’clock,” first-time Oscars producer Will Packer told the Los Angeles Times earlier this month. “We’ll have a staggered red carpet — you can do the carpet and still be inside to see every last award given out. I want these [nominees] to be able to give their speeches and have their moment on that stage in front of their peers.”

The L.A. Times reached out to representatives for nominees in the acting, directing and writing categories and, while some have not finalized their schedules, most, if not all, seem fully intent on showing solidarity for the impacted categories — film editing, sound, original score, production design, makeup and hairstyling, live-action short, animated short and documentary short — by arriving an hour early.

Indeed, given the firestorm, no one wants to be called out for not supporting fellow nominees by swanning through the red carpet while awards are being presented.

“Most of our talent are going to want to be in that room by 4,” said one publicist who is working with a number of nominees. “We’re working through it now.”

“I will absolutely be present when the makeup category is being called, and if that means I’m not doing press on the red carpet or ABC or whatever it is, then so be it,” Jessica Chastain, a lead actress nominee for “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” said in a recent interview on the "Next Best Picture" podcast.

To help stars avoid any such potential conflicts, the academy and ABC are opening the red carpet an hour earlier than usual, at 1 p.m., and staggering arrival times. According to insiders, even before the Oscars changes were announced, a staggered red carpet was already being planned, as it was last year, due to COVID-19 protocols.

Where necessary, red carpet interviews will be pretaped in advance — something that has also been done in years past — and then aired while the interviewee is already seated inside the theater.

All of this may create a few extra scheduling headaches for stars and their minders in the days leading up to the show — and it’s safe to say that some attendees may still arrive late. But most involved feel the extra effort is worth it to make sure that that first non-televised hour, which will have its own yet-to-be announced host, feels as special — and as normal — as possible.

“Everybody is on board with this,” said one source involved in preparations. “Nothing is going to stop there being a really robust room.”

L.A. Times staff writers Sonaiya Kelley and Mark Olsen contributed to this report.