At 10am on the red carpet on the morning before the Oscars, the camera crews were out in force. Several hundred fans lucky enough to get sideline seats amused themselves by whooping loudly at the behest of the presenters milling around on the carpet as they shot pre-arrivals footage. The atmosphere was heady. There were also wheelbarrows and ladders as workmen put the final touches to the carpet and its setting, which included a number of giant Oscar statues and almost as many security guards.
Men in jeans and baseball caps carried pots of flowers and put the last hedges in place to border the famous carpet, which just a few days earlier had lain rolled up under plastic sheets. Underneath lay the star-spangled Walk of Fame on Hollywood Boulevard, which had been transformed into the glamorous approach to the Kodak Theatre, where the Academy Awards take place each year. Not so obvious to those watching from around the world was the fact that the theatre is situated in an otherwise bland shopping mall known as the Hollywood and Highland Complex.
Still, on Sunday the atmosphere was jubilant for those who could get beyond the barriers and rows of police cars parked in a nearby sports field, standing by to protect one of the largest turnouts of Hollywood stars of the year. George Clooney came with Elisabetta Canalis, Quentin Tarantino posed gamely with Diane Kruger, and the Best Supporting Actress winner-to-be Mo'Nique arrived with Sidney Hicks. Peter Sarsgaard came with Maggie Gyllenhaal and Nicole Richie with Joel Madden. The Best Actor nominee Matt Damon was accompanied by his wife Luciana. Christopher Plummer posed with Helen Mirren. The Up in the Air director Jason Reiteman arrived with Michele Lee.
After the arrivals, reporters fled through the maze-like floors of the shopping complex and into the Hollywood Ballroom of the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel, where later the winners would come through to meet the press backstage. Journalists had to pass through three metal detectors before gaining access to the ballroom and the waiting cheese and crudités. Once there, they sat elbow-to-elbow bashing out their stories. Backstage, the wait was even longer than it took for the show to begin out front.
Then winners began to filter through. Ryan Bingham who, with T Bone Burnett, won the Best Original Song award for The Weary Kind from Crazy Heart, stood on the little backstage platform adorned with mini-Oscars and took questions on the differences between writing a song for film and a "regular" song. "It is a little different because you already had a story," he explained. "I had never done it before, but reading the script and describing what goes on with the story and describing the characters - kind of just thinking who they were and where they were going-"
Geoffrey Fletcher's win for Best-Adapted Screenplay for Precious was greeted with enthusiasm by reporters welcoming one of the night's few surprises. "I don't know what to say. This is for everyone who works on a dream every day," said Fletcher. Sandy Powell, the winner of Achievement in Costume Design for The Young Victoria, proved as underwhelmed backstage as she had been out front ("I've already got two of these," began her acceptance speech). When was asked what it felt like to be the first British winner of the night, she told reporters: "Of course, I'm thrilled to be a winner at all, but a British winner, yes, I'm happy for the Brits. But you know what? Normally, they don't mention the costume design. They just mention the actors- so let's see what will get reported."
Mo'Nique, speaking about her Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, addressed the first reporter as "hey, sugar". Asked if her win might encourage her now to describe herself as an actress rather than a stand-up comedian, she said: "I'm a stand-up comedian who won an Oscar- Oh, baby. I did it. Me." Michael Giacchino, honoured in the Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Song) category for Up, joked: "Up for auction. One Oscar. Do I hear $500? Just kidding. Go ahead."
There was little room for banter. But Kathryn Bigelow's becoming the first woman to win a directing Oscar for The Hurt Locker, which also took home Best Picture, and the most prizes of the night, put smiles on faces. Asked if she would now be willing to refer to herself as a female director, something that she has been avoiding throughout the awards season, she said: "Well first of all, I hope I'm the first of many. I'd just love to think of myself as a filmmaker and I long for the day when a modifier can be a moot point. But I'm grateful if I can inspire some young, intrepid tenacious male or female filmmaker and have them feel that the impossible is possible, and never give up on your dream."