Inside the Oscars: a Seat-Filler’s Perspective
Just who are those unrecognizable Oscar audience members sandwiched between the stars this Sunday? Technical category nominees, for starters. Also, the close friends and family members of the celebrities, and seat fillers—the unsung heroes of each Academy Awards, whose job it is to make sure that not a single Dolby Theatre seat is left open when actors and actresses excuse themselves from the three-hour awards show for the bar or loo. (The responsibility is even more nerve-wracking considering that all of the literal seat-jumping and aisle-sprinting is completed in formal wear.) To get a better understanding of the behind-the-scenes responsibilities of these glammed-up Oscar gophers, we tracked down a seat-filler from last year’s Seth MacFarlane-hosted ceremony. She agreed to tell us all about the application process, job peculiarities, and celebrity elbow-rubbing potential in exchange for anonymity.
The application process: Our mole tells us that prospective seat-fillers must submit a passport and basic job-application information, in addition to photos of the evening wear they’ve purchased or selected, in the chance they are chosen. She estimates that 300 seat-fillers were hired for the evening, most of whom knew someone “connected to the Oscars . . . family friends of staffers, industry insiders, etc.”
Dress code: Basically, “You have to look like you’re a guest at the Oscars.” Men have been known to buy new suits. Women buy dresses for the occasion and have their hair and makeup professionally applied, as if they were invited to the show as official guests. “The difference,” our mole tells us, between the actual guests and the seat-fillers, however, is easy to spot at the end of the evening. Since seat-fillers have to start at around nine A.M. “they don’t look as top-notch as they originally did” by midnight.
Strict rules: “We weren't allowed to talk to anyone other than other seat-fillers,” our source recalls. Which means that even if you are seated next to Jennifer Lawrence, who you know, deep down, was put on this planet to be your best friend, you cannot even squeak hi to her. You’re not a short-term substitute date for guests—you’re more of a mannequin meant to make it seem as though audience members haven’t ditched the show for the bar. Speaking of which . . .
Alcohol consumption: “Drinking was strictly off-limits, though I snuck some champagne!” our mole tells us. And although seat-fillers are strongly discouraged from venturing off to the bar area, our bold seat-filler says, “I tried to sneak around a bit. Amy Adams was [at the bar], and [so was] Steven Spielberg. I tried not to gawk, but it was hard. They’re so shiny and pretty.”
Seating assignments: Most seat-fillers line up during the ceremony, waiting patiently for their turn to run for their lives during commercial breaks for a free seat. Others, however, are situated in the same seat throughout the entirety of the show. The reason? Because of camera equipment staged throughout the theater, there are some seats with obstructed views—seats that an actual nominee or legitimate guest would never want. Seat-fillers are placed here to sit, somewhat blindly, throughout the whole show.
Pulling rank: While there are a lot of first-timers each year, there are also veteran seat-fillers who feel as though their experience entitles them to verbally abuse newbies. Recalling the strangest thing that happened during her seat-filling duty, our source recalls, “These two ‘professional’ seat-fillers who have done this for the past 15 years yelled at me for stealing an appetizer before the show started!”
On-camera instruction: What is a seat-filler to do in the off chance that the camera pans to their section during the show? Our mole reveals that seat-fillers are expected to be “very stoic, like a model,” as to not rouse any at-home viewers’ suspicions that they do not know the person they are sitting beside.
Compensation: The experience, which, from nine A.M. to midnight, encompassed a full 14 hours, was considered volunteer work. Which means that seat-fillers are paid in Oscar access and once-in-a-lifetime proximity to stars, rather than money.