The Oscar telecast is the most watched award show of the year, and the 88th Academy Awards on Sunday, February 28, will be no different. But even if you are not one of the 3,400 guests seated inside the Dolby Theatre watching the night unfold, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a celeb-worthy Oscar evening in your own home. Hollywood’s top party planners show how to put together an award-winning Oscar-viewing event that will have your guests feeling like A-list winners.
- “Create your own step-and-repeat banner with a red carpet,” says David E. Merrell of AOO Events, which puts on Alfre Woodard’s annual pre-Oscar party. That way, guests have an official space for taking photos to remember the evening by. Companies like Event Step and Repeat offer one-stop shopping. Or, have a local copy shop print out a self-designed banner and set it on a 3 × 6 red carpet purchased from the Home Depot.
- “Play tunes as guests arrive,” reminds Tony Schubert, of Event Eleven, who is producing this year’s Oscars greenroom, along with the pre-Oscar parties for both Women in Film and Cadillac. “It’s so uncomfortable being the first to arrive and even worse when there’s no music playing in the background. Making a playlist of the songs that were nominated is a great way to carry out the theme of an awards show.”
- Light your driveway or entryway with votive candles to instantly set a dramatic tone as guests arrive, suggests Nick Gentile, planner for Nick Gentile Events who produced Will & Grace co-creator Max Mutchnick’s annual at-home Oscar-viewing party. “Don’t use overhead lights inside,” he cautions. “Low lighting makes everyone look good, so dim the lights and use candles.” Schubert further suggests installing dimmer switches in every room or buying amber-colored, low-watt lightbulbs from places like Light Bulbs Unlimited.
- “Have a festive, themed cocktail to greet guests upon arrival,” says Danielle Pelland of Brilliant Consulting Group. She is putting on two pre-Oscar parties, one for nominated producer Michael Sugar and the other for movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. “It keeps you or your bar staff from worrying about making multiple different cocktails and drinks at the start of the party when flow is heavy. Le Fizz is my favorite—it’s served in a Champagne glass, and it’s light and refreshing.”
35 mL Grey Goose vodka
25 mL St-Germain elderflower liqueur
20 mL freshly squeezed lime juice
75 mL chilled soda
Shake over ice, then strain into a flute. Serve topped with soda.
Food and Drinks
- Party planners are favoring one-bite foods these days for many reasons, including the simplicity factor for both the host and guests. “It’s something you can easily pop into your mouth and [you] don’t need a knife and fork,” says Merrell. Small-bite foods have also come to reflect the modern foodie’s varied tastes. “People don’t want to eat 8 to 12 ounces of one item anymore,” says Cheryl Cecchetto, of Sequoia Productions, currently in her 26th year of producing the post-telecast Governor’s Ball. “They want a little taste of everything and drink an incredible wine or Champagne with it. It enhances socialization and mingling, making for a more celebratory party.”
- Elizabeth Nettles, who plans Oscar’s Global Green USA’s eco-conscious pre-Oscar party, suggests playing with the popular L.A. food trend of deliciously topped toasts. “Wedges of delicious artisanal bread with slices of avocado, dollops of fresh burrata, or pieces of hard-boiled eggs will make your guests happy and keep them healthy,” she says.
- Add a homemade touch by serving freshly baked desserts directly from your oven or making homemade ice cream. “Your guests will know it didn’t come from the frozen section of a grocery store,” says Gentile. “It makes them feel like you went that extra mile to make them feel special.”
- With a 3-hour long telecast, Cecchetto suggests pacing the foods—bringing out a dish every 30 minutes or so. A salad first, then maybe mini chicken potpies followed by short ribs, culminating in chocolate or lemon tarts served during the final Best Picture category.
- “What we’re looking for are different punctuation points,” explains Jeffrey Best, who puts on Madonna and Guy Oseary’s annual post-Oscar bash. “You want periods of light food, periods of heavy food.” Furthermore, think of the movies that are nominated and get creative. A film like The Danish Girl might call for foods served in a particular china, while The Revenant might call for “comfort items like grilled cheese, because the film deals with tough subjects.”
- “Celebrate cinema’s biggest night with classic concessions,” says event planner Bronson van Wyck. “I will have a popcorn bar so guests can doctor up their kernels with rosemary salts, smoked paprika and cayenne, truffle butter, or toasty caramel. Mini Coca-Colas with a shot of bourbon will get us through the marathon night, along with a candy bar so guests can take home a sweet treat.”
- Schubert suggests looking through a cocktail book and choosing two to four specialty drinks, naming each one after a nominated film. “You can even drop in dry ice for a smoky effect,” he says. The planner is also a big fan of the bar cart with a “make-your-own-cocktail station for guests to help themselves.” A bar cart can easily be moved from room to room. However, Schubert cautions that once you have more than 20 guests, you should hire a bartender.
Decor and Seating
- “Roll out the red carpet at home and cover your dining-room table, bar, or sideboard with red velvet,” says van Wyck. “I love to use a smattering of gold on red, including gold vases for red flowers and gold candlesticks with red candles.”
- Pay homage to Oscar’s California setting with ombré colors like magentas and purples for that sunset-over-the-Pacific look, suggests Nettles. Small cactus and succulent plants in clay containers can be clustered in groups or lined up at the center of the table. “They bring a little bit of the California desert to your party, and afterwards they can go home with your guests as party favors or can simply be moved to your windowsill to enjoy all year long.”
- While most living rooms are not set up to entertain more than a handful of guests at one time, “if you have a sectional that can break apart, open it up to create a better seating plan,” says Schubert. “You can add more chairs, ottomans, or oversize pillows that guests can lounge on.”
- Again, get creative. “I’m rooting for The Revenant, and my guests will be cozy in front of the TV on my bear-skin rug, sheepskin pillows, and fur throws,” says van Wyck. “We will bundle up like trappers and cheer on Leonardo DiCaprio like we are in chilly Montana.”
Ballots and Prizes
- Hand out ballots for guests to complete and pick the winners before the big show,” reminds van Wyck. “Don’t forget to poll your audience for the things that really matter—like best dress, favorite speech, and most handsome!”
- Cecchetto suggests Oscar-related prizes like “CDs of the nominated musicians” or a coffee-table book, such as Robert Osborne’s 85 Years of the Oscar. May we suggest Cecchetto’s own coffee-table book, Passion to Create: Your Invitation to Celebrate, featuring glitzy photos, delicious recipes, anecdotes from the job, and tips from the trade.
“At the end of the day,” reminds Best, “if you have the right people in the right room, you can give them peanuts and beer and it will still be a great party.” And remember, he says: “People don’t know what they need unless you haven’t provided it for them.” They do not expect to be cold, unless you forgot heat lamps; they will not get drenched by rain if you have planned a covering for your outdoor area. “You have to give those things as much thought as you give your food and decor, so the food and decor are not compromised by the things you didn’t do.”