In the lead-up to the 2017 Oscars, Brian Cullinan had been bragging about his company’s relationship with the academy. The veteran PricewaterhouseCooper accountant is being pointed to as the person responsible for the infamous Best Picture gaffe. While presenting the Oscar for Best Picture, Faye Dunaway inadvertently said the winner was La La Land. In reality, the winner was Moonlight.
Almost immediately, the producers of La La Land were forced to hand over their award. Warren Beatty, who was presenting with Faye Dunaway, sought to distance himself from the controversy. He said that the envelope was the Best Actress envelope. TMZ reports that it was Brian Cullinan’s responsibility to ensure presenters have the correct envelope.
On March 1, the president of the Academy, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, told the Hollywood Reporter that Cullinan will not work at the Oscars again.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Cullinan Tweeted a Photo of Emma Stone Just Prior to the Best Picture Award Being Handed Out
TMZ reports that Cullinan posted a photo of Emma Stone to his Twitter account just before the Best Picture debacle took place. The gossip site’s report reads, “We know this. Brian was tweeting like crazy during the ceremony, posting photos … so he may have been distracted. Brian has since deleted the tweets.”
It adds that after Stone walked off stage following her Best Actress win, Cullinan was supposed to be ensuring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway had the correct envelope. An earlier TMZ report had said that PricewaterhouseCooper has issued an apology to all involved.
Variety later published photos of Cullinan backstage prior to the debacle. They show him with two envelopes in his hand when he should have only had one. The article notes that Pricewaterhousecooper’s official explanation had been that Cullinan took an envelope from “the wrong pile.”
2. Only Cullinan & Martha Ruiz Knew the Winners of the 2017 Oscars Before the Show
A feature in Forbes that was published on the day of the 2017 Academy Awards detailed the process that Cullinan and his accounting partner Martha Ruiz went through. The article is titled, “Only Two People Already Know Who Won The Oscars.”
The voting for the Academy members closes on February 21. Over the next few days, the votes are tallied and collected on the Friday before the show. Two briefcases with the results are held in secret locations until the night of the show. Cullinan previously described the location saying:
It’s a room with no windows, with high-security locks and all kinds of stuff. And there’s a room within that room, and within that we have a safe, and within that we have another safe. There’s a ton of redundancy and security built in.
Ironically, the article includes the line, “What if there’s a goof à la Steve Harvey at the 2015 Miss Universe pageant?” The response is, “That’s exactly why Ruiz and Cullinan are in attendance: to ensure that the announcements go smoothly. If there’s a mistake made, it’s up to Ruiz and Cullinan to notify the stage managers and the producers.” Though Martha Ruiz told the magazine it was “unlikely” that such an event would occur.
In a separate interview with the Huffington Post, Cullinan said about the possibility of mistake:
We would make sure that the correct person was known very quickly. Whether that entails stopping the show, us walking onstage, us signaling to the stage manager — that’s really a game-time decision, if something like that were to happen. Again, it’s so unlikely.
3. Cullinan Said in 2014 That the Oscars Was ‘As Much Fun As You Can Have As an Accountant’
Cullinan’s first year doing the Oscar counting was in 2014. He told Time Magazine in a feature about the job, “Especially for those who aren’t in the business world, [the Oscars are] what [PricewaterhouseCooper’s] known for. To be asked to do it is probably, as an accountant, as much fun as you can have.”
According to his LinkedIn page, Cullinan is a graduate of Cornell University, where he majored in psychology, and of Northwestern, where he switched over to accounting.
A feature in the Cornell alumni magazine mentions that Cullinan took on the job at the Oscars after the retirement of his predecessor.
4. He Became Something of a Viral Hit in 2016 When the Similarities Between Cullinan & Matt Damon Were Pointed Out
During the 2016 Academy Awards broadcast, ABC’s red carpet coverage focused on Cullinan’s likeness to Matt Damon. Cullinan mentioned to Michael Strahan that it wasn’t the first time someone had made the comparison.
While Cullinan was also active on Twitter that night too:
While in 2014, Cullinan’s photo was featured in the Los Angeles Times after Cate Blanchett jokingly tried to grab the bag of envelopes from him. He says of that incident, “She was yanking the bag and I was kidding around, holding it with two hands. What was interesting is that I knew that in the bag was the envelope saying that she had won Best Actress.”
5. PricewaterhouseCooper’s Contract With the Academy Doesn’t ‘Come Up for Tender’
In an interview in the lead up to the 2017 awards, Cullinan had said that the Oscars contract doesn’t come up for tender.
PricewaterhouseCooper has tallied the Oscar votes since 1941. Forbes reports that over the years the agency has “counted more than 450,000 ballots.”
Cullinan told Cornell’s alumni magazine about the process saying, “It’s funny how many people say, ‘Come on, just give me a wink and a nod’—but obviously, if we ever disclosed anything we wouldn’t be doing this anymore.”
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