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Hot Seats

Oscar tickets, as we all know, are not for sale.

I decided to try to buy some anyway. A futile exercise, you may say. A waste of time. You’re probably right. I decided to try to buy them anyway. There’s a reason. Last year I was accordioned into the photographers’ stand during arrivals for the Oscars at the Shrine Auditorium. Brenda Blethyn was sweeping by in a yellow gown. Courtney Love was prancing around in a Cleopatra haircut. Many unidentifiable people with identifiably improved body parts were walking in, staring, starstruck. Helicopters buzzed. People shouted, "WHO MADE YOUR DRESS?" Answers were completely inaudible. I made the mistake of wearing 3-inch heels, and after leaning on a chivalrous Brazilian photographer for about an hour, he mentioned that earlier in the day he had taken the picture of an entire family from Spain — mother, father, children — who had come over to attend the Oscars. They were not Academy members, they told him. They had bought their tickets from a ticket broker. Cool, I said. Let’s try it. The back-story is that the Academy, which wields roughly as much power in Los Angeles as the Vatican does in Rome, is near phobic on this issue. "We know who is supposed to be in every single seat in that auditorium," intones Leslie Unger, a spokesperson for the Academy. "A record is kept of each member and each nominee. We know who is supposed to be in those seats." Only Academy members, nominees, presenters and invited guests can enter the, er, Shrine. Two years ago impostors were caught sitting in the seats of a member who had sold his tickets. They were ejected before the show. The member was excommunicated. The Academy has done all it can to quash the black market. Having sued a couple of ticket brokers who admitted that they were scalping in 1992 (not, technically, against the law — the Academy later dropped the suit), last year it made all licensed Los Angeles ticket brokers sign an agreement not to sell Oscar tickets. The tickets themselves come in envelopes that read: "Invited guests are reminded that the Academy Awards pres entation is a private, invitation-only function. Tickets are not transferable." It continues, in case you didn’t get the point: "By accepting tickets to the Awards pres entation, you are agreeing that you will not in turn sell them. Any transferred tickets will be revoked and their bearers deemed trespassers at the ceremony." Wait, there’s more. On the back of the tickets is a long list of things you may not do, including but not limited to: recording the event, taking your seat after 5:30 p.m., using the ticket for promotion, advertising "or other trade purposes" (like writing this article, I suppose) and, notably, "conduct inconsistent herewith or with program requirements." But what the hell. In February I start calling ticket bro kers in the Classified section of the Los Angeles Times . Is it possible to buy tickets to the Oscars? I ask. "Yes and no," says the man at Designer Tickets, warily. He takes my number, promises to call back, but never does. Mostly I strike out. Troy Tickets: "We don’t do that anymore." Elite Tickets: "I just don’t want to touch it." Ticket Time: "I’ll call you by the end of the week. Last year they went for $10,000 apiece." He doesn’t call either. A guy at V.I.P. Tickets warns me to watch out. "It’s kind of a risky thing," he says. "We’re not supposed to sell them, so you might get faked tickets, forged ones, and even if you do get in, you could get kicked out. That’s the reason we no longer do it." He tells me that tickets go for $600 and up, and hangs up. But it doesn’t take long to find somebody greedy enough to try to locate some passes to the sanctum sanctorum. A guy named Rusty at Absolute Tickets gives me his pager number and says he’ll work it outside the office; he has some contacts, it shouldn’t be a problem. Cost: $800 to $2,000 each. At the last place I call I get somebody named Kevin. At first he says he can’t do it. "It just gets to the point where it’s not worth making a few thousand," he explains. "It’s a bad year — the Academy is trying to crack down." In the same breath he adds that two years ago he sold a pair of tickets — 10th-row orchestra, center (they belonged to a nominee who didn’t want to go) — for $30,000. I gulp, quietly. "I remember he split it up on six credit cards," he says. In early March I walk into a couple of hotels and, using my poshest Euro pean accent, ask the concierges about buying Oscar tickets. They all recommend Kevin and give me his number. This time Kevin is more optimistic. "They’ll be between $3,000 and $6,000," he says. I don’t even choke. No problem, I say. Wonnnderful. Still, by March 18 nobody’s called back, and when I call them, they’re still noncommittal. Anyway, the tickets aren’t released until March 20. On March 19 I page Rusty. A guy named Gilbert answers; he says he’s going to try to get tickets. Price: about $1,000 each. Excellent, say I. I leave messages for Kevin. He doesn’t respond. Then suddenly my phone rings at 5:30 that night. It’s Kevin; he’s got 28 tickets. Twenty-eight! He has orchestra seats for $6,000 to $10,000 each, balcony seats for $3,500 to $5,000. And he’s already sold 18, or at least he says he has. Am I interested? I say I have to check with my husband, it’s a bit more than we wanted to spend. No problem, says Kevin, whatever. He takes cash or a bank check; no credit cards, no personal checks. Call anytime. Next day, midmorning, I call Gilbert on his cell phone. He tells me he’s standing two blocks from the Academy, waiting to hear from his contact. I wait some more. Wait, wait, wait. No news until I finally learn that Gilbert’s contact struck out. But, he notes, a "colleague" did succeed in buying four tickets off people as they were leaving the Academy building on Wilshire, after they had picked up their tickets. That’s Gilbert’s Plan B. Meantime, I call Kevin to see if he’d be willing to sell a pair for $3,000; that’s my limit, I say. Kevin checks with a partner, but basically he’s not interested. He’ll sell them elsewhere. Now the least expensive single ticket is $3,500. Saturday I check in with Gilbert. He’s been trolling in front of the Academy. Security has kicked him off the property once, but he’s not giving up so easily. Last I heard from him Sunday, he was lurking on Wilshire Boulevard, trying to scare up some business. Epilogue: I ring Gilbert Tuesday, post-telecast. His pals sold their tickets for $2,500 and $3,500 each. Does that mean the prices have gone up? "Could be," he says. "Try me next year."


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