If you’re not a huge Hollywood power-player, it’s almost impossible to watch the Academy Awards live and in-person. And yet, as you’re watching from home on TV, it’s fun to remember that not everyone in those seats is a celebrity. There are, in fact, a few ways for a non-celebrities to attend the Oscars. And sometimes, if they get very lucky, they even end up sitting in the front row.
Public tickets to the Oscars don’t really exist, but there are free tickets available to people who want to sit in the bleachers and watch the procession of red carpet action. These tickets are available in a lottery that the Academy calls a “Fan Experience.” The tickets don’t actually get you into the ceremony itself, but if you’re into figuring out who has the best outfit and have a pair of opera-glasses (or binoculars), this is the cheapest and safest bet for getting some in-the-flesh Oscar action.
There are other Academy-sponsored ceremonies you can attend, too. If you wanted to go the awards ceremony for Documentaries on February 22nd — four days before the main Oscars — you could line up for standby tickets. Technically, if you went to these smaller awards shows, you could tell your friends that you went to the Academy Awards, and you wouldn’t be lying.
But, hands-down, the most interesting way a non-celebrity can hit up the Academy Awards is by being a seat-filler. Oh, what’s a seat-filler? It’s a person who makes sure there is a body next to a famous person when that famous person has to head to the stage to present something.
“It’s sort of luck of the draw. You can’t predict who will win the Oscar in each category, therefore you never know who will forgo their seat. The person sending in fillers needed a person to sit in the front, and I was standing right there. Penelope Cruz’s dress was spilling all over my feet. I remember thinking, ‘good god I hope Penelope doesn’t think I smell bad.’ I’d been hoofing it in heels for the last 12 hours.”
“They had all the fillers meet at the hotel near the theatre, where they fed us some fancy food, and told us to keep our filthy plebe hands off the celebrities,” a friend named Brittany Hilgers, who attended the show in 2007, told me. Hilgers is a television writer whose credits include the USA drama Psych and the TV version of Rush Hour. As a seat-filler, Hilgers was put in the front row of the Oscars, right next to Penelope Cruz.
Unlike those in the bleacher seats, Hilgers also got to walk the red carpet, instead of just look at it. “Anyone who could answer some trivia questions would get to walk the red carpet before the show — be a ‘carpet filler.’ The first question was ‘what married couple have both won Oscars?’ I shot my hand in the air right away: CATHERINE ZETA JONES AND MICHAEL DOUGLAS!!!” Hilgers explains. “The carpet was cool, and cold — it’s fucking February.”
Among the highlights of the experience, Hilgers mentioned that “hanging out with Meryl Streep” was probably a standout moment. And to be clear, her experience as a seat-filler was somewhat unique.
“Not all the fillers get a seat for most of the night,” she said, “but I did.”
The 89th Annual Academy Awards will air on Sunday, February 26. For those who aren’t in the bleachers outside or filling in seats, it will air at 8:30 pm EST on ABC.