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Oscar Academy Keeping PwC Despite Envelope Snafu

Deadline logo Deadline 3/29/2017 Michael Cieply
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The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has decided to retain its longtime accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, with the decision reached during a board of governors meeting last night. That had been the way the wind was blowing despite the historically epic fail at the end of last month’s Oscars, when the content of the wrong envelope was read to announce the marquee Best Picture winner.

Word of the decision went to Academy members in a memorandum from Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the group’s president, on Wednesday morning. “We’ve been unsparing in our assessment that the mistake made by representatives of the firm was unacceptable,” Boone Isaacs wrote. But she went on to say that a thorough review of the entire PwC relationship, including its responsibility for auditing and tax-work at the Academy, had led to the conclusion that the accounting firm should stay in place, though with “new protocols” governing the relationship.

Those protocols, she said, included an agreement that PwC’s United States chairman Tim Ryan would conduct greater oversight of the Academy work; that Rick Rosas, who had been engaged with balloting for 12 years, would return to that role, with help from other staff to be added later; that a third “balloting leader” from the firm will be in the Oscar control room with the show’s director on awards night; and that both partner rehearsals for possible problems and the elimination of electronic devices backstage would be be implemented.

The last measure may be especially important, as the distraction of PwC auditor Brian Cullinan by social media emerged as a factor in the mix-up that left the producers of La La Land momentarily in possession of a Best Picture Oscar that belonged to Moonlight.

PwC immediately took the blame for the unforgettable moment, with the company’s chairman saying the gaffe was “a human error” and apologizing.

The Academy has been investigating the incident and considering possible fixes, a sign it could retain PwC but with some additional safeguards.

From the beginning, AMPAS was also looking hard at an Emma Stone tweet posted by PwC auditor Cullinan just before Faye Dunaway announced the wrong winner onstage. He was later ID’d by PwC as the one who handed the wrong envelope to Best Picture presenter Warren Beatty as he walked onstage.

Cue the chaos after that: After some hesitation during the unveiling, Beatty handed the winner envelope to co-presenter Faye Dunaway who read it and said La La Land was the winner — because she was reading the envelope showing Stone’s Lead Actress win. Stage hands rushed onstage as La La Land producer Jordan Horwitz was giving an acceptance speech, well into the celebration. Eventually, the right envelope was delivered and the real winner was announced: Moonlight.

In her Wednesday note, Boone Isaacs – whose term as president ends this summer – urged members to consider running for the Academy’s governing board and executive committees in elections set for mid-year.

“In April, you’ll receive information about running for a seat on the Academy’s Board of Governors and your Branch Executive Committee,” Boone Isaacs wrote. “Please think about seizing this opportunity to write the Academy’s next great chapter. The more you get involved, the stronger we can be together. Membership has its privileges, but it also has its responsibilities. We need you.”

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