The Most Glamorous Job in Accounting
It's called the most glamorous job in accounting. For one brief period each year, the accountants assigned to the job are sought-after celebrities, sometimes fielding hundreds of requests for interviews. Some of these lucky accountants have even had the opportunity to appear on television in front of a billion people.

Yes. That's right. It's not a typo. A billion people.

You see, somebody has to count the award ballots for the Academy Awards, the annual award show presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Some lucky accountant has to be backstage to hand out envelopes to dozens of high-profile stars at the gala event of the year. And let's not forget the television cameras. Sometime before or during the broadcast, there's a pretty good chance that a roving camera will put an accountant on television in front of an audience of a billion people.

And for the past 73 years these accountants have all been from one company. Well, two companies if you count the fact that there was a merger a few years ago. The company responsible for counting the ballots for the Oscars is PricewaterhouseCoopers (formerly Price Waterhouse, before its merger with Coopers & Lybrand).

A Long Association

The first Academy Awards ceremony was held in 1929 to honor film achievement in the 1927/1928 season. For the first six years, the Board of Governors for the fledgling film organization tabulated the votes. In 1935, the organization commissioned the accountants of Price Waterhouse to conduct the balloting to ensure the integrity of the voting process. The famous envelope system, with the envelopes sealed with red wax, was implemented in 1941 to preserve the secrecy of the awards.

The year 2007 marks the 79th Academy Awards. It also marks the 66th year in which Price Waterhouse or its descendant organization, PricewaterhouseCoopers, has been responsible for the balloting.

During this time, only ten accountants have overseen the counting of the ballots. This year (2000), Greg Garrison and Lisa Pierozzi will be responsible for supervising the balloting process.

Counting the Ballots

Before you can collect ballots, you have to have voters. Who's allowed to vote for the awards?

The answer is that only the 6000 or so qualified members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are allowed to vote. Membership in the
organization is by invitation only. The voting membership includes only those professionals who have a role in the making of films, i.e. - individuals on the periphery of the industry such as lawyers and accountants are not eligible. The organization includes directors, cinematographers and other film professionals in addition to the actors with which most people are familiar.

The ballots for nominations are mailed to qualified voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences several months before the show. The votes are tabulated and the nominations are announced about six weeks before the show.

The final ballots are sent out at least a month before the award show is to be held so that the voters will have time to complete the ballots and return them. This year, the process went awry when the ballots for the California residents of the academy were misdirected and lost by the US
Postal Service. A second set of ballots was quickly sent out (with yellow return envelopes to distinguish them from the white return envelopes of the original ballots).

The returned ballots are received directly by PricewaterhouseCoopers. Behind locked doors, at an undisclosed location, a team led by Greg Garrison and Lisa Pierozzi manually tabulates the results. Each night, work products are locked in a safe to ensure that there are no security leaks. Partners Greg Garrison and Lisa Pierozzi will be ultimately responsible for checking the results and sealing them in envelopes (actually, two sets of duplicate envelopes).

The two accountants are also required to memorize the results in case something happens to the award envelopes before or during the awards show. Finally, Greg Garrison and Lisa Pierozzi will travel to the Academy Awards…in separate cars following two entirely different routes.

At the show, they will be back-stage to hand out envelopes just before the presenters go out on stage to give out the awards.

The Stakes Are High

The balloting process for the Academy Awards may seem complex, but the stakes are high on Oscar night. A report from Booz Allen & Hamilton indicates that the value of the Best Picture Award exceeds 100 million in "incremental box office." The exposure a film gets on Oscar night can turn box office losers into hits, or turn hit movies into box office monsters. The impact on the careers of actors, directors and screenwriters can be equally substantial.

But remember, behind the scenes of the Academy Awards, there are the accountants who make it all possible by ensuring the integrity and secrecy of the balloting process.

The accountants with the most glamorous job in the industry.


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David Keener By dkeener on Sunday, June 20, 2010 at 12:41 AM EST

This was originally published on CareerBank.com.


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