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Last Updated: Friday, 3 March 2006, 11:02 GMT
The men who are counting on Oscar
By Jackie Finlay
BBC News entertainment website editor in Los Angeles

Brad Oltmanns and Rick Rosas
Oltmanns (l) and Rosas (r) have security guards on Oscar night
Who will win on Oscar night? Only two men in the world know for sure - and they're not telling.

Two hours before the Academy Awards begin at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles, only two people in the world know the identity of the winners.

They are Brad Oltmanns and Rick Rosas, the unassuming accountants carrying the briefcases that contain those iconic golden envelopes.

The pair not only count the final votes: they also stand at the edge of the stage, handing out each envelope to the award presenters.

They work with a team of four in Los Angeles and another smaller team in London, which collates the votes from Academy members in Europe.

"We both feel a lot of pride because of the legacy," says Mr Oltmanns, a managing partner at the LA branch of international firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.

"You have responsibility for taking part in a process that is seen live by millions of people, and something that has real impact on the people who are nominated.

Secret location

"We have a lot of fun and we are supported by a great team. And also there's the element of taking part in a production where you are up close and personal with celebrities - not something we do in our usual life."

This year's count is being carried out by handpicked staff with a talent for accuracy and discretion.

Oscar ballot paper
The ballot papers are counted by hand, not by computer
With four counters working furiously at a secret location in Hollywood, they expect to have the final count complete by 1700 local time on Friday (0100 GMT Saturday).

But even that crack team do not get to see the final tally.

Mr Oltmanns and Mr Rosas count the final vote, stuff the envelopes and memorise the winning names themselves on Saturday morning.

They will go off to that afternoon's full show rehearsal knowing who has won and keep the knowledge to themselves for more than 24 hours until the ceremony begins.

When asked if they have ever been tempted to leak the result, or even tip the wink in the direction of a particular star in that excitement-fuelled green room, they shake their heads vigorously.

Friends and family know not to pester them, and they have surprisingly few inquiries from elsewhere.

Precaution

All day on awards day they are protected by security guards. Each of them takes one set of envelopes to the ceremony and down the red carpet, both taking different routes "in case of delays".

Oscars carpet
The red carpet has been laid outside the Kodak Theatre
Memorising the winners is an extra precaution in case the envelopes are destroyed, lost or stolen - and so far they have never forgotten a name.

"Rick is a strong taskmaster," says Mr Oltmanns. "My memory probably isn't quite as fresh as his, so he makes sure he tests me about 20 or 30 times."

"It's pretty much the sort of thing we do all the time," adds Mr Rosas, also a partner in the LA branch of the firm. "But usually the stuff we have to remember isn't very interesting."

PricewaterhouseCoopers have been counting Oscar votes for 72 years, and Mr Rosas has personally led the ballot-counting team for five of them.

"It's something you never dream you would do," he admits. "It's one of those things that just finds you.

"It's the ultimate Walter Mitty experience for an accountant. Walking the red carpet at the Academy Awards - it's pretty unique, isn't it?"


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