And The Award For Best Oscar Party Host Goes To…

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For most of the television audience, the opportunity to attend the Oscars in the flesh will, in all likelihood, never become a reality. But that’s not to say that there aren’t ways to jazz up viewing Hollywood’s biggest night. With the 87th Academy Awards set to be televised this Sunday, Feb. 22, having your own red carpet soirée is certainly doable. Maria Nielsen should know. The Huntington resident has been hosting her own Oscar-viewing event complete with awards and themes, for the past decade.

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“We were thinking of what we could donate to the services auction fund­raiser for our church. We thought a party sounded like a good idea. So we started putting our thoughts together as to how we could sort of do it up,” Nielsen recalled. “We tried to coordinate everything from the invitations to the menu to the scenes that we have the people act out. It comes off pretty well.”

Once she knows what 12 to 14 people will be attending, Nielsen sends out invitations with the logo for that year’s Oscars. When guests arrive at 6 p.m. the evening of the broadcast, they walk a red carpet. While many dress in gowns and formal wear to replicate the mood of the actual award ceremony being held on the other side of the country, the host will sometimes have a theme for the event. Or in other instances, guests dress as their favorite movie character be it Paul Newman’s Cool Hand Luke, Margaret Mitchell’s Scarlet O’Hara or Marlon Brando’s Don Corleone.
In the hours leading up to the broadcast, food is served pertaining to a certain film theme (“We served Southern food the year The Help was being nominated for awards,” Nielsen explained), guests are given scenes to act out while being given scores by their fellow attendees and replica ballots are handed out to keep score of the actual award winners. The person with the most correct predictions also stands to win further prizes at the evening’s end, be it tickets to the local independent cinema, a book about the Oscars or anything else film-related. For the evening to be a success, Nielsen preaches preparation.
“Take the time to look at the nominated movies and see what you can do with your theme, whether the movies are based in a particular era or geography and then think how you can work in the menu and the different things you do the night of the party,” she said. “I think people really enjoy doing the ballots. They get very competitive and the competition for the little statuettes is very hot, too. People really want to win that vote.” There’s also the matter of tying the menu to the movies and being creative about it.

The most difficult part of all this, Nielsen found, has been finding scenes that either people know or they won’t have difficulty finding out what the premise of the scene is. It’s also crucial to find scenes to fit both the number and pairings of people along with individual’s degree of shyness. That said, Nielsen admits she’s had her share of surprises once people have gotten ready for their individual close-ups.

“We had one really professional woman one year who had a very foul-mouthed scene and that was very funny. Also people doing the Rhett and Scarlet scenes are very funny,” she recalled. “But I think the highlight was the woman who did the diner scene from When Harry Met Sally and didn’t know what she was in for. When she realized what it was, she just threw herself into it, so that was hilarious. She obviously won the award that year.”
If it sounds like great fun, that’s because it is. Thanks to retailers like Party City and direct marketing company Oriental Trading Company, (which provided many of the props for the photos in this shoot), creating your own DIY Oscar Party is a cinch. And with some preparation and willing group of cinema-loving guests, you too can have your home become Hollywood East by going along with these tips.

You can fill many of your Oscar shindig needs Party City
You can fill many of your Oscar shindig needs Party City

Get the Word Out
You can hit Party City or similar retailers for paper invitations. If you want to save on the postage, Paperless Post is one way to go to find bedazzling award show invitations that even come with virtual envelopes. Evite also has digital invitations with a Hollywood theme.

Dress to the Nines
Knowing that you’d like to take your preparations seriously, the best way to get your guests into the swing of things is to invoke a dress code for your event. And while this could mean having people put on their Sunday best, it can also range from suggesting people hit their local Good Will or Salvation Army to salvage an ensemble or telling them to dig out that wretched bridesmaid dress they swore they’d never wear again. Or, make it a costume affair and inform guests they should either dress like their favorite thespian or in a manner reflective of one of the nominated films.

Walking the Red Carpet
Having guests take the celebrity stroll on the red carpet is also crucial. Your red carpet can be something as simple as a red plastic tablecloth cut into a runner. While you’re out buying supplies, be sure to grab plastic champagne glasses that can be handed to guests as they enter the premises. Act as paparazzi, snapping pictures of guests arriving and shouting questions at them that you can record on your smartphone and share with everyone after the party.

Setting the Mood
Black and gold should be your primary colors. Helium balloons in this shade, along with sizable cardboard gold stars, confetti and Oscar statuette silhouettes plastered to the wall will help guests feel like they’re at L.A.’s Dolby Theatre. Providing bowls of popcorn to munch on while you watch to see who gets those gold statues is also a must.

Serving Up the Cinema
Take the extra time to plot out your menu, ideally tying it in somehow to the movies being touted at that year’s Oscars. This year’s American Sniper could find you serving pita and hummus, Selma might call for soul food and Birdman has all the markings of fried chicken.

Ready for Your Close-Up?
While making sure that your guests have arrived a few hours before the telecast, games can help keep the mood festive and upbeat. Movie trivia is one way to go. Testing your guest’s acting mettle is a way to get the competitive juices flowing. Scenes handed out to your guests shouldn’t be too lengthy and should be familiar. Also give out scorecards so participants can be judged. Plastic replica Oscar statuettes can be awarded for Best Actor and Best Actress along with more offbeat categories like Best Impression, Best Use of a Prop and Worst Impression.

Keeping Score
People love making predictions and no more so than when it comes to the Oscars. Go online, print out a bunch of ballots and give everyone a gold pencil to keep track of their picks. The grand prize for the person with the most correct categories can receive a gift card to Best Buy or any other retailer that sells DVDs.

Parting Gifts
You might not have the budget to give away goodie bags that contain five-figure spa packages or electronics, but putting together gifts that contain movie-size candy bars (Kit Kats, Sno-Caps) or gourmet popcorn work just as well.

Don’t forget the culinary portion of the evening. For more ideas, see Chef Alan Zox’s column on Oscar Night Appetizers. If none of your friends is hosting a fabulous party this year, find local op­tions here. Be sure to bring along our ballot and cast your vote.

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