Do Celebrities Get Assigned Seats at the Oscars?

The 91st Academy Awards is almost here. Celeb presenters have been decided, and nominees have gone public. Now that the ball is rolling, moviegoers are anxious to find out who’s going to be walking away with a shiny gold Oscar. While the audience is always full of A-list celebs along with crew members, there are tons of seats to fill at the venue. So much so that the Oscars even have seat-fillers to ensure a packed house for every camera angle. 

A full house isn’t the only thing producers have to worry about for The Academy Awards. They also have to pour quite a bit of energy into perfecting the seating arrangement. How else could they ensure that everything runs smoothly or turn the tables for a dash of drama?

Meet Otto Spoerri

Otto Spoerri for 23 years controlled where people will sit during the Academy Awards. Spoerri has just retired and plans a trip across the Atlantic. | Carlos Chavez/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Who is Otto Spoerri and what does he have to do with The Academy Awards seating arrangement? Spoerri was born in 1933, just five years after The Academy Awards very first show on May 16, 1929. Spoerri pursued accounting in his later years and found himself working in a temporary position for The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Through a string of events, the accountant ended up with a job that made him one of the most powerful people in Hollywood.

What was the position that turned the mere accountant into a revered man? He actually inherited two vital roles for the infamous award show: the ticket distributor and seating arrangement mastermind. Spoerri’s begun his work in 1978, but he didn’t start handling the seating until 1980. The Swiss-born accountant held the position until 2002.

The crucial roles are now handled by the director of the membership department. Despite the shift in leadership, many of Spoerri’s rules have stayed intact until this day. After all, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

What are the seating arrangement rules?

Spoerri did a lot of heavy lifting during his almost a quarter of a century career as The Academy Awards “controller.” Through trial and error, he came up with some traditional rules. At any time The Academy can decide to bend or break these, but for the most part, they stick with Spoerri’s tried and true methodology. 

  • The biggest and baddest stars occupy the first few rows.
  • Those who are thought to be the winners will take aisle seats so they won’t have to climb over other nominees to walk to the stage.
  • To avoid viewers having to watch the winners celebrate while losers sulk, those competing in the same category aren’t sat too close together. 
  • Any ex-friends, ex-lovers, ex-spouses and other problematic individuals are not sat anywhere near one another. (This is a BIG deal)
  • There are a good 700 seats available along the 500-foot walkway that are filled randomly.
  • Only individuals pre-approved by The Academy have access to the bleacher seats.

Publicists are made aware of where their clients will be seated and who will be in their proximity. This way if there is a problem they can contact The Academy to request a seating change. Generally, they are extremely accommodating as they understand putting people at odds next to each other could quickly ruin the night. 

What happens when seating arrangements aren’t perfect?

Oscar statue | ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

Things can go completely nuclear if the seating arrangement isn’t on point. Think about all of the drama that occurs in Tinseltown throughout the year! Some feuds have been going on forever so The Academy knows to avoid those pairings. Others pop up just weeks before show time! It’s imperative that The Academy keeps up with the personal connections between Hollywood’s greatest all year round. Could you imagine what would have happened if silver screen starlets Joan Crawford and Bette Davis were sat side by side back in the day!