DATE: Feb. 26th, 2012

The Academy Awards will be handed out today for the 84th time. The scene of the Oscars, the Hollywood and Highland Center has been buzzing all week as thousands of people have prepared for the big show.

Tomi Hinkkanen at the 84th annual Academy Awards in Hollywood

It takes carpenters, electricians, publicists, cameramen, directors, producers, presenters and numerous other people to create the Oscar experience. Early last week the stretch of Hollywood Boulevard between LaBrea and Highland Avenues was closed. The first thing to go up: the media bridge.

The media bridge, from where the network anchors bring you the Oscars.

This is where the star network anchors have been reporting for days leading to the gala tonight. It is an expensive piece of real estate. Networks pay premium for each little booth on the bridge. Reporters and photographers from all over the world have flown in to cover Hollywood’s biggest night.

Moments before the gala begins, last minute preparations are made.

This years’ contenders for the best foreign language movie come from Belgium, Canada, Iran, Israel and Poland.  At the foreign directors’ press conference Friday, four out of five countries vying for the best foreign film were present –Iran was absent. Its’ entry, A Separation, is a story of a middle class Iranian couple headed for a divorce.

Belgian director Michaël Roskam

Belgium’s entry, Bullhead, is a story of a cattle farmer, who is lured into dubious dealings with a shady businessman.

“I wanted to make a movie, which would evoke a sense of redemption instead of judgment in the end,” director Michaël Roskam explains. This is his second feature and there’s more to come – he plans to start writing his next script in the near future. He says that just to be nominated for an Oscar is an honor.

“It’s almost like a title given to a nobleman – an Oscar contender. For the rest of your life you will be known as such.”

Canadian director Philippe Falardeau

Canada’s entry, Monsieur Lazhar, is a story about an Algerian immigrant, who is hired a teacher after the former teacher has committed suicide. But as he assumes his new post, he must also deal with dramatic events unwinding in his own life. Director Philippe Falardeau believes the nomination will also shed light to other indie productions. He comes from the French speaking Quebec. The language drives the French speaking Canadians to create art.

“We are struggling to maintain our language, our identity. This pushes us to write books, make movies, plays and dance performances.”

His advice to young filmmakers is to be authentic.

“Think from the heart. Don’t imitate big Hollywood productions and don’t give any thought to Oscars.”

Israeli actor Shlomo Bar Aba

Israel’s Oscar-nominated film, Footnote, is a family drama about a father and a son with unresolved issues. The star of the film, Shlomo Bar Aba, is a veteran stage actor from Tel Aviv, known mainly for comedies and musical extravaganzas. This is his first movie role in 30 years. The success of Footnote from Cannes to Hollywood came to him as a surprise, but he believes it is due to the personal nature of the story.

“Everything revolves around the family. If we cane resolve our intimate family issues, we can also deal with global problems affecting relations between countries,” Bar Aba says through an interpreter.

“I myself had no chance to come to terms with my own father. My advice is: If your parents are still alive and you have unresolved issues with them, resolve them. If you don’t it’s going to haunt you for the rest of your life,” the actor concludes.

Agnieszka Holland, one of the top directors from Poland

Agnieszka Holland is one of the premier filmmakers of Poland. She is best known for her war time drama, Europa, Europa. Her current Oscar entry is called In Darkness. This film also takes place during WW2. In the Nazi-occupied Warsaw, a sewer worker and a thief helps the local Jews hide from the Nazis utilizing his knowledge of the sewer system.

“I wanted to point out with this story that the line between good and bad is blurry. It is easy for a person to step on each side of the line,” Agnieszka explains.

Since she has lived and worked through the Communist era, I ask her, what is it like to make movies in the post cold warPoland.

“Funny enough, when I look at my Iranian colleagues, I feel that somehow they have it easier. To be under oppression makes movie-making more meaningful. But I enjoy my freedom, even if the movies were less powerful as  a result.”

A German TV reporter is doing her stand-up on the red carpet.

A handful of Los Angeles Finns work in the entertainment industry.

Make-up artist Kristina Duff and CNN anchor Piers Morgan at Hollywood Reporter's pre-Oscar party in Hancock Park

I asked make-up artist Riku Campo, what goes into making a filmstar ready for the Oscars. As it turns out, it is a major operation.

Riku Campo - a Finnish make-up artist of the stars by Jonny Kahleyn

Riku Campo - a Finnish make-up artist of the stars

“A week or two before the show, the star goes to the teeth cleaning at the dentist. Then a week before he or she has a microdermabrasion and a facial deep cleansing. A couple of days before the gala, many of the stars take a spray tan. It takes a day or two to even out the tone”, Riku explains.

On the morning of the awards show, Riku Campo shows up at the star’s dressing room.

“They usually check into a hotel a night before, even if they live inL.A.It’s just easier to do all the preparations in a hotel than at home. As I arrive around 10.30 am, the room is already buzzing of people. There’s the star’s publicist, agent, manager, pedicurist, hairstylist, fashion stylist and sometimes family members – about ten people altogether.”

Campo has been given a picture of the star’s gown earlier, so that he can plan for an appropriate make-up.

“Pedicure and manicure are done first. At the same time, the hair stylist works on the actor’s hair. Once the hair has been blow-dried and rolled up, I create the make-up foundation and after that the whole make-up. After that the hair is opened up and finishes, the star is dressed and body make-up applied.”

The whole process costs thousands of dollars, but is worth every penny, as the limousine door opens and the star steps onto the red carpet. The TV lights are so bright and the high definition cameras so brutally sharp that without a perfect make-up the star would look horrible. Riku Campo’s books, containing make-up tips is called Best in Beauty and is available on Amazon.

Costume designer Susanna Puisto by Jonny Kahleyn

Costume designer Susanna Puisto

Costume designer Susanna Puisto has created outfits for the A-listers Faye Dunaway, Michael Douglas and Leonardo DiCaprio among others. She is currently working on the procedural show Body of Proof, starring Dana Delaney.

“The Academy Awards are the most elegant of all the awards ceremonies. The gown has to look at the same time classy and stunning. There’s the body contouring mermaid gown and the princess look, with a wider skirt,” Susanna characterizes.


Gigantic Oscar statuettes welcome the audience at the Hollywood and Highland center.Since the Oscars end the long awards season, most of the stars have already been to at least half a dozen galas. Each require a different gown. While the star is not reimbursed for her time it takes her to pick and choose and fit all the outfits, the clothes are given to her free by the fashion designers wanting exposure for their creations. Susanna anticipates a colorful Oscar gala.A Los Angeles sculptor George Stanley designed the Oscar statue back in 1929. It has endured and remains the symbol of the Academy Awards even today.

“I believe we will see a lot of color. The trend colors for this spring are cobalt blue, orange, yellow, green, even neon colors. This reminds me of the 80’s. Peplums are is fashion. They are like double-decked skirts that can be worn over slacks or as a blouse.”

The last minute preparations in dressing a star include attaching the gown carefully with tape to avoid any wardrobe malfunctions.

“If the designer fails, the critique the next day is murderous.”

She will ring in the Oscars at home with friends, sipping champagne and eating little nibbles, paying special attention to the red carpet arrivals.

“There’s always surprises – and hopefully some catastrophes!”

Producer Joni Labaqui at the Golden Age Theater gives Oscar themed walking tours in Hollywood.

At the eve of the Oscars, I took a walking tour of the Oscars past and present, given by producer Joni Labaquin of the Golden Age Theater.

We visited the Roosevelt Hotel, the site of the very first Academy Awards ceremony in May of 1929.

“Douglas Fairbanks hosted. The dinner tickets cost five dollars. There were only 15 Oscar categories, whereas there are 24 today. Two best picture Oscars were given – one for a drama and another for a comedy. That first years’ winners included Clara Bow and Charlie Chaplin. The best drama picture was the Wings. It was the only silent film to ever win a best picture Oscar,” Labaquin says.

Finnish actress Anna Easteden, appearing at the Golden Age theater, took the walking tour before her performance.

If the modern silent film the Artist wins this year, that bit of history has to be rewritten. The tour then takes us to this year’s Oscar preparations. Peaking from the second floor balcony of theHollywoodandHighlandCenter, we are greeted by a peculiar sight: On the ground level there are people walking on the red carpet , carrying signs on their neck saying Jonah Hill, Natalie Portman, Cameron Diaz, Meryl Streep, Brad Pitt ja Angelina Jolie. However, “Angelina Jolie” is a man and “Brad Pitt” an African-American woman. “Meryl Streep” looks surprisingly youthful, about 25, wearing jeans and a sleeveless hirt.

Stand-ins for the stars rehearsed on the red carpet saturday.

“Those are stars’ stand-ins. They rehearse the actual stars’ every move in sequence on the red carpet for the director and the cameramen,” Joni Joni Labaquin tells.

Nothing is left to chance at the Oscars. Enjoy the gala!

Tomi Hinkkanen at the 84th annual Academy Awards in Hollywood

For the complete listing of all the nominees, events and winners, go to www.oscars.org