The mistaken announcement for best picture at the 2017 Oscar ceremony has already been declared the worst mistake in Oscar history.

There has to be a certain system that is followed ensuring that the correct winners are in the correct envelope for the presenters to read.

What is the process from beginning to end starting with when the winner is printed on the card and ending with the envelope being handed to the presenter(s) backstage? Who actually has the job of handing the envelope containing the winner to the presenter(s)?

  • Hmmmm...Well, I would like to know who is accountable for it, then. Commented Feb 27, 2017 at 19:41

3 Answers 3


There are two envelopes for each category.

Two people, Martha Ruiz and Brian Cullinan, count the votes and know the winners in advance. Each has a full set of envelopes containing cards with the winners' names - just in case something happens to the other set.

Those people - from accountancy firm PwC - stand on either side of the Oscars stage and hand the envelopes to the award presenters just before they step on stage.

This article shares some thoughts on this.

The Academy takes the process of tabulating winners and then keeping their identities a secret very seriously. They entrust it to the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. Since 2005, the same two men have been in charge of handling the final tallies and guarding the winners’ names: Rick Rosas and Brad Oltmanns(Correction: now Martha Ruiz and Brian Cullinan) Also known as the “men with the briefcases on the red carpet,” their responsibilities are quite real and not mere ceremony.

The designated two people in charge then assemble the final count. Winners are written on cards in a secret location and then placed in the sealed Oscars envelopes, which are then put under tight lock and key until the day of the ceremony. As awards presenters enter the stage, they receive the sealed envelopes and legitimately discover the winner’s identity for the first time as they tear open the seal. As such, their surprises are genuine, as are the actual winners they announce.

(correction and emphasis mine)

PricewaterhouseCoopers, the company responsible for the Academy voting, said in a statement:

"We sincerely apologise to Moonlight, La La Land, Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway and Oscar viewers for the error that was made during the award announcement for Best Picture.

"The presenters had mistakenly been given the wrong category envelope and when discovered, was immediately corrected. We are currently investigating how this could have happened, and deeply regret that this occurred.

  • Is there any information on who actually hands the envelope to the presenters? I'm curious if there is a specific person in charge of this. Commented Feb 27, 2017 at 7:31
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    The currently most credible working theory seems to be this, as far as I could gather: The presenters can enter the stage from either the left or the right. So, one of the accountants each is positioned to the left and right of the stage, and they hand the envelope to the presenters. Obviously, this means that whoever did not hand off their envelope, needs to get rid of it somehow. Apparently, this time this did not happen in at least one case, so the envelope for best actress was handed out twice. The presenter for best actress says, she still has her envelope, so it must have been the … Commented Feb 27, 2017 at 9:30
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    … "double" that was mistakenly handed out. I didn't watch the ceremony, but one first quick test for this theory would be to check whether the presenters for best actress and best movie entered from different sides of the stage. Commented Feb 27, 2017 at 9:31
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    @JörgWMittag Interesting! You should put your comments into an answer :) Commented Feb 27, 2017 at 16:26
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    This morning, ABC's Good Morning America showed the offending envelope, which clearly said "Best Actress In a Leading Role" right on it. So when Beatty was handed the envelope, neither he, Dunaway, nor the PWC rep who handed it to him double-checked to be sure it was the right envelope. That seems to me as though it should be a fundamental part of the protocol. How does a premier accounting firm not insist upon such a basic check? Commented Feb 27, 2017 at 21:21

The production crew plays no part in handing out the envelopes. The envelopes containing the winners are handed out to the presenter(s) by two partners of the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

For more than eight decades, PwC has been overseeing the Oscars balloting process, which involves collecting ballots, tallying the votes, and then delivering sealed envelopes bearing the winners’ names.

The process of the handling of the envelopes are as follows:

  • Two balloting leaders are selected by PwC
  • The two balloting leaders are shown the winners in each category so that they can memorize them after the results are tallied.
  • On the night of the ceremony, each leader carries their own briefcase containing the sealed envelopes with the winners into the theater.
  • Once inside, the two ballot leaders station themselves on opposite sides of the stage throughout the ceremony and one of them hands the envelopes to the presenters, depending on which side of the stage the presenters enter from.


Tim Ryan, U.S. chairman and senior partner of PwC told USA Today:

What happened was, our partner on the left side of the stage, Brian Cullinan, he handed the wrong envelope to Warren Beatty.

The best-actress envelope Cullinan wrongly handed to Beatty was a duplicate, according to the Journal. Ruiz was the one who, moments before Cullinan’s error, had correctly handed her copy of the best-actress envelope to Leonardo DiCaprio who presented that award to Stone.

  • 2
    I like how they threw their "partner" under the bus by naming him specifically in the report.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Feb 28, 2017 at 0:31

The accounting firm PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers) is in charge of the the ballot, counting and preparing the envelopes to be handed out later.

As per the official article,

Brian Cullinan and Martha Ruiz are partners at the professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. They are also the only two people who know the list of Oscar winners before the rest of the world


  • 2
    That's a fantastic article.
    – iMerchant
    Commented Feb 27, 2017 at 21:00

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