And the Envelope Please: How Oscar Votes Are Tabulated

How they do it, and keep it a secret -- even from prying actresses.

ByABC News
March 4, 2010, 1:54 PM

March 5, 2010 — -- When Rick Rosas and Brad Oltmanns arrive on the red carpet for Sunday's Oscar show, the lights will flash brightly while the paparazzi swarm, but no one will care about what they are wearing or who they are with -- it's what's in their hands that counts.

That's because Rosas and Oltmanns will be carrying the briefcases that contain the envelopes with the names of the Oscar winners and the possibility to change the course of someone's career.

"It is sort of weird to exit the car with those briefcases and to hear the fans start screaming and yelling and clapping," Oltmanns, a leader of the team and partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, who has counted the Oscar ballots since 2004, said in a video on the PricewaterhouseCoopers Web site.

In the life of an accountant, it is a pretty exciting moment.

"For accountants to be on the red carpet is, for me, sort of the ultimate experience," Rick Rosas, the other balloting leader since 2001 and a tax partner at the firm, said in the same video. "Leading the Oscars balloting team is one of the most rewarding assignments of a lifetime."

Oltmanns told in an e-mail that PricewaterhouseCoopers has been counting the Oscar ballots for the past 76 years and has never had a single security breach.

On February 10, 10 days after the nominations were announced, the final ballots were mailed to the voting members of the Academy. According to Oltmanns, all ballots were due on March 2, and must have been received by the PricewaterhouseCoopers buildings in either London or Los Angeles by 5 p.m. that night.

The ballots were then transferred to a top secret location where Rosas, Oltmanns and four other accountants hand counted each ballot. It takes about three days or 1,700 total man-hours to count all of the 24 categories.

Rosas and Oltmanns will each carry a complete set of envelopes in their respective briefcases and bring them to the ceremony along separate and secret routes. They will meet outside the theater to walk the red carpet decked out in tuxes and holding the all-important black briefcases. If something happens to the envelopes, both leaders also memorize the names of every winner.

After walking the carpet Rosas and Oltmanns will stand backstage handing the envelopes to each presenter just before they go on.

In the same video, Greg Garrison, one of the balloting leaders from 1996 to 2005, discussed the time when Julia Roberts asked him to spill the beans.

"She looked at me and she grabbed my arm and said you know who won, don't you," Garrison recalled. "And I said I absolutely do know who won and she said well you just have to tell me. And I looked at her and I said I really can't tell you, if I did that you would have to act surprised and you shouldn't have to work on a Sunday. So I am not going to tell you. When you walk out there you will be surprised."

The counting will end on Friday, meaning that for two whole days Rosas and Oltmanns have to keep tight-lipped about the winners. While the idea of knowing a secret like the best picture Oscar winner seems hard not to disclose, for the leaders it's simple.

"We just don't tell anyone," Oltmanns wrote in an e-mail. "Not even our wives."

To Oltmanns the most exciting part of the process is just being a piece of this long-standing tradition.

"But the moment when we learn the winners is pretty great too," Oltmanns said.

After Rosas and Oltmanns get their 15 minutes of fame, on Monday morning it's back to the grind.

Oltmanns said that when the team isn't counting ballots they "are regular PricewaterhouseCoopers accountants serving various clients from the Los Angeles office."