And The Counters Are ...

"In a world full of vote rigging, two men are about to learn a secret that could change the world ..." The voice-over for the latest Oscar contender? Nope, one better. In the countdown to Sunday's Oscar night, one would think Russell Crowe, Harvey Weinstein or even Steven Spielberg would be the most important men in Hollywood. But that award goes to Greg Garrison and Rick Rosas. The two accountants, of PriceWaterhouseCoopers in Los Angeles, are solely responsible for tallying up the Oscar votes.

From about six months before Oscar night, they oversee the voting process with the help of a few faithful staff. But when it comes this close to ballot deadline, Rosas and Garrison are on their own. At an undisclosed location, they count the ballots, keeping their secret until the presentation itself. Garrison has been doing the job for years, but Rosas, 37, is a first-timer. NEWSWEEK's Malcolm Beith spoke to him on the telephone. Excerpts:

NEWSWEEK: You're the man of the moment.

Rick Rosas: Am I? It's all new to me.

How did you get the job?

I'm a tax accountant. I've been working with the Academy [of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences] for five or six years prior to now. They were a day-in-day-out client. It just grew out of that relationship. This was just an aspect of the job that was not in my corner until this year, when it opened up.

Did you volunteer?

They offered it to me. It's one of those assignments that nobody really asks for. It's like one of those clubs--you just don't ask to join. You sort of wait for them to give you the tap.

Were you honored?

I was surprised, pleased ... as you can imagine.

What exactly is your role?

We oversee the entire balloting process from the beginning to the end. That includes working with the Academy through the nomination process. The ballots, and everything, that's theirs. They determine all of that. And then they hand it off to us. We take custody. We hand [the voting cards] directly to the U.S. Postal Service, who deliver the ballots to the voters. The voters hand them back to the U.S. Postal Service, and they're returned to us. We minimize the layers. We try to make it as close as possible between us and the voters.

Once you start the count, do you lock yourselves in a room until Sunday?

We're up at a remote, undisclosed location. We have a room set aside where we basically lock ourselves in. None of the material leaves that room until Sunday. Everything is about control. One additional security precaution we take, among everything else, is to memorize the winners of all 24 categories, and quiz each other so we have it down pat.

How many people help you two out in the process?

A handful. [But] Greg and I are the only two who know how things turn out.

You've started counting?

First thing [Wednesday] morning.

When will you know the winners?

We should be done Friday.

So it's your little secret until precisely what moment? Showtime.

To whom do you hand over?

To the presenters, as they're about to walk onstage. We're the last [people] they see before they go onstage. We keep it under our control until that last moment.

Are people pestering you for your inside info? Vegas bookies? Jealous colleagues?

No. Not until really late in the week will I even know. Secondly, and more importantly, this is [PriceWaterhouseCoopers' 68th] year of doing it, and we've established a pretty good reputation for being able to keep this very confidential. We're pretty proud of that. [We have] a pretty good reputation for being incorruptible, as it relates to this.

You must be getting butterflies, though.

The counting is actually the most comfortable part of it. We're accountants, we can do our job.

Pretty basic mathematics for you both, really.

Exactly. [But] the nerves are on two fronts. One is the live program, but I'm not there yet. So there, they haven't really set in. I don't doubt they will as we get closer to Sunday. The other part is the trappings that go with it. There's been an unbelievable level of interest. It's so out of the norm for what we do as accountants. It's not part of my usual routine to field interview requests from all over the world. I've been somewhat amazed.

You're now a Hollywood authority if there ever was such a thing. What's your pick for best picture?

I saw a lot of great films this year. I purposefully make it a point of not establishing a favorite.

And The Counters Are ... | News