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Behind the Scenes at the Oscars

Grant Heslov, Ben Affleck, and George Clooney, winners of the Best Picture award for 'Argo,' pose in the press room during the Oscars.
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Grant Heslov, Ben Affleck, and George Clooney, winners of the Best Picture award for 'Argo,' pose in the press room during the Oscars.

I was lucky to attend the Oscars on Sunday night. I'd reported from the press room before, but for the first time I got to walk the red carpet and watch from the Dolby Theater.

After literally decades of watching from home, there were a number of details that surprised me about the in-person experience. Here are a few.

Stars and moguls get hungry, too

As soon as you make it down the red carpet, you're inside the downstairs lobby of the Dolby Theater, where everyone goes to get champagne and cocktails at the crowded bars. Wolfgang Puck canapes were passed around, delicate crudites, savory macarons, gazpacho shots and the like.

(Read More: 'Argo' Storms to Oscar Victory on Night of Surprises.)

The real surprise was the granola bar and trail mix situation. At the bars at each of the levels there were little baggies of very gourmet trail mix, both savory and sweet, plus mini chocolate chip cookies. Bartenders offered chocolate kisses along with cocktails to help maintain blood sugar levels.

Later in the show, bags of popcorn were passed out in the theater, along with gluten-free Kind bars (great product placement). I haven't been offered so much trail mix and granola bars since I was on a high school camping trip. But now that I know that the Oscar process starts at 2 or 3 p.m., and the Governors Ball doesn't start until after 9 p.m., no wonder people get ravenous.

This is an EXPENSIVE production

During the commercial breaks, the audience gets an inside look at the production—guys with iPads walk on to the stage as giant set pieces are rolled out or pop up from the floor. Hundreds of people are involved, from the guy walking with a tiny flash light to get Jane Fonda in place in the dark, to the folks directing the seat fillers to make sure every seat is filled.

It's the little details that are striking, like the beautiful white rose and orchid flower arrangements. Every inch of the Hollywood & Highland shopping center was wrapped in red cloth, so the stores aren't visible on the walk to the theater and then to the Governors Ball.

(Read More: Oscars Gold Spread Across Studios, as ABC Gets Musical)

While seat fillers aren't paid, they're part of the whole elaborate production. They stand in line in the downstairs lobby, waiting to be shuttled into place so the auditorium always looks full. There are very strict rules to make sure that people don't disrupt the theater: You can only walk in or out during the commercial breaks. If you miss the cutoff, you're stuck watching the next block of the show from the lobby, with little or no sound.

Everyone's on their best behavior

After losing Best Supporting Actor, Tommy Lee Jones retired to a bar in the lobby, nursing a glass of white wine. He was clearly looking for a moment of solitude away from the cameras. But even there he was approached by fans, telling him he was robbed. He was gracious, smiling and shaking hands, despite the fact that he clearly wanted a breather.

Reese Witherspoon and Jessica Chastain smiled for four hours straight. The media moguls were out in force—Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman, Disney CEO Bob Iger, News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch, Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes were shaking hands and hoping that some Oscar wins would boost the reputation of their studio.

(Read More: Who Needs an Oscar? Basking in Industry Comeback)

Unlike the Golden Globes, which are more fun and casual, this is intense. And whether it was rivals for the same award hugging or Rupert Murdoch shaking hands with Melissa McCarthy, everyone knows they're under the microscope. At any moment the camera could pan over and catch a star grimacing. So they never do.

Security is insane

There were police barricades and dozens of police surrounding the Dolby Theater for a several block radius. There were long security lines, with everyone going through a metal detector, and every bag checked. No cars were allowed near the theater unless they had a sticker provided by the Academy, and even then every trunk was searched.

On the red carpet and in the theater there are security guards everywhere. It's not just the risk of a bomb—remember that there are tens of millions of dollars of jewels on the actresses in the first few rows alone.

—By CNBC's Julia Boorstin; Follow her on Twitter: @JBoorstin

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  • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.