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.
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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.
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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