“Star Catcher” for Pasadena Weekly

Pasadena’s Teni Melidonian is Oscar’s connection between celebrities and the media.

February 2008

The 80th Academy Awards show is set to go on as planned Sunday, and since the Writers Guild of America strike is over, two people of many who work on the mammoth production will not be facing looming uncertainty.

Pasadena resident Teni Melidonian is a publicist for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and will be walking the red carpet for the third time Sunday night.

For 12-time Oscar telecast and “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” writer Jon Macks, however, his appearance this year was as uncertain as the show itself. In fact, Macks did not even know he was working this year’s gala until producer Gil Cates informed him after the writer’s strike ended on Feb. 12.

As people tried to predict Oscar’s fate had the WGA strike continued, Melidonian had already been hard at work since fall, when she said Oscar season really begins for other people who put together other parts of the program. For them, the show would go on – no matter what happened with the strike.

“We have been very consistently planning, and we’ve done everything we have in the past,” said Melidonian. “We knew we were going to have a show and we facilitated as such.”

In years when Macks helped write for such Oscar hosts as comedians Billy Crystal, Chris Rock or Whoopi Goldberg, he usually started three to six months before the ceremony. This year, he and three others are writing for the presenters, a process that normally begins in January after the nominations come out. It’s at that time the writers divide up duties on who will write for which award.

“You either have a category you feel very comfortable writing about, or you’ve worked with the presenter before and you feel comfortable asking what they want to do, especially with the comics,” said Macks, who has worked with Ben Stiller over the past few years.

A large part of Melidonian’s job is facilitating – more like herding – the throng of press from around the world during events before the Oscar broadcast and on show day by arranging for brief interviews with celebrities backstage, inside and outside the Governor’s Ball and on the prestigious red carpet.

There’s only so much real estate on the red carpet, Melidonian pointed out.

“There is still much more demand from media outlets than there is room on the carpet, so we end up unfortunately having to say no to some outlets. But throughout the week leading up to the show we have many opportunities available for all outlets to photograph and do segments on the red carpet, without having day-of-show credentials,” she said.

On Oscar Sunday, Melidonian has to make sure media get the interviews and photos they need and that people keep moving along for their shot on camera, which is difficult when the world’s biggest stars tend to all gather in one place and mass rubbernecking ensues.

“We want it to be full too because it looks so good on screen when the red carpet is full, and it is like that from three to 5 p.m., when the show is about to start,” said Melidonian. “It’s very surreal. It’s one of those experiences that I think very few individuals have, being right in the middle of the screaming bleacher fans and the photographers, TV crews and all the celebrities, nominees and performers and seeing them walk down and seeing the gorgeous dresses.”

If the strike had continued and the Oscars became a much less star-studded affair, Melidonian said she was unsure of what might have happened.

“The red carpet is definitely one of the highlights of the evening, but it’s one of those things I think we’re glad we’re not going to find out,” said Melidonian.

Once the show starts, Melidonian will be backstage for a bit while presenters at the front of the stage are speaking Macks’ dialogue.

“We will be not only looking at this year’s movies, but since it’s one of those anniversary years that ends in a zero you use those to look back at the greats of the past and how the people that night will walk in the same steps as those giants before them,” said Macks.

The Oscar parade continues at the Governor’s Ball, an elegant Wolfgang Puck-catered celebration with media from around the world standing in line outside, waiting to interview Oscar winners and get coverage of the décor and incomparable cuisine.

Some media is actually allowed inside the ball, but only to observe with an old-fashioned pad and pencil.

Music by Pink Martini, a multilingual pop orchestra reminiscent of old Hollywood, will be a highlight for Melidonian, who has seen them perform many times.

Coincidentally, Macks said “having a martini after the show” is what he is looking forward to this year.

Although Melidonian is in the midst of the Hollywood scene, she has remained a Pasadena girl at heart and has lived here most of her life.

“I love Pasadena,” said Melidonian, a native and a graduate of Pasadena High School. “You could literally spend your entire time in Pasadena and see everything it has to offer and get a feel for what LA used to be like, especially the architecture like the Art Deco.”

Tune in to the Academy Awards on Sunday and you will likely hear something written by Jon Macks and you may just see Teni Melidonian mingling with such stars as George Clooney or Keira Knightley on the red carpet, representing the City of Roses.

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