What It Takes To Be An Oscars Seat Filler

87th Academy Awards, Oscars, Telecast
  • Article by Amy Bradney-George
  • February 24, 2015 at 5:29 PM

Not everyone that attended the 87th Academy Awards was a star, or even a relative of a star. During his walk up and down the aisles of the Dolby Theatre, host Neil Patrick Harris brought attention to the many “Seat Fillers” dotted throughout the vast audience.

As Harris explains, these people are brought in to literally fill empty seats in the theatre.

“When someone wins or presents an award, then seat fillers come in and take their seat,” he says, before pointing out that “seat fillers are everywhere”.

These people are also ushered into the theatre when people go to the bathroom, leave early or get up for any number of other reasons. That way, when the camera moves around, there is never an empty seat to be seen by the audience both in the theatre and at home.

For the people filling seats, it also means they get to experience the Oscars firsthand – at least until the person whose seat they are filling returns.

But before you start looking up how to apply to be an Oscars seat filler, it’s worth noting that this role is particularly hard to come by. According to industry insiders, only people related to staff at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and staff members at PricewaterhouseCoopers (which counts the votes) are invited to be seat fillers.

PwC, in particular, seems to use the possibility of being a seat filler as an incentive for staff, while members of the Academy have been known to suggest relatives for this interesting, voluntary position. It is also one surrounded by mystery, particularly because of the lengthy non-disclosure agreements seat fillers have to sign.

Or, as The A.V. Club puts it, these people are “legally required to be mysterious”. Nevertheless, the entertainment website managed to get an interview with a previous seat filler (who remains anonymous, due to the threat of their relative getting fired if they breached the contract).

The insights gleaned through the interview, though, shed more light on this particular Oscars position. And for seat fillers, it is quite a long day. For them, it starts around 10am, with a dresscode inspection.

“We had been informed beforehand what the dress code was, so there must have been some kind of paperwork going back and forth,” the former seat filler says.

“I believe they had a list of “these are the acceptable combinations.” It was definitely ‘You will look like this, or you’re not getting in.’”

After everyone made it through that process, there was a briefing that reinforced the need to behave appropriately (with particular mention to not speaking to any stars “or other people that have actual invitations”).

“The entire point of the seat filler is that you’re inconspicuous. Having an empty seat would be more conspicuous than some random person there.”

After that, the anonymous seat filler (who was there for the 2003 Academy Awards) says they waited in the theatre lobby for most of the day, under the eyes of staff members.

When the awards began, staff would randomly select seat fillers to go into the theatre as needed. In some cases, you would be in and out of the theatre several times, while this particular interviewee was lucky enough to get in after the third commercial break and fill a seat for someone who left early – staying the whole time.

Thanks to Neil Patrick Harris, this is the first Academy Awards where real attention has been brought to the role of seat fillers, and as a result more people have become interested in them.

But while the Academy’s seat filler roles are extremely exclusive, there is actually a website for people interested in being seat fillers for other major US awards shows. According to SeatFillersAndMore.com, you can sign up to be a seat filler at events including the Grammys, the Billboard Music Awards, the Superbowl Halftime Performance, the Emmys and the Golden Globes.

So if you happen to be in US and interested in filling a seat, this might be the easiest way in – unless you happen to have a relative hired at the Academy or work for PwC, of course.

Images (top to bottom): Oscar Host Neil Patrick Harris onstage during the live ABC Telecast of The 87th Oscars at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, credit: Mark Suban / ©A.M.P.A.S.; the view from the Dolby Theatre stage during the 87th Annual Academy Awards, credit: Todd Wawrychuk & Jordan Murph.

87th Academy Awards, Oscars, Telecast, Stage
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