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And the winner is ... LA businesses cashing in on the Oscars

And the winner is ... the handcrafted golden envelopes used on Oscars night
And the winner is ... the handcrafted golden envelopes used on Oscars night
Marc Friedland

$34, 000 for white truffles, $1 million on a six-tier chandelier, and $87,000 on champagne - Oscars night is a no expense spared type of affair.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, the Academy spends $21.8 million every year on the show itself. And then, another $17 million on related events: pre-parties, after parties, press events, screenings, and so on. A big chunk of spending goes to independent contractors and small businesses to make the magic happen. 

Golden envelopes

One of them is veteran stationery designer Marc Friedland, who produces the elaborate envelopes and cards used in the Academy Awards ceremony. Each quarter pound creation is meticulously handcrafted by a team of six.

“The gold paper that we use has flecks of gold leaf in it so it reflects the light beautifully,” says Friedland. “It takes us about 110 man hours to create these.”

This is a lucrative gig for Friedland, but he doesn’t like talking money, and he's not the only one. Getting concrete numbers on how much people make from the Oscars is like uncovering the names of winners before the big night: almost impossible.

Economic impact

In 2008, the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation estimated that the Oscars pumps around $130 million into the local economy every year. While that may sound like a big number, Alec Levenson, economist at USC’s Center for Effective Organizations, says it likely doesn’t have that big an impact on L.A.'s long term finances. He compares the Oscars to other big events like the Olympics and the Super Bowl.

“It can seem like a lot. They can claim huge impacts on the local economy, but they’re usually pretty fleeting,” Levenson says. “While there are many people who might do fairly well for the small amount of time leading up to the Oscars or during it ... I really don’t see it having that much of a material impact on the economy."

Career building

The Oscars is the grand finale of a much longer awards season. This time of year means a big influx of work for many local contractors, like makeup artist Gabbi Pascua.

“This is my seventh awards season. From January to March, it’s a really good time. You can have a full twelve hour day where you have little breaks in between, but it can take you from 5am til literally 9pm, if it’s in the cards for you,” says makeup artist Gabbi Pascua.

These gigs are certainly good for freelancers, but economist Alec Levenson says, it’s pretty unusual for a business or contractor to depend on a single event, like the Oscars, to make a profit. But, of course, there are exceptions.

“There may be some unique boutique businesses, where they get a huge amount of their business throughout the year specifically focused around the Academy Awards, so it’s a big deal,” says  Levenson. “They have to do it. They have to do it well. It could be make or break for them.”

This is true for freelance talent booker, Robin Reinhardt. “Honestly, awards season is half of my income for the year.”

Harder to measure than economic impact is the effect awards season can have on careers. Makeup artist Gabbi Pascua says her big break was working with high-profile clients for the first time during her second awards season, an opportunity she wouldn’t have had otherwise.

For Marc Friedland, creator of the winners’ envelopes, this long-time gig is his crowning achievement:

“For me, this is my own Oscar. Because ‘The envelope please...’ has probably been one of the most famous phrases for the last 80 years. And this is that envelope.”