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Behind the scenes at the Dolby Theater, home of the Oscars

From the Academy Awards to countless world premieres and TV shows, Hollywood’s Dolby Theater is a focal point for the entertainment world. Here’s what it looks like inside.

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

The Oscars. Big Hollywood movie premiers. Countless concerts, shows and events. The Dolby Theater is one of Los Angeles' premiere venues, and probably one of the most famous in the world. Millions of people around the world watch the famous "red carpet" pre-show for the Academy Awards, and perhaps not by name, they likely would recognize the Dolby Theater's interior for the big show.

Completed in 2001, the then Kodak Theater was designed from the beginning to be the venue of choice for the Oscar telecast.

Mixed use

The Dolby Theater is a "mixed-use" venue, which is to say, it's not specifically designed to do one thing. Most big, famous theaters are (i.e. plays, concerts, etc). While this means lots of different shows can use the space, it also means it's not ideal for any one thing. Movie premiers, ironically enough, aren't an ideal use. This is because of the size of the screen, where the projection booth is, and the angle at which some in the cheap seats would have to stare down at the screen. Often, they just don't seat people up there.

Over the years it has been modified to be a better for certain events. During the Cirque du Soleil's Iris time at the theater, big lifts were built under the stage. When Dolby took over and re-did most of the theater's audio and video equipment in 2012, Atmos speakers, both permanent and temporary, were installed throughout.

Today there's often just a few hours turnaround between different uses. The screen and speakers for a premiere might get moved or removed overnight to free up space for a play or other event.


Star-studded movie premiers don't always take place in Hollywood. London and New York are common alternates. But for the most part, the biggest movies premiere in LA. Most commonly they're at the Dolby, the TCL Theater next door, or less commonly at one of the other theaters in the Hollywood area. I've had the good fortune to be invited to a handful of premiers and it is just as fun as you'd hope. My favorite was the Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which like most big premiers shut down the entire block and used the Dolby Theater, the TCL Theater, and the El Capitan on the other side of Hollywood Boulevard. A block-long tent housed the red carpet, several bars, and activity areas where you could get pictures taken with Storm Troopers, build toy droids, and more. Ostensibly these were for kids, but everyone was doing it.


Walking the red carpet in 2015.

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

Walking up the red carpet to the entrance, right before I took the picture above, I got to hear what everyone would want to hear in that situation: Two paparazzi, trying to figure out who I was.

"Who's that?"


Good times. Good times. Inside, the Dolby was packed. There was a certain frisson in the crowd that I hadn't experienced at any other premiere before or since. Everyone knew that this was going to be special, being the first Star Wars movie in 10 years (arguably, in 32). Our phones were confiscated as we entered, so I don't have any photos of the cast and crew on stage before the show. Suffice it to say, everyone loved it.  

On with the show

What you see on TV is the glammed up version of the theater for TV. It doesn't always look like that, as you can see in the gallery above.

If you want to see it in person, most days there are public tours. Depending on the event, though, they might not. Best to check ahead of time. There are also the Walk of Fame stars and the concrete footprints out front of the TCL Theater. Those are always there and always crowded. If Hollywood isn't in your travel plans, check out the gallery above.

In his alternate life as a travel writer, Geoff does tours of cool museums and locations around the world including nuclear submarinesmedieval castlesiconic music studios and more. 

You can follow his exploits on TwitterInstagram and on his travel blog BaldNomad. He also wrote a bestselling sci-fi novel