Behind the scenes at the Dolby Theater, home of the 2020 Oscars
From the Academy Awards to countless world premieres and TV shows, Hollywood’s Dolby Theater is a focal point for the entertainment world. Let's go backstage.
Geoffrey Morrison is a writer/photographer about tech and travel for CNET, The New York Times, and other web and print publications. He's also the Editor-at-Large for The Wirecutter. He has written for Sound&Vision magazine, Home Theater magazine, and was the Editor-in-Chief of Home Entertainment magazine. He is NIST and ISF trained, and has a degree in Television/Radio from Ithaca College. His bestselling novel, Undersea, and its sequel, Undersea Atrophia, are available in paperback and digitally on Amazon. He spends most of the year as a digital nomad, living and working while traveling around the world. You can follow his travels at BaldNomad.com and on his YouTube channel.
The home of the Oscars for nearly two decades, the Dolby Theater in the heart of Hollywood was designed from the beginning to be the venue of choice for the Academy Awards telecast. This massive space also hosts big movie premiers and countless concerts, shows and events, but it's best known as the place where Oscar nominees gather, the stars make speeches and all those little statuettes are handed out. On Sunday night this stage is where Joker, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Parasite and the rest of the 2020 nominees will win (or not) the most coveted honors in show business. Millions of people around the world will watch the famous "red carpet" preshow and even if they don't recognize the Dolby Theater by name, its interior is iconic.
I got the chance to tour the Theater a couple of years ago and while I didn't see any celebrities, I got some amazing images of backstage, the dressing rooms and of course the Dolby's incredible theater space. Here's the full tour.
I’d like to thank the Academy: Behind the scenes at Hollywood's Dolby Theater
The Dolby Theater is a "mixed-use" venue, meaning lots of different events can use the space. 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 people 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 for certain events. Big lifts were built under the stage for Cirque du Soleil's Irisshow in 2011. 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.
The biggest movie premiere happen 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 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.
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.
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.