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The Orange British Film Academy Film Awards is the most glittering date on the UK film industry calendar. Anna Longmore watched the event come together.
With a world-class venue, a luminous guest list and a date that squares up unflinchingly to the Oscars two weeks later, not to mention the longest red carpet in Europe (150m, fact fans), the BAFTAs has become more than just an appetising hors d’oeuvre to its big brother stateside.
The Film Awards is certainly the highlight of the calendar for the Academy itself. ‘The event is broadcast in 80 countries across the world,’ says Clare Brown, head of production at BAFTA. ‘It’s the biggest event that we do and the biggest film event that Britain does. We spend nine months of the year planning for this. It’s the ninth awards I’ve worked on and each year it’s bigger and bigger. It’s an indicator for the Oscars and people take it very seriously.’
Scratch the surface of this A-list extravaganza, however, and you’ll uncover its bare bones: a relatively lean production team working within tight budgets (Brown won’t reveal exact figures but admits that ‘you’d be surprised’). Creative thinking, not limitless funding, is the key to its success. And ultimately it’s the BAFTAs’ halo effect that keeps a raft of loyal suppliers and sponsorship partners interested year after year. It hasn’t disappointed yet. ‘There’s just a magic about the BAFTAs – a feeling that you only get when you’re working on an all-encompassing global event,’ explains Lucy Smail, who heads up the team from red carpet production designers West Design.
So how did the months of planning play out on the night? Square Meal Venues & Events donned its party frock and slipped behind the scenes to find out...
Setting the Scene
It’s 8 February 2009. Outside the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, the five-day set build is drawing to a close. A team of workmen is hauling the last rolls of carpet from a large van to complete the 150m crimson runway that covers a whole block of Bow Street.
Gaggles of film crews on either side chatter into headsets, presenters run through their cues and crane cameras sweep in to test angles. Overhead, riggers and gaffers are making final adjustments to lighting and LED displays and the air crackles with the staccato of two-way radios. In four hours the world’s most celebrated screen stars will sashay onto the red carpet and the real circus will begin: this is the BAFTAs.
‘We left the space outside the Royal Opera House very open to show off the beautiful building and to give the arrival a sense of scale and majesty. Touches like mirrored columns kept the space light and elegant as there are a lot of people moving through in a short period of time,’ explains Smail.
On With the Party
Once the serious part of the evening is over, it’s time to party. The 2,000 guests will be whisked from Covent Garden to Grosvenor House, A JW Marriott Hotel, on Park Lane for a Taittinger-drenched canapé reception and three-course dinner, before moving on to hospitality suites set up by Soho House and Grey Goose in the hotel’s neighbouring events facility, 86 Park Lane, for the first time.
The theme for 2009, ‘BAFTA Style’ has been encapsulated in the transformation of the 2,000 capacity Great Room by Amanda Davis of AD Design into a vivid canopy of palm fronds, explosions of lilies and orchids and crystal cascades, scattered with flickering lanterns and bathed in an ethereal mauve glow.
‘The attention to detail is very important – the idea is that everywhere you look there is something else: chocolate BAFTA masks on the coaches, bespoke placemats at the dinner and gifts on chairs from Lancôme,’ says Clare Brown.
It’s only 6pm and Grosvenor House banqueting staff are giving glasses a final polish as the last chairs are laid out. This might be a high-profile event but, for the team here, it’s business as usual. ‘The key to serving 2,000 people? It’s good staff,’ says Klaus Lehr, senior floor manager. ‘I have 150 regulars working tonight – they’re used to these events. I’ll assign VIP tables to the best staff.’
Behind the scenes, 300 silver service and wine waiters, bartenders, cloakroom attendants, chefs and back of house staff are warming up the well-oiled Grosvenor House banqueting operation. In four hours, the circus will whirl into town.
This article first appeared in Square Meal Venues & Events magazine, Spring 2009.