Oscar envelopes explained: How do presenters get the winning names?

A breakdown of how the Academy Awards winners envelopes are handled before being opened live onstage.
PwC accountants Martha L. Ruiz and Brian Cullinan look ahead at actor Ryan Gosling on the Oscars red carpet on Sunday. Here's a breakdown of how the winners envelopes are doled out. (Christopher Polk/Getty Images)

A look at how the Academy Awards' winners envelopes are handled before being opened live onstage:

  • The consulting firm PwC, formerly PricewaterhouseCoopers, tabulates the winners based on ballots cast by the academy's 6,687 voting members. Unlike the nominations, which rely on a branch-specific, preferential-voting system, winners are chosen by popular vote.

  • Two accountants are tasked with bringing the final results, inside sealed envelopes, to the Oscars ceremony. They are the people carrying briefcases on the red carpet, flanked by police protection. Each briefcase contains an identical set of envelopes for the show's 24 categories. The accountants also memorize the winners.
PwC accountants Martha Ruiz and Brian Cullinan arrive with the winners envelopes at the Oscars. (Jordan Strauss/Associated Press)

  • The two accountants are ostensibly the only people who know the winners before they are announced live on TV.

  • During the telecast, the two briefcase-toting accountants are stationed in the Dolby Theatre wings, one stage left and one stage right.
Accountant Brian Cullinan is seen handing Brie Larson the best actor envelope backstage. (Matt Sayles/Associated Press)

  • Most presenters enter stage right. They come backstage a few minutes ahead of time, and the accountant hands them their category's envelope just before they walk onstage. The sealed envelope with the winner's name inside is opened live onstage.
  • The second-to-last award, best actress, was presented by Leonardo DiCaprio, who entered stage left. PwC representative Martha Ruiz handed him the envelope for the correct category.
Leonardo DiCaprio arrived from stage left to present best actress, the penultimate award of the night. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

  • On Sunday, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway entered stage right, where PwC representative Brian Cullinan handed them the errant envelope.
Faye Dunaway, left, prodded fellow presenter Warren Beatty as he paused quizzically after opening the envelope. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

  • A duplicate, unopened envelope for best actress had remained stage right, and apparently ended up in the hands of Beatty and Dunaway. 

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The star-studded audience reacted in shock as the best picture mix-up was revealed. (Matt Sayles/Invision/Associated Press)