10 Secrets of the Oscar Envelope: ‘It’s Engineered like a German Car’

Seen by billions but touched by few, here's an exclusive hands-on tour of the most famous envelope in the world.

(See TheWrap's Complete Oscars Coverage)

Marc Friedland designs the Oscars' envelope and the “winners’ cards” that are put inside and opened live on-air. 

Touched only by this year’s presenters like Dustin Hoffman, Jack Nicholson, Sandra Bullock, Halle Berry, and Meryl Streep, the PricewaterhouseCoopers accountants who will hand it to them, and Friedland who handed it to the accountants before that, they are seen by billions but handled by few.

The day before finishing cards for all potential winners and delivering the envelopes to the accountants, Friedland gave an exclusive hands-on tour of his Mid-City studio during the final touch ups. Here’s what you won’t see on TV.

The Envelope has an Understudy

Each potential winner’s card (stating “And The Oscar Goes to…..”) is produced in quadruplicate. That’s four sets for a total of 96 envelopes and 488 potential winners cards. There’s only 24 categories and winners in the show.

What Happens to the Extras?

In sports, the pre-produced T-shirts for a championship game's losing team ends up in Nicaragua, Zambia, and Romania. What happens to all those extra winners cards?

Accounting firm PriceWaterhouse Coopers destroyed the non-winning cards on Friday, like a papal election. This prevents a few things. First, it prevents deduction of the winner by the leftover pile. Second, it prevents fraud. Third, it prevents the non-winners cards from becoming valuable collector’s items. Even a trip to Romania won’t turn up a Best Picture card for "The Help."

It's Heavier than an iPhone

Heavier than an iPhone 5, weighing in at 4 ounces, the several layers of paper and card stock make the envelope are heavy. It can not be gracefully folded and put in to any pocket or small clutch purse. That’s intentional. Winners will carry them around for the rest of the night as the lighter and more portable emblem of victory.

What does Germany have to do with it?

Germany does not have a film among the five nominees for “Best Foreign Language Film.” However, it does have a slice of Oscar night. There is a particular gold-finished paper that Friedland sources on a special field trip to Bavaria.

You Can’t See Inside

Each winner’s card is more than one-eighth-of-an-inch thick. With a golden watermark of the Oscar statute on the exterior on the envelope and the thick card stock on the interior, shining a light through the envelope will not reveal the name inside.

Courtesy of MingleMedia TV

Friedland arrives at the 2012 Oscars.

Marc Friedland Does Not Know What Is In “The Envelope”

Friedland handed off a full set of envelopes and sets of every potential winner to the accountants at PricewaterhouseCoopers back on Feb. 15 at 3 p.m. This was four days before the voting even ended. From that point on, his art is out of his hands. He next sees it when the world does, but from a better seat. He’s in the Dolby theater on Oscar night as a seated guest. “I could spot a fake envelope a mile away,” he says.

Marc Friedland Knows Exactly What Is In “The Envelope”

Forty yards of double face burgundy satin, 80 yards of lacquered paper, and 800 square feet of gold leaf foil go in to the total set.

Kevin Winter

Kirk Douglas (presenting in 2011 with Omar Sharif Jr.) gave the envelope a taste test.

“It’s Dummy Proof”

“We engineered the envelope in year two (2012) to make it dummy proof,” Friedland says. Some of the tricks involve “letting out the seams, like a good suit." Made by hand and taking more than 252 hours, he compares his arsenal of tools to MacGyver's. "It's engineered like a German car," he says.

How You Score This Gig

It’s what you know and who you know. Friedland’s been Hollywood’s go-to guy for unique,  non-traditional, multi-dimensional invites since the 1980s.  Oprah called on him to make the invites to her Legends Ball. Kelly Preston had him design a suitcase-style invite for a surprise party “fly-away” to Mexico for John Travolta. On Timbaland’s wedding invitation, you can see his real name spelled out in calligraphy: Timothy Zachery Mosley.

In 2011, when producer Bruce Cohen ran the Oscar show (now nominated as a producer for Best Picture for “Silver Linings Playbook”) he helped bring Friedland and the Academy together.

From the first moment of the 2011 show, when the first presenter Tom Hanks said “These envelopes are works of art in themselves,”  on air, the modern envelope had arrived.

You Can Have Your Own

Exact replicas of the Academy's invite to the Oscar ceremony and the envelope, Friedland designed an Oscar collection for Evite Postmark. Up to 70,000 of his invites are estimated to be emailed out for home viewing parties on Sunday night.

In addition to the envelope, Friedland has designed all the Academy’s official event communications year round for the other functions, such as the nominees lunch and Governors’ Awards.

For security reasons, I was not allowed to publish any photos of individually named winners cards before the show nor allowed to witness the handover of the envelopes from Friedland to PriceWaterhouseCoopers.