What It's Really Like Working On An Awards Show Red Carpet

Photo: Rafael Jimenez.
Here's the obvious: Red carpets are glamorous. Whether you're actually there or watching in your living room, there's no denying that the period before an awards show is a magic hour, an electric moment brimming with glittering lights and vibrant, twirling gowns just as the sun begins to set.

The not so obvious? Red carpets are also an extremely exhausting social-climbing experiment that looks a lot more effortless than it actually is.

Before I explain what I learned from my very first red carpet experience, however, let me explain how I ended up there in the first place. I'm a writer, always have been. (Well, at least since age 8, when I wrote a "book" about monsters that held a prominent place on my parents' refrigerator for years.) So whenever I imagined myself on a red carpet, I thought I'd be one of the obnoxious reporters holding a recorder, yelling after a celebrity for a story or quote as they whizzed by.

Yet somehow — thanks to the vision of the fine folks at Refinery29 — I ended up hosting a live red-carpet pre-show at the Screen Actors Guild Awards with my colleague Emily Curl. It was a fairy tale of a night plucked straight from my dreams: I got my hair and makeup done, waltzed up to the Shrine Auditorium in a crimson dress worthy of Jennifer Lopez, and had a chance to interview the legendary Viola Davis. (Can we just have a moment for the fact that I just typed that I interviewed Viola freakin' Davis?!)

As much of a romantic as I am, though, working in entertainment has made me a bit of a cynic; I'm now the type of person who rolls her eyes when celebrities complain about the toll events like a red carpet can take on them, or how on-camera hosts describe these events as "so crazy." I mean, what's so difficult about getting all dressed up and having your picture taken, or chatting up a celebrity in a fancy outfit? But being on a red carpet in person taught this skeptic a handful of surprising things that made me think twice about side-eyeing actors from the comfort of my couch.

It's a hardcore competition.
Celebrities simply can't (and, in most cases, won't) stop for every journalist that wants a crack at them. So the photographers are climbing all over one another to get their money shot, and if you're an outlet with a booth, like Refinery29 was, the process of wrangling celebrities to stop by for an interview is a nerve-wracking hustle, a combination of networking, promises, and politics — combined with your outlet's status, of course. (And pure circumstance; Julia Louis-Dreyfuss said she had only heard of Refinery29 because of her son. But hey, we'll take it!)

It's really, really loud...
Because of all of the above, the noise level is insane. Reporters and photographers are clamoring, fans are screaming celebrities' names — and often just following everyone else in screaming, without even knowing who they're screaming for. It was so loud, we couldn't even hear our producer talking in our ears via a super high-tech IFB device throughout our broadcast. (Thank god for whiteboards, otherwise I would've never known Maisie Williams from Game of Thrones, a.k.a. Arya Stark, a.k.a. the kind of badass super confident girl I wish I could've been when I was in high school, was coming up behind us!)

...and really, really hot.
On a TV screen, no matter how high-definition, you truly can't tell that every single person on these red carpets is actually turning into a dripping pile of sweat thanks to the sweltering heat. It's not even that the actual temperature was hot — it was in the low 70s — but because the carpet is covered by a huge tent (just in case of bad weather) with the sun directly overhead, it essentially feels like a steamy, baking greenhouse. Add jittery nerves, complicated hair-dos, and the act of balancing in heels, and when you look around you'll see every star and host fanning themselves (or having a member of their entourage fan them). The key to hiding this red carpet fiasco for viewers at home? Makeup touch-ups, of course. Between each interview, artists are on-hand ready to primp and puff and poof. After only an hour of rehearsal before we went live, Emily and I both needed some serious makeup touch-ups backstage. But thanks to Glamsquad, you couldn't even tell!
Photo: Rafael Jimenez.
A red carpet takes days to build — and it's taken down twice as fast.
It's just a red carpet, right? How much preparation could it take create a red floor for celebrities to walk on and look pretty? Well, the Friday before our Sunday show, we saw the actual carpets being rolled out, and to this red-carpet virgin, it seemed like Refinery29's broadcast booth was almost done being built. Pretty simple, I thought. This will all be done and ready to go with plenty of time to spare! Of course, I was wrong — comically so. Up until the last minute on Sunday, our booth, as well as the handful of other media outlets that were broadcasting live from the red carpet (including E! and ET, whom we were sandwiched between — #movingonup), were putting last-minute touchups on their booths. This meant that in the days leading up to the actual event, there was a lot of waiting around. See exhibit A: Me waiting in the wee hours of the night for things to be finished so we could finish up our tech rehearsal (and I could find the nearest taco):

But as complicated of a process as it was, I was even more shocked at how quickly everything disappeared. Emily and I had barely left our on-camera posts after we wrapped when a crew came sweeping in to dismantle everything; by the time we left, the previously star-studded scene was already a distant memory.

After it's all over, your body feels like it just ran a marathon.
Yes, this is a major first world problem, but the reality is: This whole shebang is physically exhausting. The first reason being that if you have to pee, you definitely have to hold it, because even if you're just there to get your photo taken and do some interviews, there are long lines waiting to get onto the carpet, then get through the carpet, then get into the actual venue post-carpet (where there are, of course, super long ladies' room lines). If you're working in a media outlet booth, like we were, you do have access to a port-a-potty — but for some strange reason, dragging the train of your princess ball gown on a sticky port-a-potty floor isn't exactly the most appealing idea.

Then there's the fact that all that walking and waiting in line and standing around is happening in heels, so you can pretty much kiss your feet goodbye — before you even get into the actual show. After a few short rehearsals, Emily and I were hosting live for two hours on the red carpet, standing in place without a single break. Afterward, neither of us could feel our feet — so we proceeded to relieve our numb toes and heels by collapsing in a ball of emotion/exhaustion on the red-carpeted floor:
Photo: Rafael Jimenez.

So there you have it. The real lowdown on what it's like on a red carpet, warts and all. Like anything, even the most glamorous-seeming things have cons. After the SAG Awards red carpet, I couldn't feel my feet, my makeup had completely sweated off, and two days later, I still had a faint ringing in my ears.

And yet somehow, that adrenaline-inducing glow that comes with mingling with the stars and witnessing your dreams come true is undeniably addicting. Maybe I'm a sucker, or naive, or just plain narcissistic, but the heat, the exhaustion, the ridiculous social climbing? I'd do it all again in a second. Emily agrees — you can see why in her emotional speech to our Facebook Live team after we successfully finished our first red carpet.

Real tears. Here's hoping we'll find our way back to another red carpet sooner rather than later (though note to selves: water bottles, fans, and shoe inserts are musts). Watch our full pre-show, below.

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