Chaos is sure to ensue at this Sunday’s MTV Movie Awards (remember when Will Ferrell made out with Sacha Baron Cohen?), but the real chaos began long ago for Shelley Lazar, who organized all of the seating arrangements for this year’s show at L.A.’s Gibson Amphitheatre. Even though she’s a veteran in the field of seating charts (her company, the Executive Ticket Club, has coordinated many events, including the papal mass at Yankee Stadium, Live Aid, and concert tours for the Rolling Stones and Billy Joel), it was still a grueling feat for Lazar. But thanks to a little thing she calls “Shelley’s follies,” the game of musical chairs became much more enjoyable. Here, she explains the science of celebrity seating arrangement.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What’s the biggest challenge you face when you first begin to coordinate a seating chart?
Shelley Lazar: The first challenge is having enough tickets for everyone. The second is making sure the right people are sitting next to the right people, and keeping things in mind like marriages, divorces, and whatever might be going on in their personal lives. We also have to keep in mind if one of the performers stands on stage left, then we want to have his or her guest sitting near stage left. However, some of the performers that I work with don’t want to have their friends or family up close, some of them do.
With so many details to consider, how far ahead did you start working on the MTV Movie Awards?
We had our first meeting about seven weeks ago. When the RSVPs start to come in, we can start to really play the game of moving everything around. It’s like a chess game.
When does your work for the MTV movie awards end?
We’re going to be working up to the very last minute — up till the red carpet is done. And, if necessary at the event if something isn’t working out, you know if the camera view isn’t working, or if a certain celeb needs to be on camera and isn’t, we’ll have to move people around. It’s just, you know, Excuse me, can you please come with me, I just need to move your seats over here. I usually use the fire marshal as my excuse for moving people around!
Is there a certain rule on how far nominees should be kept apart?
It depends on who they are. My initial way of planning is what I call “Shelley’s follies”: whom I would put with whom. One of the things is: should we have Tom Cruise in a seat or should we try to get a couch for him? Then I thought, maybe we’ll have Steve Carell sitting next to Lindsay Lohan and he’ll just keep repeating the name of his movie, you know Get Smart, Get Smart because we couldn’t find a 40-year-old Virgin to sit next to Steve. Maybe I’ll have Rumer Willis, Ben Stiller, and Liv Tyler sit in a row and maybe at the commercial breaks they can talk about what it’s like being a child of celebrity. These are the things that go on in my head, and I do my funny list. Then I’ll say, okay, for Verne Troyer, we can’t have anyone like Liv Tyler or Dwayne Johnson sitting in front of him because he won’t be able to see over their head, so we have to have somebody short, so Sarah Jessica Parker, I thought. Well, what if she wears one of those silly, little hats that she wore recently? Or if her hair is too high? Then how is he going to see? You can’t have all blonde people sitting in one row because it doesn’t look good for a camera shot. Do you want all the comics together? You know, are they going to sit and make jokes and disturb other people? Justin Timberlake, I said, well maybe I’ll have him sit with the Pussycat Dolls, but that’s only if he’s not bringing Jessica Biel because we don’t want any problems there.
You also mentioned you might place Justin Timberlake near Jennifer Hudson. Why that pairing?
Theyboth have this great future and I think that she could get some tipsform Justin as to where to go with her career. You know, should shestick with movies? We also thought with Jennifer Hudson, maybe on herother side would be Katherine McPhee so they could talk about Idol.
How about placing Lindsay Lohan near Mark Wahlberg (pictured)?
Wesaid that because they both like to flash themselves in underwear. Weput next to her on the other side of Lindsay, maybe we would put MeganFox because she certainly has the body to be seen in her underwear(laughs).
Didn’t you also have Megan Fox sitting near SJP?
Yes, because they both have a love of shoes.
What about Carell and Anne Hathaway, Jack Black and Robert Downey, Jr. — were those just project-based pairings?
It’sproject based, but it’s also personality. Who can feed off the other?Who would be comfortable with the other? It’s also size, who’s a littlechunkier, who’s a little slimmer so there’s more arm room. We have tothink about who’s got long legs and make sure they get aisle seats. Wehave comedians together. As I said, this can go right until show time.These are some of our more funny thoughts, and some of our more seriousthoughts.
Do celebrities lobby for the first row?
We usually don’tget that. People don’t say, “I have to sit in front row.” At awardshows, they know that people in the front row are people that “need tobe” in the front row because of their star power. I wouldn’t put allthe “star power” people in one row sitting next to each other, though.You need to have them around the audience because it’s fun. It’s alsofun for the audience that’s watching at home to wonder, Why did theyput those people next to each other?
Who are you planning to put in that group of seats that is directly in front of the stage?
Fanswill probably go there. As I was saying, certain people don’t want tosee the people they know in front of them. It throws them off if theyhave a joke or whatever they’re going to tell and all of a sudden theysee somebody they know. If you have crazyfans and non-familiar faces it makes it easier to be doing what theyare doing. This is not a very serious, tear-jerky kind of show, so whenpeople are coming onto the stage, you know that you’re going to get agreat interaction from the fans. Then from your fellow celebritiesyou’ll get support. You might not get the reaction, but you’ll get thesupport.
What do you do when celebrities bring an entourage? Do they get to sit near them?
Wehave a definite idea of who’s on camera and who’s off-camera. Everyonestarts with two tickets, and it’s either “on-camera” of “off-camera.”Well, if they say, you know, I need to have security, I need to have mypublicist, my mom, etc, they are not necessarily going to sit rightwith them — they are maybe nearby or will have access to them. So thoseareas that are off camera are where we have those people. In anenclosed area like this, we don’t need to have this great securitypresence. They are off-camera but are in a convenient place as is amakeup or wardrobe person.
What if someone shows up with an unexpected guest like a girlfriend or a boyfriend that they just have to sit with?
Wealways have seats that we haven’t filled completely, and if nobody doesshow up, then we’ll have seat fillers or I’ll sit down…If somebodyunexpected does show up, we’ll be ready for them. I’ll have a pair ofemergency tickets in the celebrity section in my pocket.
Where are you during all of the commotion?
I’m usually running around! I’m wearing black so I don’t stand out, or I’ll stand where no one can see me.
Finally, be honest: you have to have some idea of who’s going towin ahead of time so you can place the seating accordingly, right?
No,and I don’t want to know because it would take out the spontaneity ofwhat we’re doing with seating. If we knew who was going to win, then itwould just be very boring.