Rule Breakers

17 Hours With The Mastermind Behind E!'s Oscars Red Carpet Sets

NBCUniversal's Wendy Schellinger takes us along as she preps for Oscar Sunday.

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Wendy Schellinger of NBC is the mastermind behind E!'s Oscars red carpet and Grammys sets.
Kevin Mazur, Rodin Eckenroth, Cindy Ord/Getty Images

Months before viewers judge all of the Oscars looks from the comfort of their own homes, Wendy Schellinger is putting in the work to ensure everything is picture perfect on the big day. For the senior vice president of environmental + set design for NBCUniversal’s TV & Streaming Entertainment Group who’s based in Los Angeles, Oscars Sunday is like her Olympics, but instead of medals it’s the detailed sets she helps execute that are gilded in gold. The seven and a half hours of Oscars coverage by E! Entertainment are all thanks to her team’s legwork done in advance.

The 94th Annual Academy Awards marked the beginning of her annual awards season run, and while making sure Live From E!’s preshow panels and red carpet coverage are running smoothly, there’s a part of her mind pushed to the side — at least for a little while — about what’s down the pipeline for the upcoming Grammys, Met Gala, and Billboard Music Awards. On March 27, it’s all about film, fashion, and making these past few months of effortful work look effortless.

Throughout the day, she sneaks moments of calm, reminding herself how much she genuinely enjoys her job. “I’m lucky to do what I do, it’s fun, and I try not to get too cerebral with the whole process,” says Schellinger, who’s been known to clock about 31,000 steps on busy show days like this one. At one point, while walking up some makeshift set stairs, the 46-year-old likens her life to the movie magic of Pretty Woman. “I laugh thinking about that famous line from the movie: ‘What’s your dream? This is Hollywood, the land of dreams.’ It’s such a Hollywood/not-Hollywood moment.”

Below, she takes us through her Oscars Sunday before returning home to hit the ground running the very next morning for the upcoming Grammy Awards.

Sunday, March 27, 2022

5:15 a.m.: I wake up before the alarm clock on my phone goes off, hoping I can move quietly through the house without waking up my family. For those 15 minutes after I wake up, I'm forcing myself to grab a “Zen” moment. I consider this time a staff meeting with myself, then I try to get out of the house, because inside the house I'm so hyper-focused on making sure no one has to hear me clanking around.

5:30 a.m.: Before I head out, I have some energy and time to burn, so I put on my running shoes and go for what I call a “fake run.” It's basically a glorified walk with small bursts of jogging that I use to untangle my thoughts, run through my emails, and clear my head. At this time, I make sure nothing's on fire before I get to the set for the day — or if it is on fire, I make sure I’m equipped to deal with whatever is in front of me.

6:45 a.m.: My amazing makeup artist Jen Winning arrives at my house to do my makeup, so it'll last all day long, and I drink a mug or two of black coffee while she works. I tell her to only do the top half of my face because my lower half will be covered in my mask. I’m a minimalist, but there will be several moments where I really have to connect with people and I want to make sure that I'm ready. It takes about 32 minutes to complete, and I give Jen a five-minute warning to keep my schedule on track.

7:17 a.m.: I throw on my dress for the day with some sneakers, my go-to look for days like this. I try to look as polished as possible, but I know I'm going to be running every which way on Hollywood Boulevard today. Today’s look is a black Simone Rocha high-low dress and my go-to black Adidas Samba sneakers. Oddly enough, they’re my son’s old shoes.

I grab a banana on my way out the door, and today, I opt to drive myself to set because on Oscar Sunday the car pickup alone could take an hour on the way home. I like to listen to old school, '90s hip-hop in the car. The upbeat music helps me bring that energy to the event and all of the people I’m around.

8:20 a.m.: Before getting to set, I go to a health check to get all my credentials greenlit for the day. I've gotten COVID tested every other day leading up to this since I'm on so many different touchpoints of the carpet and the show. By this point, I've got about six different colored wristbands on display. While I make my way to the main set at the Roosevelt Hotel pool, I pass craft services and I fill my pockets full of snacks, mints, my trusty ChapStick, and my phone.

9 a.m.: Now on set, I check that everything that’s been in process all week has those final touches. It’s about finessing the small details now like refreshing the florals and making sure all of the set pieces are in their marked positions.

9:45 a.m.: I quickly run across the street to the official Oscars red carpet and feel a thickness to the air over there. The show's energy is building, and it’s electric. The site check is quick over there but important, making sure any loose ends are tied up before the camera hits rush hour traffic.

10 a.m.: Now back at the Roosevelt pool, our live show officially begins. The sun is hitting the set perfectly — a bright and cascading golden glow over the set. The extras that we brought in are brunching and listening to our panel of Brad Goreski, Naz Perez, Zanna Roberts Rassi, and Karamo, so it feels like a club that has been there for years versus one we created only three days ago.

We’re positioned in the corner watching a monitor with six camera angles going at once and paying attention to all of the angles to ensure there’s nothing that needs to be addressed before the next shot. At every commercial break, we make small tweaks to the set, like fixing how the talent’s clothes lay in different positions. Being constantly on the lookout makes the day go by much faster.

“I quickly run across the street to the official Oscars red carpet and feel a thickness to the air over there. The show's energy is building, and it’s electric.”

12:45 p.m.: Donatella Versace arrives, and it was like a hush of respect fell over the set as she joined our panel. The team put together a montage of all the gowns Versace has made for iconic red carpet moments, like the Cindy Crawford red gown she wore to the Oscars in '91. Donatella talks through the specific moments of each dress, how many hours were spent making them, and what each dress was evoking.

1:15 p.m.: I’m eating a quick salad from Joan's on Third. The nonglamorous part about this day is that everything around Hollywood Boulevard is shut down, so we have to figure out food hours in advance. The crew takes their lunch, so there’s a forced moment of calm before we do yet another set change.

1:45 p.m.: I run down the street again to hit our other set position on the rooftop of the Ripley's Believe It or Not building. To enter the set, I have to go up five flights of temporary scaffolding staircases.

2 p.m.: It's showtime again. The Live From E! panel begins, and the next three hours fly by. It's almost as if we're watching multiple sporting matches at the same time.

2:50 p.m.: I pop around the corner to the Hollywood Roosevelt for another set we did for our E! live stream. We built the set to make it look a little different from the main set, like a different room in the same house.

4:15 p.m.: I catch a glimpse of our “Glambot” in motion, our hyper-fast camera that creates a slow-motion video, and at this particular moment I catch Lupita Nyong'o shimmering in her gold gown, and it proves that a slow-motion cam is truly the most glamorous way to be on the carpet.

5 p.m.: The panel wraps, and all eyes are on the start of the Oscars. Moments into the show, you can already hear the crew laughing as everybody is watching a great sign of things to come.

6:15 p.m.: I find a quiet spot in a room at the Roosevelt Hotel to take a meeting with my direct boss, Jen Neal, who’s in charge of live events and specials for NBCUniversal TV & Streaming Entertainment Group. I need to run her through the visuals of our set for next week at the Grammys. We also talk through the Met Gala set coming up in May and our take on the theme. Finally, we discuss what locations I'll be scouting for Billboard Music Awards when I'm out in Las Vegas.

7:20 p.m.: Chinese food delivery arrives with a variety of noodles, orange chicken, and shrimp, which seemed like a great idea a few hours ago, but midway through eating, I'm regretting that culinary urge. We’re eating as if we're watching from home, but we know we still have work to do.

7:27 p.m.: Chris Rock is on stage presenting, and the moments that pass in the next few minutes are the ones that have everybody stunned, shocked, and confused. Live events create powerful moments, and I think of what my boss always says: "You're only live once." Time speeds up and slows down at the same time at that moment.

9:30 p.m.: Our after-party set at the Roosevelt Hotel is up, and it's finally dark enough so the lighting director can make the set’s elements come to life. I stick around a bit to make sure all is well. When I do sneak out, I say my heartfelt thanks to all the talent and the crews during commercial breaks.

9:45 p.m.: I drive home, I pass the San Vicente Bungalows, where my sister and her team have set up the Netflix Oscars party. I think about going in and saying hi and congrats to her, but instead, I call and have her pop outside for a kiss and a wave. I never make it inside, and unlike the Chinese food, I think it was the right call.

10:15 p.m.: I finally return home. When I enter, I pass my packed bag for Las Vegas by the door and head to bed. Tomorrow, I fly there for Grammys prep and Billboard scouts. I take a moment to settle down from the frenzy of the day. It's nice to be in motion again, but also nice to relish in the moments of still before doing it all again tomorrow.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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