What it’s like to be a seat filler at the Oscars

What it's like to be a seat filler at the Oscars

TORONTO — Mark Chiolis has been to the Oscars four times and has sat as close as fourth row.

He’s had better seats than some major film creators and stars, and yet, he is neither of those.

Chiolis attended as a seat filler, a coveted position employed by many awards shows to make the audience look packed when nominees and official guests leave their chairs.

“A couple of times there was actually nobody else in the seat, so I got seated before the broadcast started and I got to sit through the entire Oscars in my own seat, which was great and a lot of fun,” recalls Chiolis, a regional account manager at Montreal’s Grass Valley, which recently won a technical achievement award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

“As long as you didn’t have to get up to the bathroom, that was your seat.”

Los Angeles-based Chiolis first got the seat filler gig in the 1990s thanks to Oscars telecaster ABC, which was a client of his when he sold broadcast equipment to TV stations and networks.

“I said, ‘Hey, I’d like to do that,’ and they said, ‘Do you have a tuxedo?’ and I said, ‘I’ll get one.'”

In Chiolis’s day as a seat filler, the role began about 60 seconds before the show started. The seat fillers were lined up behind the scenes and had to race over to any chair that was empty.

“So you could be sitting in the very front row, you could be a few rows back,” he says. “I don’t know how far back they fill. I want to say they fill maybe half the audience.”

When the Oscars guests assigned to those seats actually showed up, “you would go around to the back of the line and start over,” he adds.

Seat fillers are typically anonymous, but in 2015, host Neil Patrick Harris shone a light on them by interviewing two during the broadcast.

“You have to be on alert and you have to be on your best behaviour and there are a series of dos and don’ts,” says Chiolis.

“You’re not there to go chat people up at the bar and hang out with them and take photos with them. You’re there to fill the seats and take in the experience.”

Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press