GLENDALE, Calif. — Six Hollywood hopefuls instantly became insiders when they won spots on the film academy's Team Oscar, and their superstar access began deep inside Disney's archives.
Surrounded by vintage sketches, sculptures and other Disney treasures dating back to 1928, the Team Oscar winners — aspiring filmmakers between the ages of 18 and 23 — enjoyed the perks of their status as soon as they landed in Hollywood. They were treated to a private tour of the studio's Animation Research Library — typically only open to its artists and engineers — a visit to the Disney lot and a screening of its new live-action film "Cinderella," which doesn't open until next month.
The group, chosen from 1,100 hopefuls after submitting 60-second videos on the best piece of advice they'd ever received, is spending a week in Hollywood as guests of the film academy, culminating with multiple appearances on Sunday's Academy Awards. Their most visible role: They'll be the young people handing Oscar statuettes to the celebrity presenters during the show.
Oscar producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron established the Team Oscar program when they produced their first Academy Awards show in 2013. In watching past shows, Meron noticed "the trophy presenters seemed to have been stuck in 1950 with that buxom blonde, sexist type of attitude, and they were kind of anonymous faces."
"We thought, 'Why don't we have everybody on that stage have a passion for film, and why don't we try something aspirational and give some young people a chance to touch their dream?'" he said. "And that's exactly what this program has manifested itself into."
They asked actor Channing Tatum to participate in the program and help choose the winners last year, and this year he called the producers to ask if he could do it again.
Besides a day with Disney, Team Oscar members will be fitted for formalwear and spend several days backstage at the Dolby Theatre among the A-listers rehearsing for Sunday's show.
Here's a look at the six winners:
— Chris Carmona: This lifelong movie buff grew up watching the Oscars and still can't believe he's going to be on the show. "This feels like a big practical joke," said the 18-year-old from Bell, California, whose film was about following his mother's advice. Carmona hopes his Team Oscar experience will embed him in the industry he loves, saying, "I just want to go out there and start making stuff."
— Justin Craig: A recent film-school graduate from Ballston Spa, New York, Craig made a comic short based on the advice: "Never make eye contact while eating a banana." The 21-year-old said he learned about the Team Oscar contest from his sister, "who follows Channing Tatum in every facet possible." He entered on a hopeful lark, not really expecting to win. "It's like playing the lottery," he said.
— Kelly FitzGerald: This 19-year-old from Geneva, New York, considers filmmaking a hobby. A communications major in college, FitzGerald found out about the contest by following Tatum on Instagram and, while home for winter break, made a sweet short about spreading smiles. "I wanted a topic that was lighthearted for everyone," she said.
— Justin Floyd: An aspiring editor and director, Floyd has been making and starring in his own movies since he was a kid. His film was about his father's advice to forge his own path to success. The 20-year-old from Compton, California, was almost speechless about being selected for Team Oscar, saying, "I don't know any words that can describe how happy I am."
— Rhianna Shaheen: "I usually don't win anything," said the 23-year-old from Virginia Beach, Virginia. The aspiring screenwriter made a personal film that illustrates her craft and felt "disbelief" in being chosen. "Every morning was kind of like that," she said. "Waking up and having to remember, 'OK, I'm going to the Oscars.'"
— Patrick Walker: Walker, whose film was about overcoming your circumstances to create your own opportunities, said his mother got emotional when he told her he was going to the Academy Awards, and so did he. "I went ballistic. I called everybody," said the 22-year-old actor and director from Atlanta. "I cried on like 18 different phone calls."