Tales of a Red-Carpet Survivor

updated 03/14/2005 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/14/2005 AT 01:00 AM EST

If you're a red-carpet reporter and you want to get Hilary Swank's attention, you do not shout her name. Ever. You shout this name: "Troy Nankin!" He's her publicist. It's one of many tricks I've learned as a contributor to CBS's morning program The Early Show. Once a year I coat my face with TV makeup and cover the pre-Oscar arrivals at the Kodak Theatre. It's a tough job, but somebody has to do it—preferably somebody whose idea of a well-spent Sunday is putting on formalwear and banging against camera equipment for three hours.

The red carpet is not to be taken lightly. It's a contact sport, and a rough one at that (just look what it's done to Joan Rivers). There are 500 feet of red carpet between the limo drop-off and the Kodak entrance, with fans on one side and nearly 500 media troops stationed behind a low hedge no taller than Imelda Staunton on the other. Each TV crew has exactly 3 linear feet of space, which means that the people around you—in my case crews from China Central Television, Inside Edition and Jill Rappaport from the Today show-are likely to step on your feet or politely shove you aside if you wander in front of their camera.

Red-carpet reporters must be prepared. I learned this the hard way on Sunday upon meeting Best Actress nominee Catalina Sandino Moreno. Or, as I called her, "Maria," momentarily confusing her name with that of the drug-mule character she plays in Maria Full of Grace. "Ca... ta... lina," she corrected me. She was very nice about it.

The worst red-carpet scenario: A major star passes you by while you're talking to the guy nominated for, say, Best Editing of an Animated Documentary Short Subject. This year, I missed Laura Linney because I was talking to ... well, I can't even remember, and I did an entire interview with Yo-Yo Ma before I realized the cameraman was busy shooting footage of Renée Zellweger instead.

There were some touching red-carpet moments this year. Jamie Foxx brought his little girl with him, and they both seemed so proud to be there. Morgan Freeman declared that he would celebrate by dancing into the night with his wife. Staunton told me she was "soaking it all in" and even enjoyed yakking with reporters because "next year, no one will care what I have to say!" Of course we will, Imelda. But if Nicole Kidman walks by, we will have to ask you to wrap it up.

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