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Lessons Learned from the Academy Awards Event Production with Cheryl Cecchetto

by Chris Carver
on March 16, 2016
Photo Cred: Pavel Kounine Photography:

(~5 Min Read) 

I may be a little crazy (ok a lot), but I find that
I am often more fascinated with the conducter than the orchestra. It's not to take away from the performers, I just think the producers don't get nearly the credit they deserve. And for some reason, every time awards season rolls around, I am struck by the question: Who's behind the curtain, who's making it all happen? Especially with The Grandaddy (or Grandmom) of them all: The Academy Awards.

I find really interesting to know that there's is someone responsible for a production where the best performers and producers on the planet are the attendees. Judging... Always Judging. 

And so... I took our little blog to the source: Sequoia Productions and I sat down with the wizard herself, Cheryl Cecchetto.

Cheryl shares some incredible insights:

FIRST: How this career of hers came to be. From a small town in Canada to Hollywooooood.
SECOND: How her experience in theatre prepared her for the production world.
THIRD: Her general advice for managing family, stress and life amongst the demands of the event world.
AND FOURTH: Since she works with some of the world's most renowned chefs: I stole a few of her favorite recipes.


Photo Cred: Alex Hoerner for an interview Variety did with Cheryl.

Let's get started...

Cheryl, I really appreciate you doing this.
Of course, I love what your doing, so this will be great.

[In a very subtle way, all of the buzz an noise around us, went completely quiet. Honestly, I felt transported from a really busy office, to a quiet patio with just the two of us chatting.]

So, where did you grow up?
Sudbury, Canada. It's about 300 Miles north of Toronto.

Big Family, Small Family?
Oh... a BIIIIG Italian Family. Every Christmas we’d have 250-300 relatives meet at my uncle’s hall. It was some of my favorite memories growing up. Singing, playing music, eating, running around...

Young Cheryl always at the middle of the entertainment (here with her beloved teacher Iona Reed).

Even now, just being in the kitchen, with a glass of wine and family is one of my favorite things about the holidays.

Cheryl - At home in Cucina Cecchetto (I'm not sure what that is but it looks damn good. Mangia, Mangia!)

Did you have a favorite family holiday growing up?
Honestly every holiday our family was and is together is incredible. Canadians just want to party non-stop.

Well... My wife is Italian. So I can tell you they enjoy their holidays as well.
Hah... Yes we do. 

And I’m sure the Academy Awards is tame compared to a holiday with 250-300 Italian family members.
Let’s just say It helped prepare me for the adventures of production.

Cheryl overseeing the red carpet. Photo Cred: Nadine Froger Photography

So how do you take your coffee? 
Double cream - no sugar. I don’t want a latte or a cappuccino. No frills. Grind it. I love a real press.

I understand you also have a love for theatre and acting was your first love.
That's correct and that's what brought me to Los Angeles.

What was your first lead role?

Well, I played Lucy in “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown”. I was probably 21.

Cheryl as Lucy stealing the show. Photo from Cheryl's book: Passion to Create

Did your experience in theatre prepare you for event production?
Oh, everything about it prepared me, ONE HUNDRED PERCENT.

You see, in any theatrical performance there are so many layers: the makeup, the costumes, the songs, the stage, the lights… all of the elements. It is an incredible proving ground for event production. I really, really love both... so much.

After so many years at the helm of Seqouia Productions, what one piece of advice do you have for others running their own business?
The collective culture of your office is very important, and from which everything emanates, including your relationship with your customers, and the quality of your creations. I cast my team according to their strengths and interests, emphasizing how every contribution is important and integrated. Everyone must be appreciated and acknowledged.

Cheryl and Sequioa Productions Team

And what do you do when you’re stressed?
Do a lot of yoga. I know when I get revved up, my mind is quite scattered so I grab my yoga mat. If I get stressed, I also start organizing everything. 

Yoga is a family affair in the Cecchetto household.
I also have a yoga membership for all of my staff, so they can go anytime as well. I also enjoy a glass of wine.

Well speaking of wine: White or Red?
Well my father used to say “if you are a real wine drinker, you’ll always end up with Red”. So for me, a big bodied, heavy, red. The kind of wine you have to decanter forever.

However, there are times where a glass of white hits the spot.

Photo Cred: Beverly Hills Magazine's Spotlight on Cheryl 

And how about food. Since you are working with some of the best chefs in the world, what do you enjoy when you're not feeding a bunch of movie stars?

Yes the food at the events is always incredible...

Especially when your job is to work with world renowned chefs like Wolfgang Puck.

I know... right? 

Of course, there's Cheryl hanging out with Wolfgang Puck just before doors open on Oscar night.

But the food I now enjoy the most, are small bites (little hors d’oeurvres). For example, here’s something I absolutely love to do:

I go down to the Beverly Hills Cheese Shop and get just the most incredible cheeses. I love the varieties that are soooo cured, they can just walk off the table. Combining that with chutney, grapes, dried apricots and assorted breads.


Additionally, I create a
 choice of uncomplicated hors d’oeurvres. I love to feature simple, eclectic flavors over the course of the evening, rather than one big, heavy meal.

[Mouth watering] Maybe we should take break and go get some of that cheese you've been bragging about. 

Ohhhh.... cheese is one of my favorite things in the world.

BTW, I loved the recipes in the book.

Well thank you, aren’t they great?

Yes they were. I’m curious, what is your favorite recipe in the book?
Oh! The Cioppino. It’s my recipe and I love it. 

From your book, I understand your sisters' might think it's their?
Yes they do think it's their's, but it's mine :) 

Cheryl's (or maybe her sisters') Cioppino

But here's the trick... (she lowers her voice as if she's giving me some trade secret) you have to make the base the night before and let it ferment. Thennnn... make a fantastic polenta to serve with it. But before I serve everything, I like to start the meal with a few light hors d’oeurves and a light arugula salad. From there, serve the cioppino with the lightly crunchy Polenta. 

It's so, so good.

[BTW - If you are at all curious about what goes into the production behind some of the most elegant events in Hollywood, Cheryl’s book is a great digest of every phase of the process and of course, really entertaining. It’s literally like a textbook for Hollywood event production.] Here's a link to purchase it

Cheryl's Book Cover. Get it while it's hot.

Did you find any similarities between writing a book and producing an event?
There are similarities to everything in life, “especially” the book.

In every walk of life, you have to lay out the objective first: What is the big picture? It’s in everything: Movies, plays, birthdays, dinners, awards, events, books, etc. Then... I take the production and break it up into sections. Chris, I really delineate the various elements, such as decor, entertainment, food... I then go back and refine every piece, every step.

What have been some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in the event world?
I think the most important thing is that the event world has become much more three-dimensional. As the movie business has crossed over to tv, it has also crossed over to the event world. And everything is SOOO much more of a production now.

Cheryl in action and in style.

What parenting advice do you have for those in the event world?
Well, I am not the personality to be a stay at home mom, but I am not the personality to just work either. So my advice is, don’t separate things. Balance whenever you can. Try to get your kids involved in your work. My daughter has twice sung at our jobs and they have both worked as traffic controllers inside the Ball. 

The Cecchetto clan.

What advice would you give your kids if they wanted to get into the event business?
Don’t rush it. Learn the vocabulary and finer points of the business. Take your time before you go out on your own.

I am taking book recommendations, what besides your book do you find yourself recommending?
I usually gravitate towards design books. Right now I have a book on my desk called “Living in a Modern Way 1930-1965”. I am also a magazine junky. I love "Dwell”. I really love old Hollywood books.

How do you get your news?
I like to sit down and watch the news. I also love to get the weekend papers. It’s a fun ritual. 

What is one of your favorite apps right now?
My newest favorite app is WAZE. Anything that makes life easier.

I know. It’s no wonder Google bought it for over 1 Billion dollars.

Riiight!... But I’m actually not really a tech person. I really love and try to get off the grid. There is a chapter in my book on that.

Riiiiight... Not a tech person. Hmm

Cheryl and her team not using technology

If you could interview any artist (living or dead) what would you ask him or her.

Living: Lucille Ball.

She was one of my heroes, because when I watched her show, I would forget about everything. I really aspire to do that in my events. I would love to tell her she brought more joy into my life than anyone can imagine. I would love to ask her, how could she possibly make it through an episode without cracking herself up. What went through her body when everyone cracked up? What do those moments feel like?

Cheryl auditioning for the part of Lucille Ball on Broadway.

Also Bette Midler, who supports so many wonderful charities: Oh... what we could produce together to support the public school system in the US, specifically to help so many teenagers who really need the arts as an outlet. I just think it would be amazing.

In your work, are you insecure about anything?
Yes. After every show I ask… “How on earth will we top what we just created!!!”

If you could pick, who would you want me to interview next?
Warner Brother’s Geriann McIntosh, who has been the Ball Chair of many Television Academy Governors Balls; a woman of exquisite taste, an inspirational communicator, and now a very dear friend.

Parting Wisdom?
Balance... Breathe...

What I found incredible about Cheryl, is that she not only has the creative acumen of an artist, she also has the presence and energy of a Fortune 500 CEO. I was also struck by how responsive and collaborative her team was. Even with all of the events they are juggling, they were two steps ahead every time (so major shout out to Michelle Chan & Bert Hilkes), which is a direct representation of Cheryl's leadership. I am definitely a fan. 

Boston Marathon & Antarctica Marathon: Matt West, VP of Operations


Vans Warped Tour: Kevin Lyman, Founder & CEO 
Roch Frey, Director of Operations
NFLKatie Keenan, Director of Events
Los Angeles MarathonMurphy Reinschreiber, Director of Operations
Supefly (Bonnaroo): Kat Tooley, Senior Director, Event Production  
Big Sur Marathon
Doug Thurston, President
Ragnar Relay: Tanner Bell, Co-Founder & President
Marine Corp MarathonRick Nealis, President
Beats By Dre: Jason White, VP of Marketing 
Sea Otter ClassicFrank Yohannan, Founder & President

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