If you’ve ever wanted to meet and hang out with the stars at a glittering awards ceremony then this might be the life hack you’ve been waiting for.
Seat-fillers are the best-kept secret in the entertainment industry, booked to attend because the show’s producers want the auditorium to look full on television.
Often there are gaps because the celebrities are presenting an award, performing on stage or even in the toilet or hanging out at the bar.
Holly Jacobs, 24, a college graduate from Los Angeles, was one of 30,000 applicants vying for a seat at the Grammys in Los Angeles last month. Only 300 of them made the cut.
Holly explains, “I’d applied through seatfillersandmore.com for the last two years. “You have to upload a photo and ID. Luckily for me, a week before the event, I got the acceptance email and ticket.
“You must look as if you belong so I wore a black gown. We’re told to wear muted-coloured clothes and at heels for comfort, but most women wore heels. I also got a blow-dry on the day.”
Don’t expect any VIP treatment, though. “At this year’s Grammy’s, we were kept in a holding bay for four hours,” said Holly. “There were no snacks on offer and it was chilly, but inside it’s a different world. “There are fresh flowers everywhere and gorgeous charcuterie boards on each table. Then plenty of champagne, wine and water were offered to all guests.
“The waiters offered it to us, too, but I didn’t drink much so I didn’t have to risk missing anything by taking a toilet break,” she added.
Kat Macfarlene, 42, a law professor, from Chicago, attended the 2011 Academy Awards, which was presented by James Franco and Anne Hathaway. At the time, she was working for a Los Angeles law firm who were gifted seat-filler tickets by the Academy. She says that while producers tell them what section to sit in, you’re left to your own devices, so savvy seat-fillers try to get as close as possible to the stage.
“We tried to figure out who was least likely to return to their seat, so we could stay there for the duration of the show,” said Kat, who also smuggled in warm clothes. “It’s chilly in LA in February and I had a navy windbreaker with me, which didn’t exactly match the dress code. When I ran to fill any seat I would ball it into my hand and stuff it under the seat!”
Before the shows, all seat-fillers are given either pins or wristbands to denote the area they’re working in, and briefed that if they see an empty seat, they must quickly sit in it. Holly explains, “If the celebrity comes back you immediately vacate the seat for them. We were told no selfies and don’t speak to any stars unless they speak to you. You also need to keep your eyes facing forwards, so you can’t take a look at those either side of you. And you can only move around during commercial breaks, which is tricky as that’s when the paparazzi swarm the floor and it becomes chaotic."
Terry George, 57, a businessman from Leeds, has been to four Grammys as a seat-filler. He hit the jackpot within minutes of entering the auditorium. “The first time, in 2014, I just ran for the front row seats and ended up sitting down next to Ringo Starr. Then I got a tap on the shoulder. I turned around and it was Paul McCartney!”
Holly’s big moment at this year’s Grammys came at the end of the broadcast. “In the last commercial break I decided to go up to Harry Styles. I’ve been a fan since One Direction and have been to every tour, so I figured if the producers were going kick me out for talking to him, it would be worth it. I said to him, ‘Do you mind if we get a quick picture?’ And he said, ‘Yes, of course’. We chatted for about a minute. He was so friendly and stayed for ages taking pictures with everyone. He didn’t say no to one person.”
She also sat next to Megan Fox and Machine Gun Kelly, (who were ‘very smiley and welcoming’) and in seats reserved for Camila Cabello and Shania Twain. “Shania came back and tapped me on the shoulder to move. She was very nice. Lizzo and Adele were next to me – I couldn’t hear what they were talking about but they were having a right laugh together – you can see me in the background when Adele’s having her pictures taken by the photographers.”
Kat found a seat behind Jennifer Lawrence, who was nominated for her role in Winter’s Bone. “I remember thinking how beautiful she was and just how slim all the women were in general. While we were first waiting to get inside, Russell Brand stopped for a chat. He didn’t know what a seat-filler was and was fascinated, asking us what we were doing and if the Academy paid for our clothes and time. They don’t, and we don’t get paid. Nor do we get a goodie bag! But he was really kind and funny.”
Terry was mesmerised by Beyoncé at his second Grammys in 2014. “She was the first act on, performing Drunk In Love with Jay-Z, and I was literally pinching myself because she was about three feet in front of me. It’s the best ticket in the world.”
But he also got mistaken for Billie Eilish’s grandad in 2020. “It was reported that I was her grandad on the back of a tweet I wrote replying to Lewis Capaldi, who’d been asked to move out of his seat because the producers thought he was a seat-filler.
"I retweeted him and said, ‘You think that’s bad they thought I was Billie Eilish’s grandad’ and it snowballed from there. I went viral online! But because I stood up enthusiastically clapping when she won the public assumed I was family. I don’t know if she was just overwhelmed with the whole emotion of it all, but she and her brother grabbed my hand and shook it when they came back down! I felt part of something special.”
Terry said, “Most people are really friendly. Once I sat next to Madonna and gave her my business card. I told her I was from Leeds and she said, ‘Oh, I love Yorkshire.’ She was really lovely.”
Not every celebrity is ready for a selfie though. “Ariana Grande wouldn’t have her photo taken,” said Terry. “I respected that as it probably wasn’t the right time.”
Then once the lights dim, it’s back to normality. Kat said, “After the show finished there was an incredible backlog of limos outside the theatre so I put my windbreaker on, marched a few blocks down Hollywood Boulevard and flagged down a cab home.”
Seat-filler top tips
An insider warns seat-filling isn’t an opportunity to upstage celebs or land your big Hollywood break
Brett Henry is a former producer at ABC and worked for many years on the Academy Awards. His top three seat-filling tips are:
- Try not to get starstruck. You must act as if you belong in the theatre sitting alongside your peers, so don’t ask for autographs or selfies.
- Leave your CV and a headshot at home. This is not the time or the place to be discovered or land your big break in Hollywood.
- Don’t attempt to out-do any celebrities by showing up wearing an over-the-top outfit. Most importantly, be attentive and follow directions.
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