Oscars 2011: Gearing up for the big show
Oscar producer Don Mischer looks worried. Maybe he just said too much about allowing winners to say too much. ”Listen, just… don’t make it sound like we’re going to let people go on forever,” says Mischer, veteran of Super Bowl halftime shows, multiple Emmy Awards broadcasts, and the Obama-inaugural concert special. He is directing and co-producing the upcoming 83rd Academy Awards with film producer Bruce Cohen, who in 2000 collected his own Oscar for Best Picture American Beauty. While first-time hosts Anne Hathaway and James Franco are the face of the telecast, airing Feb. 27 on ABC, Mischer and Cohen are its brain. And they have just acknowledged embracing something past Oscar producers have feared most: the speeches. Previous nominees have been warned by show producers to keep it short, not read a litany of thank-yous, and speak from the heart. Those guidelines remain in effect, but this year’s producers are willing to cede a little on time if the winners say something worthwhile. ”We want to try to keep the show paced quickly, give it a rhythm and spirit,” Mischer says. ”When that happens, it’s kind of infectious and spreads through the room, and even people making acceptance speeches, when they feel [things] moving quickly, they don’t talk as long.” Mischer pauses, stretching out one large, cautionary hand. ”I want to be real clear, that’s what we’re hoping to accomplish.” Cohen, a shortish man with curly blond hair and a devilish laugh, adds: ”We need the Oscar gods to smile on us for that to happen.”
The gods have already graced them with two unlikely hosts, and Cohen acknowledges they wanted movie stars — not a comedian — to head the show. ”We did have to win them over,” says Cohen. ”Anne has admitted she said no to us first, but we didn’t take no for an answer. Once we had James secure, we went back to her.”
Since Hathaway and Franco have less of a background in comedy than previous Oscar hosts (including last year’s cohosts, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin), the gig will change. Neither of the new MCs wants to do a long stand-up monologue, so expect a shorter opening with some jokes, music, and dancing. In fact, the producers plan to make all the set pieces, sketches, and clip packages leaner than in years past. ”There will be plenty of that, but we have tried to construct that part of the show with an eye toward keeping it a tight night,” says Cohen, who adds that he and Mischer postponed discussing how to handle one notorious time filler — the Best Original Song category — until after the nominees were announced.
”If you’re fortunate enough to design it in a way that moves more quickly, it can’t be at the expense of cutting the heart and emotion out of it,” Mischer says, adding that he’ll cue the music if he has to. ”My goal as a director — my fantasy — would be that never once in the course of the evening do we ever have to play anyone off.”
Oscar gods, prepare to work overtime.