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74th edition to zero in on old-style glamour

Ziskin discusses the task of producing the Oscars

HOLLYWOOD — After a 40-year absence, Oscar is headed back to Hollywood for the 74th annual Academy Awards, and there’s plenty more changes in store.

For one, the event will be held at the new Kodak Theater located at the Hollywood & Highland complex, which already has organizers buzzing.

“I think there’s an excitement about a new space,” says Louis J. Horvitz, who’s returning to direct his sixth consecutive Oscarcast.

“It’s different circumstances that provide a different set of challenges. We’ve never shot in there before. Every time I direct a live television show I attempt to give the people at home the best seat in the house. Especially with the Oscars. People are in a party mood and that energy is infectious, and it transposes from the stage to the screen.”

For her first Oscar gig, veteran film producer Laura Ziskin (“Pretty Woman,” “Spider-Man”) says she plans to focus on what she does best. “I’m not a variety show producer, I’m a filmmaker and I wanted to make a filmcentric show. I want this telecast to be about what’s best about the movies, to have that sense of timeless glamour and elegance.”

To achieve that goal, she is bringing in some legendary behind-the-scenes talent including production designer Michael Riva, costume designer Ann Roth and composer John Williams.

“Michael’s done lots of films like ‘The Color Purple’ and ‘Ordinary People,’ and he also happens to be Marlene Dietrich’s grandson,” says Ziskin, “so he has a real connection to old Hollywood and new Hollywood. Ann Roth, who’s obviously the grande dame of costume design, has come in to be a touchstone for us, a muse for any of the nominees who want to call her up and say, ‘Ann, help.’ And I had this fantasy of getting John Williams to conduct a live orchestra. Because I think that’s part of what creates excitement in the theater.”

This year’s Oscars will feature original filmed segments from filmmakers as diverse as Nora Ephron, Joel Schumacher, Penelope Spheeris, Richard La Gravanese and Errol Morris. In addition, there will also be film-clip tributes to Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences honorees Sidney Poitier and Robert Redford, and Arthur Hiller, recipient of the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.

Bruce is back

Returning for his 13th year, Bruce Vilanch will head up the writing staff for the Academy Awards, bringing with him a whole roster of talented scribes including Carrie Fisher, Carol Leifer, Rita Rudner, Jonathan Tolins and Wanda Sykes. Vilanch is especially happy to have Whoopi Goldberg back as emcee for her fourth telecast.

“I work with her all the time on ‘Hollywood Squares’ so I know how much fun she is. She’s funny and she’s warm and this year there could be a whole lot of black people up there, Halle Berry, Denzel Washington, Will Smith, which would be fabulous. Usually, she’s the only one.”

While Vilanch gleefully plans to stretch the limits of bad taste, he says the events of 9/11 will affect the tenor of jokes. “As things come closer, we’ll see just how funny or unfunny Osama is. Obviously, it’s touchy.”

However, Vilanch still has plenty of inspired ideas. “I’m glad ‘Moulin Rouge’ got a lot of nominations because I’ve got a can-can skirt sitting in my closet that’s going to get some fair use. I was disappointed that (the Academy members) didn’t feel as we do that ‘Freddy Got Fingered’ was the No. 1 movie of the year. I don’t want our big ‘Freddy Got Fingered’ dance number to go out the window.”

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