The Academy is trying something new with its Oscar producers this year, and David Hill told Variety, “It’s your fault!”
On March 26, a Variety column urged the Acad to expand its thinking in picking an Oscarcast producer. The org usually hires film producers for the show, but live TV requires a different set of skills — so they should consider veterans of TV sports or concert shows, citing Hill as an example. Academy execs read the piece and began talks with him; the org ultimately tapped into both worlds, with Hill and movie vet Reginald Hudlin sharing duties, as announced Sept. 1. As Hill told Variety on Tuesday afternoon, “Reggie knows film inside out, and I know live television, so we are hopefully going to come up with something interesting.”
On Wednesday morning, Hudlin said their first big decision — picking a host — is a work in progress. An Entertainment Weekly report indicated it would be a team, but Hudlin said that’s only one option. “We’re still very much looking at every possibility. At our first meeting, I mentioned a possible pairing, and David flipped; since then I have thrown out another four or five names and David brought up ideas.” Hudlin said it could be an existing team (rumors bruited Key and Peele, or Amy Poehler and Tina Fey), or it could be a duo who have never worked together: “We have talked about people who might be exciting odd couples,” he laughed.
As for the show, neither producer would share specific ideas, but it’s clear that discussions are already energetic. And, like the Variety-inspired outside-the-box approach in hiring, they are clearly thinking of innovations. “We are in the brainstorming process, when there are no bad ideas,” said Hudlin. “We will explore them all, then eventually take a hammer and chisel to them.”
Hill said, “We’ve talked about the number of cameras, audio, lights, sets, what awards should be given out first, how do we explain the difference between sound mixing and sound editing. The challenge is to make it entertaining, so it doesn’t seem like a lesson, so the audience cares for people when they get onstage.”
He didn’t say so, but the show could borrow a page from his previous work. Hill spent more than 25 years at Fox, working on sports shows (including six Super Bowls) and “American Idol.” All of these used video backstories, offering profiles of athletes or the singing contestants to complement the action. Such backstories could be invaluable to an Oscarcast as it humanizes nominees not well known to the public. (On Tuesday, Hill subtly paid tribute to “the godfather of sports TV,” Roone Arledge, who innovated these “up close and personal” profiles.)
Also in the mix is the spontaneous/emotional factor of the show. Hill said one of the most poignant moments in MTV’s Aug. 30 VMA’s was Justin Bieber’s weeping as the audience welcomed him back. “It was such an intense, human moment. But they blew it; they left the shot, they didn’t stay on it. That was the real drama, a wonderful moment. That’ s what we are aiming for.”
Even if they add new elements to the Academy Awards, that won’t mean a longer show. Hill offered words of relief for Oscar lovers: “The one thing I’ve always prided myself on is finishing a show on time.” Hudlin concurred: “Above all, I want the show to be tight and fast-paced. This is the biggest canvas you can paint on; the world is watching. And we want it to be for movie fans and for filmmakers.”
After this year’s Feb. 22 Oscarcast, Craig Zadan and Neil Meron revealed they’d just concluded a three-year contract with the Academy, which wanted to maintain some continuity in producers, rather than having a new one every year.
So are Hudlin and Hill set for three years? “I don’t know!” exclaimed Hill. “If we screw up, it’ll be goodbye. But if we have as much fun doing this as preliminary conversations have indicated, they will want us back!”