Oscar Producer Will Packer Defends Ceremony Revamp: ‘Nobody Is Going to Be Shortchanged’ (EXCLUSIVE)

The producer also shares that all three hosts will be present throughout the entire ceremony, and HBCU students are among the statuette presenters.

Will Packer
Ben Rollins

Will Packer, the producer of this year’s Oscars telecast, has responded to the artisans community’s outcry about the decision to pre-record eight craft categories.

During an interview with Variety, the Hollywood producer behind box office hits like “Girls Trip” says he is setting out to make a fun and engaging telecast for all viewers, while sharing he has the utmost respect and compassion for all artisans in the industry. Still, he stands by the decision to pre-tape eight categories and weave them into the live telecast.

“I think it was the right decision,” Packer says. “We have to understand that the Academy Awards show as we know it is at an inflection point. The next coming years, especially this year, are going to be a harbinger for what this show will become.”

He adds: “You have to do something else, and you have to think about this as an entertainment property. The Oscars are no different than any of the other award shows that are having that same challenges.”

The Academy announced on Feb. 22 that several major categories would not be presented live on the air to deliver a more streamlined and television-friendly experience. The awards that will be handed out earlier in the ceremony are for documentary short, film editing, makeup and hairstyling, original score, production design, animated short, live-action short and sound. Outgoing CEO Dawn Hudson has said the decision was made by the show’s producers, Academy officers and awards committee.

“Nobody is going to be shortchanged by this decision to try to make the show more efficient, expedited and make more people watch the show,” Packer says. “I’m going to have every one of the nominees have a moment. All the nominees for all the categories will hear their names in that show. The winner will have their speech. You’ll hear from them in the show. Most viewers will not be able to tell the difference.”

In a Variety artisans special report, five craftspeople shared their dismay over how the ceremony is being executed. Packer says he has nothing but respect and empathy for their craft, but wants the focus to remain on celebration.

“I respect everybody’s opinions and I’ve got my own opinions, and mine is not more important than anybody else’s. But I am in a position where I’m able to put mine into action,” Packer says. “It’s a celebratory night during a time when the world, at large, is going through a tough moment. So I want to keep the focus on the celebration.”

Pundits, journalists and awards enthusiasts have also heavily criticized the move, with many saying that the Oscars should play to their core audience. While acknowledging the die-hard fans that tune in every year for the ceremony, Packer has a different view: “We need those people that are going to watch this show, no matter what, but that’s not most people. That’s just the reality. It’s an oversaturated content environment. People have choices to watch anything and everything they want. I’m going to do the best I can to treat this show with the reverence, respect and proper positioning it deserves, but I’m also going to try to make a very entertaining show.”

Packer continues, “One of the things I wanted to do early on was to make a decision to treat this as an entertainment property. You have to make a decision: is it something we’re going to say is for Hollywood by Hollywood, and that’s good enough? Or, are we going to say we want to get as many people under the tent, so to speak, to now celebrate and watch the most amazingly talented artists and craftspeople in the world? Well, I lean more towards the latter.”

Packer, whose films have grossed more than one billion dollars worldwide, is focusing on delivering the best awards show experience that invites all admirers of cinema under the ceremony’s theme: “Movie Lovers Unite.” It’s been no secret that the Academy and ABC’s focus has been on increasing the dwindling ratings of the last few years, which is not unique to the Oscars.

Regarding the three emcees of the night — Regina Hall, Amy Schumer and Wanda Sykes — Packer tells Variety that the three will not each be hosting a different hour, as many have speculated. Instead, they will be weaved in and out of the ceremony, meaning they will take the stage together during a few moments of the telecast. In addition, for the first time, students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) will be among some of the statuette presenters that hand the Oscars to the winners during the ceremony, including Mr. and Miss North Carolina A&T.

The Oscars will air on ABC Sunday, March 27.