Oscars Co-Producer Likens Planning Process To Putting On A Broadway Musical

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A statue of the Oscar is carried inside a tent in a Hollywood back lot for touching up by scenic artists on on Feb. 21, 2017 in Hollywood, Calif. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)
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Michael De Luca has produced such films as “The Social Network,” “Moneyball” and both “Fifty Shades of Grey” movies — so he’s worked in high-pressure situations before. But this Sunday, he and co-producer Jennifer Todd will put on a show that has millions of critical viewers: the 89th Academy Awards.

In a View From The Top conversation, De Luca talks with Here & Now‘s Jeremy Hobson about some of the challenges involved, and also his years working in the film business.

Interview Highlights

On what it’s like to be on the production side of the Oscar experience

“It’s pretty fun, I have to say. It’s probably I’ll get to producing a Broadway musical. It’s immediate, it’s urgent, it’s different than obviously the scripted stuff I’ve done. It’s just very in the moment. It’s an exciting change of pace for me.”

On the production challenges the Oscars pose

“Running time. You know, the challenges are, you know, we’ve pretty much booked the show. We know the presenters, we know the original content that we’ve brought to it, we know the nominated songs. And we like all of it, so now it’s a question of can we fit it into that box that doesn’t have people the following day go, ‘Wow, that was a long awards show.’ You know, I think you’re going to get that no matter what, but we want to do the best we can to mitigate it.”

“My partner on the show, Jennifer Todd and I, we approached it from the point of view of, what we can affect that might create the impression of a show that was really entertaining or that moved quickly. Even if you’re locked into a certain running time — and yes, you’re right, the speeches may push you a little bit — but we also have kind of control over that too, because we have the button that triggers the play off music after 45 seconds. But we thought, ‘Let’s look at it from the point of view of, let’s not let too much time go bye between giving out awards, that creates the impression of a slow show. Let’s try and not have a slow slog or a slow area in the middle where people kind of check out. Let’s have something fun every couple of acts.’ So we’ve tried to attack that problem not literally in terms of making the show, you know, shorter in spots, but just making sure it’s entertaining all the way through.”

On cutting off celebrity speeches

“It’s really fluid. It’s such an unpredictable situation. We’re really going to try not to use it if someone is reaching the peak of a really moving speech, but it’s very subjective. It’s really what Jenn and I and the director feel is really moving. If we feel like you’re droning and you’re not being particularly, you know, wise, it’s very subjective, but we’ll hit that music. But we tell people at the nominees luncheon, you know, through this funny, short film we commissioned from Kate McKinnon. You have 45 seconds. That 45 seconds starts from the minute you get up out of your seat, it doesn’t start when you’re at the stage. So, rehearse, practice, fit it in that 45 seconds, including your walk up. And don’t wing it, and you should be OK.”

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On whether actors are practicing their speeches

“You know, it’s a mixed bag. I bet a few people, especially people who have been there before, probably rehearse and practice. And you know, they’re professionals and don’t want to waste that time. Some people are really overtaken in the moment, overwhelmed, honestly, by emotion and do wing it by accident because they’re so deer in the headlights. So you usually get a mixed bag.”

On whether the Oscars will get political

“You know, I think it’s in the air, so even before all the recent stuff, we thought, you know, just the nature of these shows, no matter what’s going on in the world, topicality creeps in because the winners get up there and it’s their moment in the spotlight and they speak from the heart, and that may include current events if they’re socially minded. So, there’s always a degree of it, I think there’s more of it in the air because of recent events.

“But I’m of two minds about it. I’m a free-speech warrior. I think that everyone — you know, liberals and conservatives — should be allowed to speak their mind. I don’t really agree with the majority of the ‘shut up and sing’ thing that’s given to a lot of celebrities just because they’re celebrities. But I also think the Oscars aren’t an op-ed page. I think the Oscars celebrate excellence in the field of filmmaking, and it should be a kind of island of just, you know, celebration of those things within the industry. But again, it’s not my place to control — and I can’t even control, even if I wanted to — what people say. We’re just gonna grab onto the railing and hold on for the ride and see what happens.”

On how to produce a show for TV and for a live audience

“By really focusing on the universality of why we’re all there. I really believe that for the people in the audience, in the theater and the people watching abroad and at home here, it’s the love of movies and the magical moments that we’ve all shared at the movies. I do think that’s a universal language. So, we’ve tried to stay focused on celebrating the work, both the work from this year and the work from years past. We think that’s where the people in the theater, the people at home in this country and watching abroad all meet — in this place of really being moved by movies.”

On his favorite movie

“‘Lawrence of Arabia’ is my all-time favorite.”

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