When Sid Ganis hired Hollywood filmmakers Bill Condon and Laurence Mark to produce this year’s Academy Awards, Mark says Ganis was “open to new ideas.” But uninterrupted speeches? No cheesy opening monologue? A nightclub atmosphere? And a celebration of all 2008 movies, even the bad ones? That’s the kind of Oscar show revolution Condon and Mark have in mind. They’re flying by the seat of their pants, they say, and they’re willing to challenge the ultimate establishment in all of Hollywood.
“The only thing you must do is give all the awards out live onstage,” Mark says. “You have to respect that. But there are many ways to do that, mind you.” What is in the works:
•The host from Oz. The producers were out to make a statement when they selected X-Men star Hugh Jackman after a string of comedians such as Jon Stewart and Ellen DeGeneres.
Yes, Wolverine has animal magnetism galore. But the Australian actor, who previously handled the Tony Awards with aplomb, also has some considerable musical chops after starring in The Boy From Oz and Oklahoma! on stage.
“He can sing, dance and looks great in a tuxedo,” Condon says. At some point in the evening, Jackman will perform in a production number that was conceived by his Australia director, Baz Luhrmann.
•A cozier atmosphere. Condon doesn’t just want a ceremony. He wants to throw a party.
If that means dismantling the Kodak Theatre to better encourage a sense of community among the attendees, so be it. “You don’t have to have large columns or a big staircase or 20-foot-tall Oscars on stage,” he says. “That’s not in the bylaws.”
They have hired David Rockwell, who designed the theater, to make adjustments and create sets.
•Room for spontaneity. Both producers believe the show has relied on too much pre-recorded material.
“That tradition started a few years ago, when they tried to avoid mistakes,” Condon says. “But we have decided that mistakes are our friends. Out of more live segments will hopefully spring more spontaneity.”
•Mystery presenters. When it was announced that the identity of the awards presenters would be kept secret, more than a few Oscar watchers questioned the move. Why not publicize who will appear?
“Do you actually think anyone tunes in to see someone present an award?” Mark says. “They suddenly hear so-and-so is presenting, and young males will watch? Well, no.”
One switch: Instead of lining up last year’s winners and stars with upcoming movies to tout, Condon and Mark are reaching out to those names associated with a 2008 movie. And there will be a few blasts from Hollywood’s past, too.
•Three-hour show, not three-hour speeches. Both vow to adhere to the three-hour mark. “We have done exercises to see what we can better speed along and streamline,” Condon says.
As for having the orchestra play off long-winded speechmakers, it’s a situation they would rather avoid.
“It’s so ungracious,” Condon says. “We will do everything we can not to have to do it. We will still put a little fear into the winners not to go on.” However, the 45-second rule still stands. Mark’s suggestion: “Don’t thank your laundress.”
•Jack Nicholson — probably. One connection Mark will try to capitalize on is his long association with the epitome of Oscar cool, whose mischievous leer is always welcome, even if he didn’t appear in a movie this year.
“He does embody Oscar,” says Mark, who was involved with Terms of Endearment and As Good as It Gets, for which Nicholson won two of his three Academy Awards.
“The show went way out of fashion in the ‘60s and ‘70s,” Condon says of the man behind the shades. “He singlehandedly brought it back when he was nominated for Easy Rider.”
•Applause-free “In Memoriam” tribute. Regular Oscar watchers often cringe when homage is paid to those in the movie business who died in the past year. That is because the audience can’t help but clap harder for better-known names, essentially turning the solemn segment into a popularity contest.
Not this year. “We can’t control the applause,” Condon says, “but we can control what you hear on TV.”
If Condon and Mark can manage to channel the spirit and drive they usually invest into what they do and put it into the Oscar show, it probably can’t help but make some sort of difference.
“It is fun putting on a show,” Condon says.
“Yeah,” Mark says. “He’s Judy Garland. I’m Mickey Rooney.”
Intermission is over. Back to work. “We have to dash and beg someone to present foreign film,” Mark says. “We are hoping for Hillary Clinton.”