This year, instead of hiring a movie industry stalwart like recent Oscar show producers Steven Soderbergh or Will Packer — who separately oversaw Academy Awards broadcasts over the past couple of years that were, shall we say, memorable for all the wrong reasons — the Academy has turned to awards show and live TV veterans Glenn Weiss and Ricky Kirshner. In going for experience rather than take a chance on someone who is not known for putting together a massive television production for Hollywood’s biggest night of the year, AMPAS returned to the days of Gil Cates, who reliably produced 14 Oscar shows and could be counted on to try new things but also uphold tradition.
Weiss is no stranger to the Oscars, having directed the seven previous ceremonies for which he won two Emmys, plus 21 Tony Awards shows for which he won 12 Emmys. Along with his partner Kirshner, who also has 30 years of entertainment production experience and won nine Emmys, the pair between them has also done numerous Super Bowl Halftime Shows, political conventions, Emmy ceremonies, presidential inaugurals and so many more. They took some time off from their preparations for the 95th Annual Academy Awards on Sunday to join me in a conversation about what they have planned for this year’s show.
The Oscars remain in recovery mode, coming off last year’s controversial “slap” edition and the previous year’s stripped down pandemic-affected ceremony (the lowest-rated Oscars ever by far). This time around it feels like a return to normalcy — or at least that seems to be what they hope for, plus a little help from Best Picture-nominated blockbusters Top Gun: Maverick, Avatar: The Way of Water and Elvis to help goose audience interest.
Here is our conversation:
DEADLINE: After a couple of bumpy years, what are you doing to bring the Oscars back to their former glory?
GLENN WEISS: Look, we’re really excited at this juncture, knowing what we’re putting on the stage [a few] days from now, and I keep going, ‘Wow, it’s getting close, isn’t it?’ We’re really excited, because, at the end of the day, with all the noise in the background and everything going on, we’re here to honor the film industry. We’re here to honor these films and these nominees, and we think we’ve put together a really nice way of doing that, and that, in the broadcast, we hope everyone’s walking away rooting for all these movies, wanting to go see these movies, sharing on nominees, because we’re going to present it that way. We’re going to present it in a way that let’s get right back to it. It’s all about these films. I think you’re going to see a lot of these movies from a perspective that you’ve never seen before, which is really kind of exciting us. Sure, it’s not the Tonys, which we love very much, which is a more performance-based show. It’s not the Grammys, which is all about music performance. This is about these films. So our narrative here is about that. It’s about the films and the filmmakers and all the people behind the scenes who make these wonderful things that we all go to the theaters to see.
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DEADLINE: Well, Glenn, you’ve done this show for many years as a director, and you’ve seen it all, So what’s the trick in making this audience-friendly? And in new CEO Bill Kramer and new President Janet Yang you’ve got a whole new administration you’re working with this year.
WEISS: Indeed we do, and it’s been a real pleasure so far, and it’s been a really great collaborative effort — the Academy, with ABC. Everybody together has really targeted the same thing, which is making this show about the movies again, making this show about what we loved about movies, which has all worked out really nicely. We think we have a great representation of people joining us on stage and that what’s going to make this show, hopefully, resonate with people, from what we’re doing from the open, which is going to be really inspiring, to throughout the show. I think once you tune in, the show is literally going to fly by. It’s going to be like so much happening in front of you. You’re going to be entertained with comedy. You’re going to really engage in the process of filmmaking and what it is to put these things together, and I hope people really see it for what it is, which is a really interesting thing.
DEADLINE: The Academy famously eliminated eight categories last year and pre-taped them, edited them and rolled them into the live show, in order to save time. It upset many AMPAS members, and the show wound up being one of the longest ever, so that didn’t work. How are you incorporating everybody here to make not only the industry happy, but the audience at home watching when they are mainly interested in the higher-profile categories such as acting and picture?
RICKY KIRSHNER: Well, just to be clear, they didn’t eliminate them last year. … Look, we have 23 [categories] to get on the air. We know what that takes, but we also plan on making them entertaining. We plan on educating the people at home on what some of these crafts are, making the nominees interesting so there’s rooting interest in the categories. You know, to make a film, as we’ll show I think throughout the night, it takes more than like six or 12 people in front of the camera. It takes hundreds and hundreds of people behind the camera, and there’s a lot of people at home that could be in the studio and say, ‘Hey, I could do that.’ And it’s a glamorous — or not-so-glamorous — career choice, so I think we’re really going to open up the world of filmmaking to the people at home and highlight the crafts instead of, you know, just putting them on the air, as some people say.
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DEADLINE: I know you have been releasing starry lists of presenters, but one of them will not be Will Smith, who after the infamous “slap” last year, has been banned from Oscar shows for the next decade. In line with, that we are hearing the Academy has hired a “crisis team” to deal with any unforeseen things that might happen. Glenn, you were directing that show, are you worried about anything happening like that again?
WEISS: I don’t think this is the first or only event that has ever had security plans in place un-scrutinized year after year. It’s sort of always been part of an infrastructure of any show. That’s not really our end of the table. I think that, you know, we’re being commissioned to bring the show on the air, keep it entertaining, keep it respectful and make everybody care. That’s what we’re going to do. The people behind the scenes and that other end of the world will hopefully create and keep a safe environment for everybody.
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DEADLINE: At this point in your careers, is there something involving this kind of show, with all these moving parts, that is the biggest challenge for you? How you might make it different from past shows?
WEISS: (laughs) By far, the biggest challenge for me is all the press you have to do beforehand. You know, I say it jokingly, but yes, exactly. There are things that we definitely want to bring, but we want everyone to really feel a surprise and enjoy and roll with it. So we do want to give you stuff. We do want to talk about it, but we don’t want to give away too much either.
KIRSHNER: I don’t know what different is. I think everybody’s work is different. I think, visually, it’s very different than anything you’ve seen before. It’s going to be a very immersive experience in the theater, and I think that will translate at home, and keeping the theater audience engaged will also translate at home. And you know, there’s actually a lot of really competitive races this year, too, and in a lot of categories, so that’s good for us. There’s a lot of blockbuster movies that people have seen, so that’s good for us too. I think we just need to present them in the best way possible.
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DEADLINE: You have announced performances for four of the five nominees for Best Song including Rhianna, hot off the Super Bowl, David Byrne too. But so far there has been no announcement that Lady Gaga would again be on the Oscars performing her nominated song from Top Gun: Maverick. Any word on that?
KIRSHNER: We’ve announced some of the performances, and there are still more announcements to come. So, I will say that the ones we’ve announced, very creatively, have taken to make their song very performance based and very visual. Obviously, as you can imagine, Everything Everywhere All At Once. Very visual. David Byrne (who co-wrote and performed that film’s song “This Is a Life”) had a lot to say about what it’ll look like, so that’ll be cool. So, we’re excited about all the performances that we have.
DEADLINE: So am I to surmise you don’t have a performance you’re going to do on the Top Gun song?
WEISS: Not until somebody’s in it, and we’ve put out what we’ve put out so far, and more releases coming over time.
(Editor’s note: Weiss announced at a news conference Wednesday that Lady Gaga will not be performing on the Oscarcast.)
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DEADLINE: You referenced the opening. Exactly what are we going to see?
WEISS: You are not going to want to miss it.
DEADLINE: Well, that’s a hint, I guess.
WEISS: You are not going to want to miss it, and when it starts, the show’s going to fly by. It’s going to be absolutely brilliant.
DEADLINE: Last year a lot of seats were taken out of the Orchestra section of the Dolby Theatre and replaced with tables where nominees sat, which made that part of the auditorium look more like the Golden Globes than the Oscars. Was that another failed experiment?
WEISS: I think the reason why that didn’t work last year is because we had to take out so many seats, that, you know, my guests weren’t in front. So, you know, we had to change that, clearly (laughs). No, that’s, again, a joke. We are returning to a traditional theater environment and are making cosmetic changes within the theater differently than seating, so that we’re not sacrificing seating for the sake of it. But I think it’s going to, at the end of the day, be a truly immersive experience for the folks in the house, and just to give you this little tidbit, too, we’re putting on a show for the people in the house, and this is our theatre background now coming into play. We’re putting on a show for the people in the house, and we’re putting on a TV show. So if you’re attending the ceremony, there’s going to be content that plays relevant to the show and the nominees during the commercials in the house. And we’re doing this on purpose, to keep the energy in the room up so that it’s not you’re falling off, and then you lose everybody. You come back from commercial, people are wandering and all that. We believe in keeping people engaged for the full time that they’re sitting in their seats, and we’re going to bring that here to the people at the Dolby Theatre.
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DEADLINE: Jimmy Kimmel is back for the third time hosting. Do you feel it is important to have a host, and a comedian who is that host?
WEISS:: I’ll just say this: We’re thrilled to have Jimmy. We’re really thrilled. He’s been really engaged and planning and being a part of it. He’s really into the movies, into what’s out this year and all that kind of stuff, but most importantly, he brings a tremendous comedic voice to the show. With that comedic voice, we’re really thrilled to be on the same page of, you know what? We don’t want to have fun at anybody’s expense. We want people to be laughing with us. So I just really think it’s going to be a great, fun evening. Lots of great, unexpected beats and bits, and not really doing it at the expense of anybody.
DEADLINE: On his show several weeks ago, Kimmel did a bit with this Midwest theater employee who does this amazing thing serving up popcorn to the moviegoers, almost like a circus act. He invited him on the Oscars. Will he be there?
KIRSHNER: I think Jimmy’s a man of his word. I think if he invited someone, he has to have them here.
DEADLINE: I think that’s important to have that kind of thing, and the show’s trying to bring people back into movie theaters, too, right? That movie experience has been so challenged in the last three years. Can the Oscars help bring people back?
KIRSHNER: Definitely. I mean, you know, when we do the Tonys, obviously, our mantra is, “Come see a Broadway show,” and I think the same is true here. You know, we hope that you’ll see something on our show that makes you want to go to the theater and watch one of these movies or watch an upcoming movie for next year’s Oscars. Absolutely.
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