Details of Dramatic Changes for Oscars Telecast

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The Oscars are entering the world of virtual reality.

This year’s Academy Awards telecast is taking a radical departure from past years. Producers of the Feb. 27 show are abandoning the concept of a traditional set. Instead, they will rely on a series of “projections” to give the show a constantly changing look.
 
“Our design this year is actually going to reflect more content than you would usually expect of an awards show of this type,” producer Don Mischer tells The Hollywood Reporter in an interview with fellow producer Bruce Cohen in the Kodak Theater. “We’re using our environment to take us to different places, different times, and it will change dramatically. The look will change from act to act.”

Producers plan to take viewers on a trip through Hollywood history.

“We’re doing six or seven scenic transitions during the show, but they are each sort of a different concept,” Cohen explains. “In other words, one might be a scene from a film, one might be a more specific time in history, one might be a specific event, one might be a specific genre. The hope is that we briefly leave the Kodak in 2011 -- not literally, but metaphorically -- and take the audience, both in the room and on television, to a specific time and place.”

Pressed for more detail, Cohen adds, “This is the tenth anniversary of the best animated feature Oscar, so we go to an animated environment to present that Oscar -- actually two, animated feature and animated short -- but the reason we are there is to celebrate that this is the tenth anniversary of the best animated feature Oscar.”

The transitions, Mischer explains, will not be long segments, but 30-45 second set-ups. “We are not going back to teach history, but to put the awards in context.”

The design scheme grew out of the theme that the two producers devised once they began working on the show back in June. In an extensive review of past broadcasts, they were struck by the two-fold nature of the assignment. On the one hand, they have to come up with something new and different. On the other, they wanted to recognize the previous 82 years of Oscar history.

 “Is there any way to approach the show where those two ideas are working together and not fighting each other with every single decision?" they asked themselves. The solution, they decided, was somehow to combine the old and the new.

To that end, they cast Anne Hathaway and James Franco -- two of the youngest hosts to ever front the Oscars -- as audience surrogates for the journey.

“Yes, they are famous, but they are on their way up,” Cohen says of the two stars. “They are not untouchable, they are not unreachable. We hope they will offer [the audience] a way in. So everyone come along, and we’ll see through the eyes of these two up-and-coming stars.”

The hosts’ job, he says, will be “to take the audience on this journey of a show that will hopefully start in one place, and if it all goes according to plan, it will take you back to where we started at the end.”

To realize that on stage visually, the producers have been working with production designer Steve Bass, who’s previously worked with Mischer on such shows as the 62nd Primetime Emmy Awards and We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial.

While the production has moved into the Kodak to set up the show, it’s been using the daytime hours to hang the physical scenery on which the projections will be displayed, and then during the night another team has been programming the projections. Working throughout this weekend, the goal is to have the whole system up-and-running by Monday.

So how did the two producers sell the concept of their novel approach to the Academy and ABC, since it wasn’t simply a matter of constructing the sort of physical models that have been used in the past?

While the two producers walked the Academy and ABC through what they call “the story of the show,” Cohen admits, “We weren’t able to show them what the actual images would look like, but we were able to show them what the images would be. For better or worse, I think they have a very clear idea in their heads of what we think the show is going to be. We’re kind of as curious as they are [to see] when it’s all up this weekend, how similar what we’ve had in our heads for the last month or two is to the actual experience.”

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