New Oscars Producer David Hill Promises "Up-Close-and-Personal Approach"

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David Hill

Joining forces with Reginald Hudlin to produce the 88th Academy Awards, Hill also promises the show will end on time.

David Hill was surprised when he got a call to meet with Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs and CEO Dawn Hudson.

The former chief of Fox Sports, who the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said Monday will produce the 88th Oscars alongside filmmaker Reginald Hudlin, has had plenty of practice overseeing live sports events. But, he freely admits, “My knowledge of film was, at best, sketchy.”

Twentieth Century Fox chairman Jim Gianopulos, who sits on the Academy’s board of governors, had spoken with Hill first about his possibly taking on the Oscar-show producing assignment. Yet when a meeting with Boone Isaacs and Hudson subsequently was set for 4:30 p.m. on a Friday, Hill, as he tells it, assumed it was just a courtesy.

“I’ve been in Hollywood long enough to know that the 4:30 Friday meeting is the kiss-off meeting, the meeting you have to have, but you don’t really want to have,” recounts Hill. “Normally, what happens is: 'Do you want some coffee? Would you like some cookies? How are the kids? Oh, look at the time, the traffic’s dreadful on the 10, have to fly. Kissy-kissy, we must do lunch.' So I told my wife, Joan, that I’d be home by quarter-to-six, but I didn’t get home till late. And that began a series of conversations, culminating in today’s announcement.”

While Hill has been celebrated for the technical innovations he’s brought to sports coverage — like a continuous onscreen clock and score — he says that won’t carry over to producing the Oscars, which “is not a job that involves technical gimmicks at all.”

Instead, he says, the approach he and Hudlin have been discussing will be all about storytelling. “The godfather of sport has been the great [ABC executive] Roone Arledge,” he explains. “And I’ve never done anything in a production sense where I haven’t thought, ‘What would Roone do?’ The classic thing that Roone came up with was the simplest — it was the up-close-and-personal, so that the audience got to know people. Reggie and I have been talking about the up-close-and-personal approach, so that we get to know the guys who make the best short animation, so when the award is given, you get this magic moment. You say, ‘Aw, I’m so proud of him,’ even though you’ve never seen him or her before.”

He adds that he and Hudlin hope to stitch those moments together into a larger story. “The show is a storytelling show,” he says. “How do you make the awards flow together into a thread? To me, the awards feel like non sequiturs, and, for the life of me, I still haven’t been able to figure out what’s the difference between sound editing and sound mixing, what’s the difference between a short documentary and a feature documentary. Same thing with short animation. So what we are talking about is constructing the awards, so the awards in and of themselves build to best picture."

While Hill and Hudlin had not known each other previously, at the suggestion of Boone Isaacs, the two met during the ongoing discussions. “I needed someone who knew and loved film as much as I understood television,” says Hill. And so Hudlin visited Hill at the latter’s home, where he was recovering from ankle surgery. “Fortunately, after about 10 minutes, we realized we had the same sense of humor,” adds Hill. “So we spent the afternoon roaring with laughter as we talked about stuff. By cobbling us together, I think Cheryl has achieved the best of both worlds. She’s got someone who knows his way around television very well, as well as someone who knows his way around film very well. With our skill sets matched together, I think we’re going to have some pretty good fun doing the show.”

As for their first job — finding a host — Hill says, “It’s way too early. We’ve talked and talked and talked, and we’ll continue to talk and talk. Don’t forget that the movies that are going to shape the show, a lot are going to come out between September and December. So we don’t know what shape the show is going to take. The show has got to develop organically.”

While the most recent Oscars producers, Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, operated under a three-year deal with the Academy, Hill says for himself and Hudlin, “It’s a one-year gig, which I’m more than happy about. I want to see if I like it. Reggie wants to see if he likes it. I think we’re going to get it right, and if so, they’ll want us to stick around for a while.”

Hill does have one other goal for the show, to be broadcast Feb. 28 on ABC: “To make sure the show gets off the air when it’s supposed to get off the air. I’ve always prided myself on getting my shows off on time, and I don’t see why this one should be any different.”

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