Oscar.com "Thank You Cam"
EmptySo in a nod to the future and courting a younger audience that seems a bit indifferent to this whole Oscar thing, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences -- spurred by Academy Awards producer Laura Ziskin -- instituted a "Thank You Cam" on the official Oscars Web site Sunday night. The apparent idea behind it was to allow winners an opportunity to thank all the people they didn't have a chance to single out before being cut off by the orchestra after 40 seconds. They could speak till the proverbial cows came home backstage in the immediate rush following their victory, just as the shock was fully setting in. It turned out to be a fairly good idea, albeit one fraught with clear flaws at once technical and psychological.
After leaving the surrealistic setting of the biggest moment of their professional lives, winners undoubtedly require a couple of minutes to breathe and sturdy themselves for the parade through the press maze. But the Oscar.com camera required almost an instantaneous second wind that some handled better than others. Alan Arkin apparently was too overcome to even participate after his supporting actor win. After hers, Jennifer Hudson was still hyperventilating, flush with the overwhelming glow of victory. She thanked Jennifer Holliday and a few others before succumbing to a deer-in-the-headlights bewilderment.
Others were more poised. Predictably, best actress winner Helen Mirren was one of them. She gave a warm, moving shout-out to husband Taylor Hackford, among many others. Yet even a poised Brit like Mirren can get caught up in the moment and utter something she no doubt regretted. In this case, it was this: "And I'd like to thank my agent ... and my lawyer for making a good deal. Well, not so good, but nevermind." Sherry Lansing gave thanks to seemingly everyone she has ever met during an expedient 55 seconds or so -- including siblings, friends and "all of the people who work in cancer research." Melissa Etheridge, who took home the trophy for her original song in "An Inconvenient Truth," thanked -- among others -- "The Class of '79 in Leavenworth, Kan. ... Thanks for not thinking I was weird back in high school."
Most of the direct-into-the-camera expressions of gratitudes spanned about a minute. Again, it was a noble idea. The problems were twofold: one, the aforementioned emotional crash following the life-affirming high of the Oscar stage; two, there was a cloying slowness of the streaming in part because of the heavy site traffic. Because of the congestion delays, it took minutes in most cases to watch a 60-second streaming clip, and I have a high-speed cable modem and fast desktop. Add to that a 15- or 30-second ad that had to be endured before the clip materialized and it's tough to imagine who would have wanted to fool with this during the telecast itself.
By Monday morning, the Thank You Cam's clips were working faster, but not much. The delays during playback were still there, only slightly shorter. So some bugs will need to be worked out. The bottom line is, if you forgot to thank your spouse or your agent onstage, making amends over the Internet still doesn't quite undo the slight. Here is some unsolicited advice to AMPAS: Let the winners talk for two minutes, and bag the backstage webcam. Big-ticket gratitude shouldn't need to be augmented with a glorified YouTube moment.