A new location, socially distanced seating and nominees appearing remotely were just some of the pandemic-inspired elements at the 2021 Oscars.
While some of the 2021 Oscars aired from the awards’ longtime home, Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre, the ceremony largely took place at Los Angeles’ Union Station, with the set looking like a banquet dinner, with small, separated seating areas and tables.
The team behind the show also took advantage of the natural light from the station’s 40-foot windows before the sun set and used localized lighting via small lamps, with lampshades embellished with mini Oscars, on tables in the room. Nominees were shown sitting, with space between them, in dark blue booths in front of small, round tables.
The audience was arranged in stadium seating, with each level of seats up a set of stairs, in curved rows radiating out from the stage.
The Oscars also utilized the station’s outdoor courtyards as places where nominees could mingle before and after the show. ABC’s preshow took place in one courtyard as nominees stopped to talk to hosts Lil Rel Howery and Ariana DeBose as others milled about in a cocktail-party setting.
Only nominees, their guests and presenters attended the show — and they were cycled in and out of the main room and into one of the two courtyards so that only 170 people would be in the main room at the same time.
At the top of the show, Regina King noted that it’s been a “hard year,” but “our love of movies helped to get us through. It made us feel less isolated and connected us when we were apart.”
The Dolby Theatre appeared during the presentation of the first Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, to the Motion Picture Television Fund, with presenter Bryan Cranston walking through the theater and noting that while the Dolby has long been the Oscars’ home, they’ll return next year, but these times demand a pause.
Cranston went on to recall a time, at the end of a pandemic, when lives had been lost and changed forever, in 1921, when actors took action raising money for the MPTF.
“One hundred years later, we find ourselves in another global pandemic. This time, the MPTF knew how to answer the call — because they had been doing it for decades,” Cranston said.
MPTF CEO Bob Beitcher later accepted the award from the Dolby in front of an audience of 70 vaccinated health care and social workers.
While presenting the second Hersholt Award to Tyler Perry, Viola Davis noted that everyone in Perry’s productions has had access to the COVID-19 vaccine, and both Davis and Perry referenced his Camp Quarantine to keep filming going amid the pandemic.
In introducing this year’s In Memoriam segment, Angela Bassett said, “In 2020, we were united by loss. As of April 25, 2021, there were recorded over 3 million souls lost around the world to COVID alone.”
Those who attended the show in L.A. had to deal with quarantine and testing requirements, with the Oscars enlisting Dr. Erin Bromage of UMass Dartmouth as its COVID-19 consultant.
It was announced last week that nominees, presenters and guests would not be required to wear face masks while they’re seated in the main show room and on camera, with the Academy and the Oscars’ producers repeatedly stressing that the show is being shot like a movie, and current production guidelines don’t require masks for people on camera. But masks will need to be worn during commercial breaks and when nominees are cycled between the main room and courtyards. King reiterated those requirements at the top of the show.
During the preshow, people walking along the red carpet in the background and milling about the outside areas of Union Station were seen wearing masks, but nominees were shown without masks while they were on camera.
Those who couldn’t make the trip to L.A. were said to be largely appearing from international hubs in London and Paris, but presenters, nominees and winners appeared remotely from Seoul, Berlin, Rome, Stockholm and Sydney after the producers told nominees that they couldn’t Zoom in to the show despite the ongoing pandemic.
Producer Steven Soderbergh felt it was important for those who weren’t at Union Station to appear in a way that aligned with their “very rigorous and specific aesthetic approach.”
“We want the whole show to feel of a piece, and if we are going to pull people in remotely we want the kind of control over that that you would have if you were making a movie,” he previously told The Hollywood Reporter. “We can control the surroundings and make sure, in the case of London, we can have elements within that space that tie you to Union Station. We’re working to make sure that each of those remotes has some direct sort of visual correlation to what we’re doing or at least contribute to the movie-like feel of what we’re doing in terms of where they will be.”
While prominent nominees like Promising Young Woman star Carey Mulligan and writer-director Emerald Fennell and Sound of Metal star Riz Ahmed were at the ceremony, THR previously reported, others like the team behind six-time nominee The Father — including Olivia Colman and writer-director Florian Zeller — appeared from the London and Paris hubs. Indeed, Zeller and co-writer Christopher Hampton accepted the best adapted screenplay Oscar remotely.
Bong Joon Ho presented best director from Seoul, while best supporting actor and adapted screenplay nominee Sacha Baron Cohen appeared from Sydney with his wife, Isla Fisher. Judas and the Black Messiah supporting actor nominee LaKeith Stanfield also appeared from a hub.
The Oscars previously delayed this year’s show and the eligibility window for feature films each by two months due to the pandemic. Additionally, as movie theaters closed last year, the Oscars eased eligibility requirements so that, this season, films could qualify without screening for at least one week in an L.A.-area theater, as long as they were scheduled for theatrical release, met other eligibility requirements and were available on the Academy’s members-only streaming service within 60 days of being made available on a streaming or VOD service.