Unsolicited Advice for Oscar Producers: 7 Tips to Making a Memorable Show

Illustration by: Stephen Collins
Michael De Luca and Jennifer Todd will return as producers facing complicated challenges.

'Moonlight' deserves a callback, keep those accountants off-camera (they don't need any distractions!) and find a way to give serious recognition to #MeToo and Time's Up without falling into cliches.

Right now, the most unenviable job in Hollywood belongs to Michael De Luca and Jennifer Todd, who are producing the 90th annual Academy Awards that air March 4. It's their second time at bat, and they proved last year that they could orchestrate a smart, smooth ceremony — at least, up until its chaotic finale, when circumstances spiraled out of their control and the wrong film was named best picture.

When it comes to producing the Oscars and juggling the myriad political considerations that surround lining up presenters and giving everyone their turn in the limelight, the second time around should be easier. But not this year, when the challenges are even more complicated than usual. So, not that they asked for it, but here are some words of advice.

1. Don't sweep last year's fiasco under the rug. The show should acknowledge right up front that Moonlight's moment of triumph was shortchanged when one of the PricewaterhouseCoopers accountants sent presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway onstage with a card that read La La Land. In fact, why not borrow the convention used by television's episodic dramas and begin with a quick video recap of last year's show as host Jimmy Kimmel intones, "Previously, on the Oscars …"

2. Speaking of Pricewaterhouse, the firm will be back this year, albeit with new accountants and an extra layer of backstage double-checking. But ditch the obligatory introduction of the PwC team, one of the Oscars' hoariest traditions. It's always awkward and has led to some of the broadcast's worst bits — remember that 2016 joke that fell flat when the accountants were played by Asian kids? After last year, the accountants don't need any face time of their own.

3. The Oscar ceremony has to acknowledge the #MeToo and Time's Up movements. And that won't be easy, given that the Golden Globes and SAG Awards already have taken a stab at it. It's going to require some ingenuity. But, whatever you decide to do, spare us a montage of movies depicting "strong women" — Sally Field leading the protest in Norma Rae, Sigourney Weaver facing down the mother of all space monsters in Aliens, Meryl Streep ordering the presses to roll in The Post. If the Academy were to be honest about Hollywood's actual, cavalier treatment of women over the years, it would require a montage that could begin with James Cagney smashing a grapefruit into Mae Clarke's face in The Public Enemy and continue on through the innumerable movies in which women have been dismissed, ridiculed, beaten, raped, mutilated and murdered. But no one really wants to see that on a celebratory night.

4. Instead, why not celebrate the women who, against all odds, became cinematic pioneers from Mary Pickford, a founding member of the Academy, to trailblazing director Dorothy Arzner (Dance, Girl, Dance) to influential editors like Anne V. Coates (Lawrence of Arabia), Verna Fields (Jaws) and Thelma Schoonmaker (Raging Bull).

5. And, don't forget, you have a true legend in your midst. Agnes Varda, 89, renowned as the "Mother of the French New Wave," is nominated this year for the documentary Faces Places. Varda — a contemporary of Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut and her late husband, Jacques Demy — was celebrated in November at the Academy's Governors Awards, where she was presented with an honorary Oscar. Since that ceremony was created in 2009, honorary Oscar winners have not been invited onto the stage at the Oscars themselves, but merely asked to take a bow from their seats in the audience. Why not make an exception for Varda? She's a delightful, impish person­ality who would have the crowd at the Dolby Theatre on its feet.

6. As for Kimmel, you don't have to worry about him, since he proved adept last year, signed on early for a return — which gave ABC a head start in promoting this year's telecast — and with his pleas for universal health care and gun control on his own Jimmy Kimmel Live! has taken on a gravitas that's only raised his stature in Hollywood. The Academy and ABC should keep the continuity going and sign him up now for future years.

7. Finally, when it's time to announce this year's best picture winner, don't enlist some eminence grise. Rather, invite back writer-director Barry Jenkins and the cast of Moonlight. Give them the honor of revealing the best picture of 2017. They should be the ones passing the torch.

Just double- and triple-check that envelope before they do. 

This story first appeared in the Feb. 14 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.