Last month, the announcement put the awards ecosystem — and those who love it, or are even peripherally aware of it — on notice that Hollywood’s annual celebration of cinematic excellence would not be business as usual. “Our plan is that this year’s Oscars will look like a movie, not like a television show,” the producers of the 93rd Academy Awards said in a statement. Arriving after more than a year of pandemic chaos that has scrambled time-honored eligibility rules and forced the postponement of the Oscars from February 28 to April 25, the latest date since the show was first broadcast in 1953, such a pivot was initially shrugged off as just one more way the novel coronavirus has compelled Hollywood to stop playing by its own rules.
But to hear it from Glenn Weiss, who returns for his sixth time directing the Oscars broadcast this year, the show will significantly alter its M.O., making it, he says, unlike any Academy Awards to have come before. And it’s not just because the proceedings will take place at Los Angeles’s Union Station in addition to the Dolby Theatre, where the Academy has hosted the awards since 2002, as well as 20 satellite locations around the world. Weiss — who won two Emmys for his past stewardship of the Oscars telecast but may be better known for proposing to his girlfriend on air during the 2018 Emmys — broke down for Vulture how a specific “manifesto” from producer Steven Soderbergh aims for a “completely different take” on the ceremony, which “isn’t going to feel or look like any of the Oscar shows that you’ve seen.”
Let’s start off with the question everybody is asking you. Producers Steven Soderbergh, Jesse Collins, and Stacey Sher said the broadcast is going to be “like a movie and not like TV.” What does that mean?
You can expect a really great celebration. We’re honoring storytellers. So, what better way to honor storytellers than to become storytellers and make everybody at home come into the room and be part of it? So when everyone at home watches the show, they just feel a little bit more connected, a little bit more into it, a little bit more part of the story.
Is there any more to that you can describe at this point?
Okay, what are you allowed to tell me?
First and foremost, this has been such a strange year. And creating a show like this — I could have sat with you in January and told you one plan that would have changed in February, that would have also changed in March. And here we are in April. We had a thought of what we wanted to do with the show. And we had to put first and foremost, into our thinking and our planning, safety, and what kind of environment can we create that allows us to message the way we want to but not feel like anybody is at any kind of risk.
So, the creation of this and everybody you’re going to see next Sunday is the outcome of a whole lot of planning, from both a storytelling and visual perspective, but also from a behind-the-scenes safety perspective that you’ll never see or know. Along with all the TV and all the filmmaking, and all the storytelling, the whole other end, with all of the protocols, was of utmost importance.
So who is going to be in the building and who is not going to be in the building? Everyone who is presenting and nominated has to be there, is that correct?
Yeah. Anybody who can be here is going to be here.
Last year, the absence of a host turned out to be an asset rather than a liability. How do you plan to build on that this year?
Two things. I’m not against hosts. We did a couple of shows without them and they came off well and it was fine. But I’m not in the school of thought that these shows should never have hosts; it’s just applicable to that particular situation. I think in this particular situation, we’re greeting a different flow to the show, a different feel to it. And that’s what Steven [Soderbergh] was alluding to when he said, “It’s more like a film.”
It’s not a traditional award show where you’re going to hear an announcer say, “Okay, our next presenters are coming to the stage.” It’s just breaking those kinds of forms so that we can get where we’re going and honor these people but not be stuck in convention.
So, yeah, the fact that there is no host … there’s a cast here. There’s many people that are going to come on and deliver great moments and great awards.
Soderbergh is known for pushing the filmmaking envelope and taking a lot of risks. He’s constantly thinking outside the box, which I would imagine must be a boon to you in these weird, remote pandemic circumstances. What kind of dialogue have the two of you had about making the show more narrative than usual?
Steven came in with that thought — with, “Let’s change the narrative. Let’s present this differently.” And we had great, really collaborative conversations about how to get there. It’s been a really interesting journey.
This has been a pretty theoretical conversation so far. Let me ask you a more specific question: The “We Saw Your Boobs” segment from the year Seth MacFarlane hosted the Oscars in 2013 has gone down as maybe a low-water mark for the show. I wondered if there was anything you were looking to stridently avoid. Is there something you wanted to contrast your Oscars against in the history of the Oscars?
Without making a direct comparison to any moment from any Oscar show, I can tell you with a lot of confidence that this isn’t going to feel or look like any of the Oscar shows that you’ve seen. So in terms of some things that might be quote-unquote “standard award-show fare,” and something maybe a little bit more for a laugh here or there, I think we’re in a really different place. It’s just a completely different take that doesn’t really leave room for comparison to little bits that might have been done in the past.
Last question: Are you going to include the window between movies’ theatrical release and their availability on streaming in your “In Memoriam” section? There used to be 90 days between those things. But that window has closed. That’s dead.
Yeah, don’t say “dead” and “In Memoriam” in the same sentence. I’m joking. No, look, this year’s “In Memoriam” might be a little bit more poignant with the year we’ve all lived through. And unfortunately, given the quantity of people that we’ve lost in this industry — just literally the sheer volume of people — we strove really hard to create something where we can honor as many as we possibly can in a very respectful way. I think you’ll appreciate what you see in that category.