Despite a week of turbulence that saw his Oscarcast producer Brett Ratner resign over an inexplicable barrage of inappropriate public statements, followed shortly after by Ratner’s host Eddie Murphy, Academy president Tom Sherak wants the industry to know that the Oscars are going to be just fine.
“If this happened in January, I would be hiding under my desk,” Sherak told me. “Look what has happened. We have a new producer in Brian Grazer, who met last night with Don Mischer for an hour and a half, so that they can get going on finding a host. We are actually two and a half weeks ahead of where we were last year, in terms of naming a host.”
Sherak, who I’ve always known to be a glass-half-full kind of guy, said he saw some bright spots despite the turbulence. Said Sherak: “In all my time here, I’ve never gotten as many emails from the constituency, after Brett resigned, all saying, how can I help? What do you need me to do? If you need a producer, let me suggest this person. Or, I can go after that person for host. It’s like we woke up a sleeping giant.”
One of those who came forward was Grazer, Sherak said. “He said, ‘I want to help.’ So I said, ‘What if I asked you to become the producer.’ He said, ‘Ask me.’ I did, and he said, ‘I’m in.’ “
I wasn’t surprised that Murphy stepped out following Ratner. Both said yes when Tower Heist was looking like a big box office hit. It wasn’t, and I think Rather’s exit gave Murphy a Get Out Of Jail Free card, and he used it.
Sherak said he completely understood Murphy’s exit, likening it to an actor leaving a picture in development after the director exits. “We had heard very early after Brett resigned that Eddie already felt uncomfortable without Brett being there,” Sherak said. “We completely understood. Nobody is mad at Eddie or anything like that. This is a creative process and Eddie is an artist, you have to remember that. The fact that Eddie left early was good for us. In everything that has happened, there has been a spirit of things that were done for the good of the Academy, I believe.”
As for the widespread array of reports about what happened when Ratner’s rantings were exposed, Sherak said that a lot of what was reported was wrong. For instance, reports said that though Sherak told Deadline he was sticking with Ratner — with a zero-tolerance policy for another indiscretion — Sherak changed his mind when he became aware of Ratner’s explicit and lewd sexual exploit boasts to radio host Howard Stern. I know that wasn’t true because I told Sherak about the Stern discussion before he went on the record with a pledge to stand by Ratner. And there was no emergency Board of Directors meeting that forced his resignation, said Sherak, who reconfirmed he was prepared to hang in there with Ratner until the filmmaker quit.
“There was no board meeting, it was an officer’s meeting that had been planned two months ago, and it was among a series of 10 items we talked about,” he said. “At that meeting, with all this stuff happening, I presented the situation to them, and said, here’s what I think had to happen. They listened and agreed with me. Then, I was pulled out of a room, and Brett told me he had resigned. This wasn’t a board decision, it was a Tom decision.”
It was obvious that Ratner made things easier by stepping out. “He did the right thing,” Sherak said. “He didn’t want to put me in that position. When bad things happen, sometimes good things come out of them. I hope that Brett will continue with the outreach he has said he’s going to do with the community, and deal with all the other things that went on. He’s got a whole life ahead of him.”
And Sherak, Grazer and Mischer have a little more than three months to pull together an Oscarcast. Sherak wasn’t sure if any of the writers Ratner lined up will stay on. Those decisions, and the host selection, fall to Grazer and Mischer.
“The Academy isn’t panicked,” he said. “Look at the process, it went down quickly but in an orderly fashion. How did we get a producer so fast when in the past it has taken as long as five months? It was the constituency coming forward to help.”