Los Angeles, CA – Ron Meyer, Universal Studios President and COO, will be the 2012 Commencement Speaker for this year’s UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television’s (TFT) commencement ceremony. Recipients of TFT’s 2012 Distinguished Alumni Awards are director and screenwriter Penelope Spheeris for Film and Shirley Jo Finney, the award-winning international director/actor, for Theater, both of whom will receive their awards at the ceremony. This year’s Commencement is dedicated to TFT founding dean and industry legend, Gil Cates. TFT Dean Teri Schwartz will preside over the graduation celebration on June 15 from 4:00p.m. to 6:00p.m. at Dickson Court North on the UCLA campus. READ MORE »
The Brett Ratner situation is a sad mess all around. Sad for Ratner, sad for the Oscar show that he was to co-produce, and sad for the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences. The Academy in the past has weathered its share of nightmares surrounding the show, but never something quite like this. In 1967, an AFTRA strike nearly KO’d the telecast until the walkout was settled just three hours before showtime. Similarly, a WGA strike in 2008 was threatening until it was settled a few days before the airdate. In 1968, the show was nearly cancelled after Martin Luther King’s assassination but postponed for two days instead. In 1981, the Oscars were delayed a day after President Reagan was shot. As for participants, actors have refused to accept the statuette for myriad reasons, and winners have gone to political extremes in their speeches, but the Ratner situation is a new one for AMPAS.
The interesting thing is that outcries for Ratner’s ouster targeted the Academy even though Ratner’s offensive remarks were made during appearances in support of his new film Tower Heist for Universal (Friday night’s Q&A at the Arclight, where he uttered the gay slur, and Monday morning’s radio phone interview with The Howard Stern Show, where he made derogatory comments about women.) His words had nothing directly to do with the Oscars, yet it points to the power of the Academy Awards as an iconic symbol.
Ratner was an unorthodox choice to produce the Oscars. But he was part of a movement begun by the Academy last year with the selection of hosts Anne Hathaway and James Franco to make the show more young, hip, and different. Hathaway and Franco bombed. But I had the pleasure of moderating a panel with Ratner for this year’s TCM Classic Movie Film Festival in April and found him exceptionally bright, informed, and savvy. I think this real movie fan would have produced a great show. I know he had great ideas for it. Despite his terrible judgment and stupid actions this week, I am sorry we won’t get the chance to see what he might have done. Ratner already was shaking things up. He changed talent bookers by hiring Melissa Watkins Trueblood over 38-year Oscar booking veteran Danette Herman, who is now just a consultant. The writing staff also is all new, and many are Ratner cronies; I doubt they’ll stay on board. That’s not a huge problem since the Academy hasn’t officially announced the team yet.
On the other hand, host Eddie Murphy also has his writers attached and they will stay on board — if Eddie stays on. Murphy, co-starring in Ratner’s Tower Heist, has appeared on many talk shows lately saying how much he is looking forward to hosting the Oscars as well as giving props to Ratner, who talked him into taking the gig. There is some media speculation that, with Ratner gone, Eddie will follow him out the door. I see that as highly unlikely — and I also don’t think Ratner himself would let that happen. Granted, Ratner’s exit caused a big ripple inside Hollywood. But Murphy’s exit would be a high-profile PR nightmare inside and outside Hollywood, creating the impression to the general public that the Oscars is in complete chaos.
So what happens now?
Among his many accomplishments, Gil Cates obviously will be known as the person who produced more Oscar shows than any one in the history of the Academy. Talk to any producer who has done it just once or twice and you will get this astonished look when you tell them Gil Cates did it 14 times in the last two decades. And with his always calm and cool manner, he made it look so easy. Perhaps that is why every producer doing the show in Gil’s off years always sought out his advice — and he always happily gave it as he told me when I interviewed him exactly one year ago about his memories on being the man behind so many Oscarcasts. “I’ve had lunch with each producer and producing team going back to my off years,” he told me. “The one thing I’ve told everybody is the Oscars is such a big show that no matter what you do there are gonna be people who like it and people who don’t. The most important thing is to do a show you like. There’s no way to get out totally alive. Do a show they find unique and fun and special. That’s a victory.”
Gil Cates had a lot of victories in his long career. As a former president of the DGA, its current secretary/treasurer and its chief negotiator for the last four contracts; as founder of the UCLA School of Theatre, Film and Television; founder and artistic director of the Geffen Playhouse; as director and producer of such multiple-Oscar-nominated films as Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams and I Never Sang For My Father; as well as so many TV films that made a lasting mark on the medium. There’s so much more, but my own personal connection (aside from attending the great theater he oversaw at the Geffen) has always been with the Oscars, and on those occasions when I got to talk to him or interview him I was like a kid in a candy store listening to his stories (sorry, some I just can’t print — off the record). His last show aired in 2008, the year No Country For Old Men won Best Picture. But this was also the year of the writers strike that KO’d the Golden Globes and put a dark cloud over the Oscars until just 12 days before the show was to air, when it was settled. But Cates, with his usual calm of a master negotiator and problem solver, had a Plan A (with all the stars in a strike-free show) and a Plan B (with no stars but a heavy emphasis on history and clips) ready to go, essentially prepping two different shows simultaneously, depending on events out of his control. It’s a good thing he was in charge because a lesser or more inexperienced producer might have cracked under the pressure. Not Gil. In the end, he produced a classy, star-studded show as usual but was ready to deliver whatever cards were dealt.