Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences president Hawk Koch broke today’s news naming its 86th Academy Awards producers — a rerun of Craig Zadan and Neil Meron – because I’d received a tip this morning and was about to scoop the news. This is either the worst or best publicity timing: just as the major Hollywood movie studios are presenting their slates at CinemaCon in Las Vegas. But I, you, and everybody should appreciate the hilarity of what just happened here. Because first it was Tom Sherak in 2012 and now it’s Hawk Koch in 2013 who will go down in Oscars history as giving new definition to the word chutzpah. Hawk is the outgoing president of the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences who just pulled a fast one on whomever is elected the incoming president this summer. That’s after Tom tried to pull a fast one on Koch the year before. C’mon, choosing the producers of the Oscars is probably the single most important job of the AMPAS president. Yet Hawk, serving for only one year and knowing he was a lame duck, broke protocol and today announced the re-hiring of Zadan/Meron for the March 2, 2014 telecast. That should have been his successor’s privilege and responsibility. Sherak tried to do the same for the February 24th, 2013, telecast by soliciting Lorne Michaels as Oscars producer and NBC Late Night host Jimmy Fallon as Oscars host. Sherak went to the Academy’s Board Of Governors on his own initiative and said, “If I can find a producer, would you be interested?” The Board said yes. But Koch as 1st VP told colleagues Sherak shouldn’t be doing this within a mere matter of weeks before the new president was elected. Koch even complained directly to Sherak about it. Disney nixed the choice of Fallon – and Koch made his own choices. Now he took that choice away from his successor.
In what has to be a first for the normally sedate and reverential audiences at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ Samuel Goldwyn Theatre, members of Monday night’s packed house for the 70MM presentation of 1960’s classic epic Spartacus stood and repeatedly chanted “I Am Spartacus” shortly after its 95-year-old star Kirk Douglas was introduced to a rousing standing ovation during the pre-screening Q&A (which I moderated). Cued by Academy President Hawk Koch after his opening remarks, Douglas was clearly taken aback by the crowd’s eruption and said he’d never seen that kind of response before. Koch’s predecessor Tom Sherak remarked to me later, “Did you see Douglas’ face when we did that? Priceless.” Sherak, an unabashed Spartacus fan (the original poster hung in his Academy office during his presidency and this was a special night for him) orchestrated it all telling me he came up with the idea during a morning yoga session, planned it with Koch and then prepped the audience before Douglas entered from backstage. It was quite a moment, almost surreal. It was also ironic since Douglas remembers that for some strange reason director Stanley Kubrick actually wanted to cut the now-iconic scene where Spartacus’ fellow slaves all uttered the famous phrase. It’s not the only time they butted heads. Kubrick also wanted to cut Douglas’ crucifixion closeup after the actor spent a full day on the cross. Suffice to say that idea didn’t play well with the producer/star and it remains in the film.
‘Oscar Outdoors’ To Launch Ambitious Summer And Fall Film Screenings And Preservation For The Academy
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gathered forces in Hollywood today to announce an ambitious program celebrating the experience of seeing movies on the big screen. Academy president Tom Sherak, Los Angeles City Councilmember Eric Garcetti and the Acad’s Managing Director of Programming, Education and Preservation Randy Haberkamp stood in front of a newly erected 40-foot movie screen built for its new Oscar Outdoors venture across the street from the Academy’s Pickford Center on Vine Street in Hollywood, making it clear that the Academy is in Hollywood to stay. This after abandoning plans to build a movie museum on the very same land it purchased in 2006 for an estimated $50 million; instead, the Academy moved it to mid-Wilshire in a joint venture with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
“We are thrilled to be deeping our ties to Hollywood. We are hoping this outdoor theatre makes an impact on the community”, Sherak said of the new summer screening program that will bring classics and family movies to an outdoor venue that was formerly the parking lot of the now-shuttered Big Lots clothing store. The Acad did a test run Saturday night for staff, showing Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. With shiny new green grass, the Acad announced it will open with an invitation-only screening of Field Of Dreams on May 19. The Oscar Outdoors program will begin for the public June 15 with Casablanca and run for 10 weeks at a cost of $5 for the public and $3 for students and Academy members. Sherak told me the first “family” film selected for Saturday night June 16, Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, came about when he was in a meeting with Disney chairman Robert Iger and asked him what his favorite Disney film was. When Iger told him it was Snow White, Sherak decided then and there it would be one of the first films shown.
The bottom line, as Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences President Tom Sherak told me this morning, is that, “I wanted to stay in Hollywood. And the Board Of Governors said the awards should definitely stay in Hollywood. I think the Board always felt the awards belonged in …
When controversy ended the short reign of Brett Ratner, who was originally chosen to co-produce the 84th Academy Awards with Don Mischer, followed by the exit of Ratner’s chosen host Eddie Murphy, it looked like this year’s Oscars were in deep trouble. But Academy president Tom Sherak quickly enlisted Brian Grazer to step in and join Mischer at the helm, and they hit the ground running, persuaded Billy Crystal to agree to host for the first time in nearly a decade and calmed the stormy Oscar seas. But until this morning’s nominations, they weren’t exactly sure just what kind of show they were gonna have. After all, the Academy instituted a new rule that allowed for anywhere between 5 to 10 nominees depending on the level of enthusiasm and first-place votes each film received — instead of the set number of 10 in the last two years or 5 in previous years. That there are 9 films that made the cut (a first for the Academy) had both producers and Sherak breathing a sigh of relief when I talked to them after the announcement. They all seemed genuinely excited at the prospects for the show.
At Saturday night’s third annual Governors Awards, Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody (Juno) was seated next to me and before the show unexpectedly said of being in the room with Oprah: “This is extreme for me. I am an Oprah worshipper.” After this year’s recipient of the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award earned a trio of standing ovations and ended her emotional acceptance speech to bring the big night to a close, Cody concluded, “I feel like I have just freebased Oprah”. Indeed it was Oprah’s night in this room. But it also belonged to the other honorary Oscar winners, too – makeup legend Dick Smith and actor James Earl Jones, who accepted his award from London’s Wyndham stage in a segment taped earlier in the day after a matinee performance of Driving Miss Daisy in which he is appearing alongside Vanessa Redgrave.
So far I have been to all three Governors Awards ceremonies and I would say this seemed the most emotional of them all with both Winfrey and Jones referencing their long journey from Mississippi to this Hollywood moment. One attendee told me afterwards, “I was really moved by this more than any other year”. If only the speeches could be this good on the Oscar show itself. Then the Academy wouldn’t have to worry about who hosts or produces the show.
Academy President Tom Sherak made his entrance in a Darth Vader uniform (in tribute to Jones) and opened with the same line he used to introduce a screening of the Jones film, The Great White Hope on Friday night: “How was your week?” It was an obvious reference to the tumultuous events surrounding this year’s Oscar show. But that was the only time the week’s events came up all evening. This was a night for the honorees and they all made the most of it. Before dinner a stirring reel was shown highlighting the entire 84-year history of honorary Oscar winners, followed by a touching tribute to past Oscar show producers Laura Ziskin and Gil Cates who both died this year.
Alec Baldwin got the show rolling after dinner by honoring his The Hunt For Red October co-star Jones saying, “Unlike many actors, James Earl Jones never had to get his career back because he never lost it. He is one of the greatest actors in history”. Glenn Close came out to praise him by referencing his Broadway triumph Fences. “He is the only actor who has broken me apart and transformed me until I was a screaming slobbering mess. James Earl Jones is indeed a world treasure.” Redgrave via tape surprised her co-star by bringing on Sir Ben Kingsley with an Oscar to present to Jones. ”You achieve what every actor is striving for. You are always so damn good,” Kingsley praised.
Jones was genuinely taken aback. “If an actor’s nightmare is being onstage butt-naked and not knowing his lines, then what the hell is this?” he laughed. ”This is an actor’s wet dream. I am gobsmacked at this improbable moment in my life. You cannot be an actor like I am and not have been in some of the worst movies like I have. But I stand before you deeply honored, mighty grateful, and just plain godsmacked.”
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.’ ”
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?
UPDATE: The Academy is not commenting beyond the statement it issued about Brett Ratner’s resignation, but I’m told that a search will begin quickly for another producer to join Don Mischer in putting together the Oscarcast. The expectation is at the moment is that Eddie Murphy will hang in as Oscar host. It is also clear that while AMPAS president Tom Sherak pledged to back Ratner as long as he didn’t screw up again, a chorus of Academy members, actors and filmmakers were so upset by Ratner’s homophobic comment and his lewd comments on the Howard Stern radio show that the Academy was under extreme pressure to drop him.
EARLIER: Brett Ratner has stepped down as Oscar producer, after a slew of dumb public statements that put the Academy in a terrible situation. This comes hours after Academy president Tom Sherak said he was standing behind Ratner despite his using the word “fag” in a Q&A to promote Tower Heist, and speaking graphically about his sex life on the cable TV show Attack of the Show and also in a phone interview with the Howard Stern show. From what I’m told, the Academy board met and backed Sherak’s decision to stand behind Ratner, but the filmmakers finally threw in the towel. I doubt anybody tried to talk him out of it. Now, the biggest question is: Will Eddie Murphy stay on as Oscar host? I wouldn’t be surprised that after Tower Heist‘s lackluster box office and all this maelstrom, Murphy might wonder why he ever said yes in the first place, and he has a perfect out. The other question is, who will become the new Oscar producer? The Academy will make its list quickly. I’m told that they were looking closely at New York stage producer Scott Sanders before they made the surprising decision to give the job to Ratner. Maybe they will go back to him or one of the other producers who’ve done the show before, a list that includes Joe Roth and Laurence Mark.
Although they are certainly best known for those other awards they hand out in February, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences do a lot more throughout the year. One of its prized events happened Thursday evening at a dinner at the Beverly Wilshire, where the 26th annual Don and Gee Nicholl Screenwriting Fellowships were awarded to what Academy president Tom Sherak described as the “Academy’s Magnificent 7.”
The Nicholl Fellowships were established in 1985 and are now chaired (and hosted) by new Academy governor Gale Anne Hurd, who told me she’s been on the Nicholl committee since 1989. Each of the writing fellows (or teams) will receive a $35,000 prize in order to continue developing their scripts (checks are handed out in installments with the understanding that the recipients will complete a feature-length screenplay during their fellowship year), and the Academy is not involved otherwise commercially with the scripts in any way and holds no rights to them. Even with the Oscars in the mix, Sherak opened the program by saying: “This is my favorite event. It’s nights like this that I wish I were an agent. You want to sign every one of them.” He added these few winners were chosen from among a record 6,730 entries by the 24 judges and committee members who read everything.
It was quite a night that also included a rousing keynote address from David Seidler, this year’s reigning Best Original Screenplay winner for The King’s Speech and “new Academy member” at age 74. At the reception before the dinner, I asked Seidler how the Oscar has changed his life at this age. He joked, “Producers now owe me more, but it takes them longer.” Seidler is red-hot, though, having completed two new scripts over the summer and now embarking on two rewrites. He asked me who I thought was the front-runner to win Original Screenplay this year and I suggested probably Woody Allen for Midnight In Paris. “Well, he has me beat then,” Seidler said. Allen at 76 would usurp Seidler as the oldest winner ever in that category, meaning that Seidler’s record could be short-lived. His speech, which he said was working on right to the last minute, won over the crowd and certainly provided inspiration for the writers in attendance.
EXCLUSIVE: Paramount’s announcement on Tuesday that it was teaming with Deluxe Entertainment Services Group to become the first major studio to stream its awards consideration films online made news and tech-challenged voters nervous. (So far, it is a pilot program for the Visual Effects Society; a Paramount source told me they were selected because they are deemed the most likely to be able to figure out how to do it.) But this isn’t the only awards-season noise the newly aggressive Deluxe has been making this month. Another of their moves even raised eyebrows among several rank-and-file Academy voters.
Last week, some concerned Academy members contacted me regarding an emailed letter they had received from Deluxe Media Management asking for confirmation of their contact information and directing them to a detailed survey of the members’ personal details in their database. A bolded note near the bottom warned: “PLEASE NOTE: We must receive verification of your contact information before screeners or other materials can be sent.” This letter was preceded by an introductory email a week earlier telling members that Deluxe was the “preferred industry partner for distribution of awards consideration materials” and would be sending a subsequent email instructing them how to update their contact information and that their privacy would be respected and info remain confidential. The second letter began by saying:
Dear AMPAS Member,
Since 2003, Deluxe Media Management has been producing, manufacturing and fulfilling watermarked and regular DVD screeners for our studio clients. On behalf of our studio clients, Deluxe also distributes screening calendars and various awards materials to AMPAS members worldwide. Please take a moment to confirm your contact information is current in our database. This will ensure timely dielivery of your awards consideration materials.
Nowhere is this letter do they identify who those studio clients are, and some AMPAS members I have talked to were concerned about being solicited directly by an outside vendor requesting personal information. But due to the wording of the letter, they were worried they wouldn’t get screeners if they didn’t comply.
Just when you thought it was a dead duck, it’s back and quacking.
For those who have had the dream of a world class movie museum coming to fruition in L.A., film capital of the world (count me in on that), last night’s announcement that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art have begun the process of finally making that dream come true is good news all around. And that longtime dream museum, which was turning into more of a nightmare for the Academy, is going to be right down the street from the Acad’s own Beverly Hills headquarters (at least that’s the plan).
The Academy is saying the project housed in the historic old May Co. on Wilshire Blvd now known as LACMA West will take three to five years to complete. “We are on the fast track but it will be determined by fund raising,” said the Acad’s new CEO Dawn Hudson, who spoke with me today in a conference call with Academy President Tom Sherak and LACMA CEO and Wallis Annenberg Director Michael Govan. Hudson wasn’t throwing out official figures but says she expects it will cost less than half the rough estimate of $480 million that the Academy had targeted for their earlier foiled plan to erect this museum in Hollywood where they spent about $50 million so far buying land (which they now own outright) near their Pickford Center on Vine Street. But the idea to house the museum instead at the already existing 300,000-square-foot space on Wilshire actually goes back decades when it was even broached by former Academy Presidents Walter Mirisch and Bob Rehme. It heated up again about a year and a half ago with a casual conversation between another Govan and another former Academy President Sid Ganis, who then introduced the museum head to Sherak and then CEO Bruce Davis.
“For about an hour and a half I did something I rarely do. I just listened to someone talk who had a vision and a dream about what this could mean to the City of Los Angeles to bring different art forms, especially our two art forms together in one place,” said Sherak, who emphasized that the Board wanted a museum in their lifetime but that the Academy didn’t know how long it would take them to raise the money and build one themselves. Govan came to the rescue. “Being in the museum world, I see film programs at museums in Paris and Frankfurt. I wanted that in Los Angeles and I knew the Academy had a dream and they had a great resource. So the question was what could we offer to help and that was the beginning of the conversation,” said Govan.
OSCARS: Academy Announces Producers Of 84th Telecast — Brett Ratner And Don Mischer
Of all the entertainment people in the world that the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences could have picked to produce the 84th Academy Awards, without doubt the last name would have been Brett Ratner’s. Even he feels that way. “I had no idea. But Tom Sherak called me two weeks ago to come see him in his office. And I walk in and Tom is there with Dawn Hudson. And I thought I was being kicked out of Academy. I thought my maid had started bootlegging my Academy DVDs and I would be escorted out of the building and asked to relinquish my Academy cards.” That 1/2-hour meeting turned into a 3-hour schmoozefest, and at the end of it Ratner was asked to produce the Oscar telecast with returning Don Mischer. Maybe it was fate. After all, Brett does live in Hillhaven Manor, a house steeped in Hollywood history where Ingrid Bergman and Kim Novak lived as well as Allan Carr who produced the 61st Academy Awards in 1989 and gave the world one of its most infamous shows complete with Snow White and Rob Lowe. (As Deadline awards columnist Pete Hammond just emailed me, “Hopefully for Brett’s sake there isn’t a curse on the Oscars still lurking there.”)
This could turn out to be the worst idea or the best idea. I say give the guy a chance. Let’s face it: that interminable and horrible awards ceremony certainly couldn’t get any worse. A few car chases around the Kodak Theatre. Jackie Chan hanging from the ceiling chandelier. Gunfire and explosions in the aisles. Now that’s a show! (As one producer just telephoned me, “At least now we’ll get to see Chris Tucker again…”) On the other hand, besides the Rush Hour franchise, Ratner did make that fine documentary about legendary actor John Cazale of Godfather and Deer Hunter and Dog Day Afternoon fame. But Brett’s is not necessarily a body of work studied in film schools.
In an interview with me just now, Ratner says that he’d always bitched and moaned about the Oscars after every show. “I’d put it out there at every Oscar party. I’d be critical of it to everyone I’d see. ’Here’s what I would do…’ In this meeting Tom and Dawn were interested in hearing my ideas during an intense conversation. Get me talking and I can’t stop. And I kept going and going.”
Next, Sherak and Hudson set up a meeting between Ratner and Mischer. “I met him over nova and cream cheese at the Mulholland Deli on Beverly Glen. I kept thinking I’d run into Warren Beatty because he always goes there. Then Warren called while I was sitting with Don. But I couldn’t tell him. I couldn’t tell anyone. That was the problem: I couldn’t ask anybody what their opinion was about whether I should do it.”
Ratner was leaving that night for Europe and asked Sherak and Hudson, “Can I think about it?” To help him decided, he requested they gather up all of the Oscar telecast footage they had as far back as possible. “I looked through every single telecast. And I called up Tom and Dawn and said, ‘I can do this. I’m really excited.’”