Prior to this year, the Oscars had only been delayed three times in their near-century history — and have never taken place amid a still-raging pandemic. Suffice to say, Sunday’s 93rd Academy Awards telecast, which moved from February to April, will look considerably different than any previous edition — and not just because of the masks.
For starters, the Oscars have expanded beyond their regular home in Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre and will largely be set at downtown Los Angeles’s famed Union Station train terminal. Unlike this year’s past Emmy Awards and Golden Globes, the 2021 Oscars will not a peek inside celebrities’ living rooms via Zoom cameras. Most nominees are expected to attend in person in L.A., though Steven Soderbergh — the Oscar-winning Traffic and Ocean’s Eleven director who’s producing the telecast alongside Jesse Collins and Stacey Sher — has been non-committal in estimating any kind of percentage, calling the number “evolving” and “still fluid.”
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For nominees (and potential winners) not in L.A., the producers have set up remote shooting hubs around the world, including in New York and London, that will be patched in via satellite. As for Union Station, nominees, their guests and presenters will be the only attendees. But don’t count on any “Jason Sudeikis makes his acceptance speech in a hoodie” moments; the expectation is nominees will be fully gussied up. “We basically said there’s no such thing as too formal, if you want to go full on then do it, but in our minds there is such a thing as too casual,” Soderbergh told The Hollywood Reporter. (We are curious what the typcially very casual Nomadland writer-director and presumptive winner Chloé Zhao will wear.)
There will be a red carpet, but only with a very small and limited bullpen of media outlets (expect the typical broadcast pre-show players like E! to still be there).
The telecast will not have a traditional host. This will be the third consecutive year the event will go hostless — the highly scrutinized Oscar emcee duties often called the most thankless gig in show business. Soderbergh says he and his fellow producers did debate it, though. “We weren't philosophically opposed to it but as the show began to take shape, it felt like it would be better served if each act was approached as a discreet storytelling chapter and you have a guide for each of those chapters,” he told THR.
Though it was widely reported attendees will not be required to wear masks, the producers say face coverings will be provided. They’re just not willing to say whether mask-wearing will be enforced. “We answer to a higher authority,” Sher told THR. (Attendees are required to undergo multiple rounds of COVID testing.)
As Soderbergh noted, the telecast will take place in “acts” — part of what he describes as “a three-hour film” — which will be presided over by an ensemble of celebrities. But instead of “presenters,” the producers insist on calling the talent “the cast.” The ensemble will include Riz Ahmed, Angela Bassett, Halle Berry, Bong Joon Ho, Don Cheadle, Bryan Cranston, Viola Davis, Laura Dern, Harrison Ford, Regina King, Marlee Matlin, Rita Moreno, Joaquin Phoenix, Brad Pitt, Reese Witherspoon, Steven Yeun, Renée Zellweger and Zendaya. (Speculation is that the man who played Han Solo and Indiana Jones will present Best Picture.)
“Our whole approach is to treat it like a movie shoot in every particular way,” Soderbergh explained to THR.
There will be musical performances of all five Best Original Songs — though they’ve pre-taped — four on the Dolby Family Terrace of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, and a fifth (“Husavik” from Eurovision: The Story of Fire Saga) filmed in Húsavík, Iceland.
The show is expected to run three hours (we’ve heard that before), though the producers have hinted they will allow longer-than usual acceptance speeches. Where they plan to make up for it: Soderbergh says producers have moved “at least three things” that would typically be in the main telecast to the pre-show, although the In Memoriam segment will remain in prime time.
The 90-minute official pre-show, Oscars: Into the Spotlight, will be co-hosted by actors Ariana DeBose (Hamilton) and Lil Rel Howery (Get Out) and highlight personal stories from the nominees. There will also be post-show, Oscars After Dark, co-hosted by Colman Domingo (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom) and Andrew Rannells (The Prom).
Overall, the Academy Award producers promise a show with a tone that will be different from years past.
“I think it'll be joyous,” Soderbergh told THR. “I know there are going to be laughs — there's some writing that is truly witty and sincere, but we want you to leave your snark at the door. That was part of the reason for the tagline, "Bring Your Movie Love." That's an innocent request to show up with an open heart and not to be cynical.”
The Oscars will broadcast live on ABC Sunday, April 25 at 8 p.m. ET/ 5 p.m. PT.
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