Oscar beat: day III

EntertainmentAcademy AwardsCultureArts and CultureMoviesMovie IndustryChuck Workman

The Oscar crew was dealing with rain outside the Kodak Theater on Thursday--but the chilly air out on Hollywood Boulevard never made it inside the theater, where an overactive heater made the room downright tropical at times.

And just as the weather scarcely slowed down activity on the red carpet--the appropriate tarps already having been laid and erected under the theory that it's easier to take down rain protection than put it up--neither did a little heat slow down the Oscar crew inside the theater.

Much of the day involved stand-ins, with a few exceptions: in early afternoon, for instance, Maggie Gyllenhaal became the first star to stop by. Earlier, Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award recipient Sherry Lansing practiced her acceptance speech, a run-through afforded honorary winners who know ahead of time that they'll be taking home a statue.

But just as interesting as the people that crossed the stage were the snippets of film that played on the many movie screens that drop down during the show. As she did when she first oversaw the Oscars in 2002, producer Laura Ziskin has commissioned several pieces by noted filmmakers. "Collateral" director Michael Mann, for instance, made a short film that will run during the show, as did Nancy Meyers ("Something's Gotta Give"), Phil Robinson ("Field of Dreams"), and Giuseppe Tornatore ("Cinema Paradiso").

Others involved include Kyle Cooper, a prolific director of title sequences for film; Oscar-winner Chuck Workman, who's made dozens of films for the telecast over the years; and Oscar-winning documentarian Erroll Morris, who made a film that opened Ziskin's last show and has interviewed scores of the year's 177 nominees for a piece designed to set the tone for this year's show.

"To me," said Ziskin, "using filmmakers is a no-brainer. We're celebrating movies. And what was interesting to me was that when I reached out to those people, everybody wanted to do it."

Back off the screens and on the stage, another segment that received a partial airing on Wednesday was "I Knew I Loved You," a new song that will be performed on the Oscar show by Celine Dion. The predictably lush ballad is set to a theme from "Once Upon a Time in America," by honorary Oscar recipient Ennio Morricone.

Dion wasn't on hand for the run-through (she'll arrive later in the week), so a stand-in gamely lip-synced to Dion's performance, without resorting to a single chest-thump or any other of the Canadian diva's onstage trademarks. As for the song itself, it obviously showcases Morricone's melodic side rather than the drama and playfulness of the spaghetti western music ("The Good, the Bad and the Ugly") that put him on the map some 40 years ago.

Backstage in the writers' room, meanwhile, Bruce Vilanch's crew worked to shorten a show that is clearly running too long. "We're cutting," he shrugged. "Just a few seconds here and there."

An interested party to how well he cuts will be Chris Connelly, the ESPN and "20/20" reporter who has served as host of the Oscar pre-show seven times over the past eight years. Connelly has the pre-show job this year as well--but he's also been moved into the show itself, to serve as the first on-air color commentator in Oscar history.

"The analogy is really sports," said Ziskin. "You watch sports like the Olympics, and even if you don't know the athletes, you have somebody telling you about them throughout the competition. And I want to do that on the Oscars. We have some really interesting races, and this is a way to get people involved in them."

Three times during the show--or fewer, if Vilanch doesn't cut enough and the show is running long--Connelly will appear backstage, recapping the awards that have been handed out so far and talking about what it means for the upcoming big races.

He rehearsed three times Wednesday afternoon, giving a hypothetical Oscar scorecard and highlighting crucial upcoming races (such as the all-important precursor, best editing). "The hardest part is reacting to what goes on during the show," he said afterwards. "You want to have everything prepared ahead of time, but you've got to be ready to change it all."

Connelly figures that it won't be a problem, though, to deliver his commentary while walking through the crowded backstage area. "I'll be fine," he said. "I just gotta make sure I don't bump into anything."

Accustomed to hosting the pre-show and then slipping into an orchestra seat during the first commercial break, he knows this year will be different. "I guess my wife will be sitting next to a seat-filler for most of the show," he says. "Who knows, that might be an improvement for her."

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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EntertainmentAcademy AwardsCultureArts and CultureMoviesMovie IndustryChuck Workman
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