Oscar ceremony producers promise joy, earnestness — and that they’ll bring the funny

Producers Jennifer Todd and Michael De Luca intend to bring "an overarching tone of joy" to the Oscars ceremony on Feb. 26.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Veteran movie producers Jennifer Todd and Michael De Luca landed the job producing next week’s Oscars telecast by pitching the academy a novel concept: They wanted to bring “an overarching tone of joy.” Last week, De Luca (“Fifty Shades of Grey,” “The Social Network”) and Todd (“Alice in Wonderland,” “Live by Night”) sat with The Envelope to discuss their openness toward streakers, “playing people off” (that is, drowning out winners with orchestral music when their acceptance speeches run too long) and how there will be no reprise of Seth MacFarlane’s infamous song, “We Saw Your Boobs.”

So what can Oscars viewers expect to see?

Michael De Luca: There’s an earnestness to the show. And we have laugh-out-loud joy that comes from Jimmy Kimmel’s irreverence. Jen coined this phrase: “If we’re not going to be earnest, we’ve got to be funny. And if we’re not going to be funny, we’ve got to be earnest.”

Jennifer Todd: Mike and I are movie makers — and fans — and believe movies are for everyone. That’s what we want to remind people of. You sit there in the theater with strangers regardless of race, creed or political affiliation, right?


Why is Jimmy Kimmel the right guy to host?

De Luca: We discussed with Jimmy how much we love the Johnny Carson model, the Bob Hope model, like when the host is a true master of ceremonies. [Jimmy] loves what he does. He loves the creative community. And there’s an edge to his humor. But it’s not roast-y kind of humor.

Other awards shows leading up to the Oscars — the Golden Globes, the SAGs — became political with winners speaking out against President Trump. How do you make the Oscars topical without alienating viewers holding different viewpoints?

De Luca: The Oscars shouldn’t be treated like an op-ed page. Our theme of inspiration, which you’ll see when you watch, points to a universality. We’re moved by the same stories; we laugh and cry at the same kind of things. There’s a real positivity in pointing out what binds us together. We have a suspicion that topicality may sneak in. We feel the winners and their speeches may touch on that without any help from us.


But if you ignore current events, it’s like you’re ignoring the 800-pound gorilla in the room.

Todd: I don’t think it’ll feel ignored. The academy is a very left-leaning group. But it’s not for us to alienate the people who feel different politically.


The Oscars aren’t so white any more: This year’s slate of nominees includes a diverse group across multiple categories.

#OscarsSoWhite dominated last year’s show. But this year’s crop of nominees is fairly diverse. So do you acknowledge overcoming that controversy or do you let it ride?


De Luca: There’s no point looking backward at something that had been asked and answered. It’s all about moving forward.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, John Legend, Auli’i Cravalho, Sting and Justin Timberlake are all scheduled to perform. What can you say about the musical segments?

Todd: We’re not doing any musical numbers that aren’t nominated songs.

De Luca: In years past, we felt like the show dipped into “musical salutes to editing” or “musical salutes to comedy.” Or “musical salutes to musicals!” And we’re not doing that.


So no “We Saw Your Boobs”?

Todd: There will not be a reprise. [laughs]

Why are Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone not performing their nominated songs from “La La Land”?

De Luca: Emma and Ryan elected not to perform.


Todd: We don’t blame them. It’s one thing to sing in a movie where you have take after take. And also they’re both nominated [in acting categories]. I can understand wanting to have the experience as a nominee.

How much pressure do you feel to bring the show in on time?

Todd: It’s hard! There are 24 awards, plus the Governors Awards recap, a sci-tech and a president’s speech, and an in-memoriam.

De Luca: Someone told us if you did nothing but give out the awards, you’d be right at three hours. We have about 17 minutes to play with for original content.


Todd: What you remember is opening numbers, comedy from the host and great speeches.

De Luca: Look, I would love a Sacheen Littlefeather [the actress sent by Marlon Brando to decline his lead actor Oscar in 1973]. We want to be memorable! A streaker — I don’t want to inspire anyone but, you know, if the mood strikes you, we want spontaneity. [laughs]

Usually there are a couple of major categories announced early on then a long slog through the middle filled with technical honors. How do you plan to sustain momentum?

De Luca: We tried to address that long slog by putting in compelling moments that you can’t leave your seat for. We’ve got some real candy in the middle.


Todd: We’re trying our best not to have dry spells.

De Luca: And we’re nice people. We don’t want to play people off. But we will. That 45 seconds starts the moment [winners] get up out of their seat. So if I were them, I would rehearse and start thinking about that ticking clock.

Todd: Our goal is to have a non-play-off show. Meanwhile, the [academy] team is like, “Play someone off early so they get the message!”

De Luca: We’re not really shot-across-the-bow people. But if you make us do it, we’ll probably be drunk with power. On your way from your seat, we’ll start playing you off.


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