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The Oscars turn 90, and the production team leaves no room for error ... this time

The Oscars turn 90, and the production team leaves no room for error ... this time
The step-and-repeat background along the red carpet is reflected along Hollywood Boulevard as preparations are made for the 90th Academy Awards, outside the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

With the clock ticking down to the Academy Awards telecast, there were no glamorous ball gowns or golden statuettes to be seen backstage at the Dolby Theater late this week. Before any stars turned up to rehearse for Sunday’s ceremony, crew members were busy putting the finishing touches on the elaborate production, rushing around wearing headsets and mainlining coffee from craft services.

“I kind of feel like I’m on mile three of a marathon, knowing how long the next few days are,” said Jennifer Todd, the movie producer who has returned alongside Michael de Luca to spearhead the Oscars for the second time. “Last year, we might have been more starry-eyed about the process. Now, we know how much work it is.”

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And, obviously, how much can go wrong. Coming off of last year’s best picture announcement mishap, the two producers said Thursday that they are paying extra attention to every detail leading up to the big day.

“If something goes wrong this time, I don’t think it will be the envelope,” Todd said with a laugh.

“Let’s not even talk about it. I don’t want to jinx it,” De Luca said. “If that did happen, given how hyperaware we are this time, I wouldn’t be surprised if we just marched out on stage.”

That stage, meanwhile, will look more dazzling than ever — literally. Designed by Derek McLane — who is returning to the show for the sixth time — the Oscars stage will be surrounded by a proscenium that’s meant to look like the inside of a geode. (No, McLane said, he doesn’t believe in the “mystical” properties of crystals — just “appreciates them” for their beauty.)

And what better to replicate the interior of a crystal than, well, crystals? Swarovski collaborated with McLane on the 10-ton proscenium, decorating it with 45 million tiny crystals. That’s nearly 40 times more than all of the crystals used in the show combined over the past decade.

“It’s an event that wants to feel beautiful and glamorous,” McLane said of the glittering stage. “There’s a little bit of escapism and a sense of fun of visiting the glamour of Hollywood when you go to watch the Oscars. I feel like that’s a big part of my job — delivering that.”

The production designer, whose work will also be seen in the upcoming Broadway productions of “Moulin Rouge” and “Children of a Lesser God,” began sketching his stage designs in July. By September, the academy had seen his ideas, and the team agreed on a concept around Thanksgiving. The actual build began in December, with pieces of the stage being constructed all over the country, from Rhode Island to Pennsylvania to Los Angeles.

But the fanciness won’t just exist on stage. Stars who present Oscars — and those who win them — get to lounge in a green room designed by Rolex to look like a Swiss mountain chalet. The room — off-limits to the press during the show — is meant to be a relaxing space for stars to take it easy before heading out onto a stage where they’ll be seen by millions of viewers. There’s a wood-beamed ceiling, plush couches, a bar and soothing images of the Matterhorn lining the walls.

And no — even though the space was designed by Rolex’s interior design team in Geneva, the company will not be gifting any star with a free watch. Even Oprah Winfrey.

Not that those of us at home will get to see any of the ultra-cool backstage action anyway. But what can the audience expect from the big show? Todd and De Luca say they want to pay homage to the 90th running of the Oscars in grand fashion, so expect a lot of clip packages highlighting iconic Hollywood films.

“You want to both give the warm nostalgia of looking back at those films we remember and then, for younger viewers, remind people that film is still a very powerful language,” said De Luca. “If used effectively, it brings people together. There’s something very positive and aspirational about telling a story cinematically.”

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