Interview: Laurence Mark, Producer of the 81st Annual Academy Awards Show

by | February 19, 2009 at 12:57 PM | 81st Academy Awards, The Academy Awards, The Movies

There has been a lot of talk (and a specific LACK of talk) about 81st Annual Academy Awards telecast, which will be hosted by Hugh Jackman (whom you can see starring opposite Ashley Judd in Someone Like You right here on Fancast). The minds behind the scenes have promised some significant changes to the presentation, but they’ve been very secretive about just what those might be. The hope is to buoy the ratings after last year’s nadir, but I spoke with Laurence Mark, who is producing the show along with his Dreamgirls partner Bill Condon (who also wrote FX2: The Deadly Art of Illusion, also available to watch for free in its entirety right here on Fancast), and this is what I was able to get out of him regarding what we can expect to see on Sunday night.

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Q: Everyone’s all abuzz about the changes and secrecy.
Laurence Mark: We love a buzz.

Q: There’s this talk of presenters being snuck in away from the red carpet…
LM: No one’s being ‘snuck in,’ for heaven’s sake. I love that. There was no edict of ‘you must do the red carpet’ or ‘you must not.’ Obviously, the nominees have all been encouraged to do the red carpet. We just weren’t as encouraging as I guess they have been in the past as far as having every presenter do the red carpet, because why on earth shouldn’t there be some surprises during the show? Why should you see everything happening on the red carpet, what people are wearing and who’s presenting what – why would you even stay tuned in?

Q: Well, to see what they do. From what I’ve read, you’re talking about giving the show it’s own ‘narrative line?’
LM: You read too much. There’s going to be a structure to the show. That’s about all there will be here, and you’ll see what that means when you see the show. But no, it won’t suddenly be turned into The Wizard of Oz. I love The Wizard of Oz, but I have no idea how I’d turn the story here into a story like that. But there will be a structure to the evening that it hasn’t had in a while, or maybe ever. ‘Narrative’ might be throwing you off.

Q: Is it just a ‘theme’ thing, or the stunning return of interpretive dance or…?
LM: No, no.

Q: Tell us about the short films being offered, which sounds very interesting.
LM: Yes. That all came about because we thought that the Oscars were all about movies and indeed, we’re happy to celebrate the movies that are nominated, but why not also celebrate that people had a good time at over the course of the year? So that’s what we’re doing and, as a community of filmmakers, it’s fun to do. Using people like Judd Apatow to do his version of the comedy highlights of the year, and Albert Maysles to do the documentary highlights, and having people like Bennett Miller, who directed Capote, doing a short film about movie folk and non-movie folk just talking about movies. So we’re doing a little bit of that. Hopefully, the word ‘celebration’ is one that can carry through as a watchword for the evening.

Q: Hugh Jackman is the host. How’s he going to handle it? Will he be doing Billy Crystal-style song and dance or – ?
LM: Billy Crystal did his own thing and did it brilliantly, so I think whenever anyone tries to do Billy Crystal, that may not be a good idea. Certainly, he will be his own version of the host, and fortunately he sings, he dances, he acts and he looks pretty amazing in a tuxedo, so we should probably take advantage, if we’re smart, of all of those talents.

Q: Baz Luhrmann is doing a bit of stage work. What can you say about that?
LM: Baz is actually creating the production number smack in the middle of the show for Hugh and for us, yes, in his own way celebrating movies.

Q: Wow. There really is some interpretive song and dance?
LM: There might be. There might be a moment of that.

Q: So, Peter Gabriel withdrew from his performance at the Oscars because of compressing all the Oscar-nominated songs into a medley. What was the decision-making process towards the medley?
LM: Oh, gosh. When you say you’re going to change things up a bit, you should probably, you know, do that. One of the things we’d always planned on doing when it came to Best Song was doing a medley. We completely respect his wishes and are sad to not have him involved, but that said, he did want his song played in its entirety and we would have then had to play every song in its entirety and that really wasn’t in the cards. No ill will, just a difference of opinion.

Q: So who’s stepping into his place?
LM: You’ll tune in to see, won’t you? Or maybe you’ll find out beforehand and that’s okay, too, but it won’t be from me. It’s fine if, say, a presenter wants to talk about what they’re doing. We’re just not talking about it. If you talk to Lydia Lipschitz and she tells you she’s presenting, I’ll say “well, I’m glad she said that.”

Q: What is it about the Oscars that drew you to wanting to do this, and what didn’t you like that you’re trying to do away with?
LM: Oh, god. It’s never as simple as that, is it? It is the catchphrase that the Academy is using this year, and it seems to be true, that it’s the “biggest movie event of the year.” So it’s kinda fun to be involved in orchestrating that. Also, doing it with Bill – we have a great working relationship and had a lot of fun on Dreamgirls. So that was a major draw for me. And it’s not so much ‘what doesn’t work and what does.’ One of the pieces of advice that Gil Cates, who’s done it for many years, gave to us was “do what pleases you guys, because let’s face it, you’re never going to please everyone. Never. There are always going to be folks who don’t like whatever you’re doing, so don’t worry about it too much.”

Q: Speaking of your working relationship with Bill, do you have any other projects coming up in the near future?
LM: Bill is working on a movie about Richard Pryor, which I’m assuming will be amazing. A life story of. I haven’t read the script, by the way, but I’m assuming Bill has figured out a way to tell the tale in a cool way. And in August, I have a Nora Ephron directing Meryl Streep and Amy Adams in Julie and Julia, with Meryl Streep playing Julia Child.

Q: I’m guessing Julie & Julia will get a mention in the ‘upcoming movies’ section of the award show that we’ve heard about?
LM: I believe it will, but that wasn’t my call. We invited studios to present in that section whatever they felt like presenting, and we tried to be as egalitarian as we could about it. You won’t be seeing movies that I’ve chosen or Bill has chosen that we’re most looking forward to. This has been the studios’ choice.

Q: Is it an advertising spot? A paid arrangement?
LM: No, all it is is over the end crawl, but very prominent over the end crawl on the top half of the screen, there will be 8 to 10 seconds of 24 movies that are coming up in 2009, and we’ve tried to divvy it up across the board between the studios as one could.

Q: Before we go, I have to ask if you have any idea who Bill is considering to play Richard Pryor?
LM: I have no idea, but I bet it will be a big splashy announcement when the time comes.