‘British Invasion’ Worries Oscar Staffers

New director Hamish Hamilton generally uses his entire British team, even on U.S. productions.

Last Updated: November 19, 2009 @ 4:18 PM

The selection of Hamish Hamilton to direct the 82nd Academy Awards was met with jubilation by many hoping for a more up-to-date Oscars, one that will be more entertaining and lure in more viewers.

Among people who work on the show, though, the reaction was considerably more measured — and coupled with a very real fear that in these economic times, giving Oscar jobs to a British director and his key aides is not a message the Academy should be sending.

“There’s a lot of animosity right now,” said one veteran crew member who expects to work on this Oscar show as well. “It’s an American TV show. Why are we outsourcing it to the Brits?”

On variety shows like the Oscars, the director hires his own team of associate and assistant directors, camera operators and stage managers. In the U.S., directors generally draw from a pool of experienced talent who work all the awards shows and major live events; the top echelon, who staff the Oscars each year, consists of no more than a few dozen in each occupation.

But Hamilton, who has directed numerous shows in the U.S over the past few years, generally brings his entire team of assistant and associate directors and camera operators from England. At the Oscars, staffers expect him to bring in his “vision mixer” — a British term for a job that doesn’t exist in the United States, a combination director/technical director who chooses most of the camera shots — as well his main AD and a few other ADs and cameramen.

ADDENDUM: An Academy spokesperson says that despite the fears of crew members, Hamilton will not be bringing his full team to the United States for the Oscar show.  He will use his British vision mixer and his main AD, but the rest of the crew will be staffed by an American crew.

In recent years, variety television and some awards shows have seen what some in the field have termed a "British invasion" of crew members following the likes of "American Idol" producer Nigel Lythgoe.  One reason for anger among staffers is that American variety-show workers find it very difficult to obtain visas to work in the U.K. “We’ll give all of his people visas, but it’s not reciprocal,” says a disgruntled awards-show vet. “They’re going down a really terrible path, and a lot of people are angry.”

Beyond the displeasure with the idea of importing any staffers, crew members who’ve worked with Hamilton are divided on his suitability for the Oscar job.

“He’s very British, very creative, and a little scattered,” was a typical comment.

“He’s a wonderful editor, but his live shows are not as good,” agreed another staffer.

“He’s quite the English gentleman,” said a third. “He comes at it from a different direction. I like him.”

[This story has been amended since its original posting to reflect information from the Academy on the size of Hamilton’s British team.]