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Oscars Producers Hint at How Masks and Satellite Hookups Will Make a Different Kind of Awards Show

”We want to see something that does feel like a potential future,“ Steven Soderbergh says Saturday

Oscar telecast co-producer Steven Soderbergh was intentionally vague about whether nominees, presenters and guests will be wearing masks at this year’s ceremony, and that’s just one ingredient of the secret sauce that the producers are hoping will make this year’s awards show unique and unlike any awards show we’ve seen, during a pandemic or otherwise.

In a Saturday press conference, Soderbergh joined producing partners Stacey Sher and Jesse Collins to discuss how this year’s Oscars will “announce itself as being different” right from the start — both from other Zoom-heavy awards shows during the pandemic and from traditional Oscar ceremonies.

And without giving away too many details, they clarified that the show will use “satellite hookups” in place of Zoom calls, and that by the end of the show, people “will be talking about how they made this happen.”

Soderbergh said the hope for the show is to “get us out of this feeling that we’re trapped at home. We want to see something that does feel like a potential future.”

But as to the question of masks specifically, well, you’ll just have to wait and see. “Masks are going to play a very important role in the story of this evening,” Soderbergh said. “If that sounds cryptic, it’s supposed to be.”

There’s been some hand-wringing these last few weeks when the Oscars asked nominees and guests to attend the ceremony in person and that awards would not be handed out over Zoom. Soon, the Academy added European hubs where international nominees could accept their prizes, and Soderbergh said simply that satellite hookups were a way for the producers to better control the image, and Zoom “doesn’t really fit” the image for what the producers are trying to achieve.

The plan introduced new technological hurdles that producers have had to solve these last few weeks, but Soderbergh said that rejecting Zoom appearances was “never about exclusion” or denying access to people who declined to attend the show. Rather, it was “about making it feel like it was part of a piece.”

Collins and Sher talked about Soderbergh’s “manifesto” to treat year’s broadcast as less of an awards show than a movie. The show will be shot in movie-quality 24 frames per second, for starters but also focus on shot composition, different over-the-shoulder shots and camera framings that don’t place the person in the middle of the screen.

He added that this year’s musical director, Questlove, will make the show sound different and feel more cinematic.

The producers, speaking from downtown L.A.’s Union Station as the set was under construction, said the new location has no bad angles and will provide an atmosphere that will invite winners to open up and “tell a story.” “Emotion is up in your grill,” Soderbergh said. “It will be really intense.”

This year’s show will bump Oscar-nominated song performances to the pre-show, which the producers said all the nominees were eager to participate in because it meant the songs could be performed in full rather than as part of a medley.

Soderbergh & Co. hope the show will provide a “template” for how other awards shows and film productions can return to work as the pandemic winds down: “People will see this show and feel like this is possible.”

The producers admitted that their plans would have been “impossible” had the Academy not shifted the ceremony back more than two months to April. Because COVID is still a reality, they’re still cognizant of capacity issues and keeping the show safe, even if that means heavy hitters who usually are staples of the show won’t be invited. “Bog Iger won’t be there,” Soderbergh said, referencing the former CEO of Disney. Even getting nominees, their guests and presenters to the show has been an ever-evolving process. “It’s like building a plane while it’s in the air,” he said.

Throughout Saturday’s press conference, Soderbergh, Sher and Collins reiterated that next Sunday’s show will be an “optimistic” occasion and a celebration of movies, but it’s clear they’re taking chances we’ve never seen from an Academy Awards before.

“It opened up an opportunity to try some things that haven’t been tried before,” Soderbergh said. “We want the show to have a voice.”

The Oscars air on ABC on April 25.

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