Talent hunt is on for next Oscars

This year’s show, hosted by Neil Patrick Harris (above), saw its audience drop nearly 15 per cent, to around 36.6 million viewers from 43 million last year.
This year’s show, hosted by Neil Patrick Harris (above), saw its audience drop nearly 15 per cent, to around 36.6 million viewers from 43 million last year. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LOS ANGELES • Will the next Academy Awards ceremony be street smart, like the House Party movies? Digitally savvy, with a BuzzFeed twist? Or as grandly mainstream as, oh, almost anything Tom Hanks has ever done?

The answer may depend on a talent search that will soon be concluded by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

After three consecutive Oscar shows from the producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, officers and executives of the academy have been quietly examining an intellectually and professionally diverse group of prospects as possible overseers of the next broadcast, set for Feb 28.

This year's show, hosted by Neil Patrick Harris, saw its audience drop nearly 15 per cent, to around 36.6 million viewers from 43 million last year. That decline, along with the generally poor reviews the telecast received, added urgency to the academy's mission to update what has been viewed in recent years as a shopworn entertainment show.

People briefed on the search said no final decision about the next producer or producers had been reached. An academy spokesman declined to comment on the process, which could accelerate with a planned meeting of the group's governing board today.

But several of those people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of confidentiality strictures, said the academy's president Cheryl Boone Isaacs and executive director Dawn Hudson had examined at least a half-dozen possible producers or producing teams, each of which would most likely bring a sharply different approach to the annual awards show.

Who remains on the academy's short list of candidates is not clear, and a wild-card entry remains possible.

A producer who has figured in the search, those people said, is Reginald Hudlin, a film-maker who earned a reputation for raucous urban humour with the House Party films, and who was a producer of Django Unchained, which in 2013 won two Oscars and was nominated for five, including Best Picture.

Hudlin earned his bones as an academy insider by producing last year's Governors Awards ceremony, an autumn tribute that honoured Harry Belafonte, Maureen O'Hara, Hayao Miyazaki and Jean-Claude Carriere.

While Hudlin and other black film-makers have been increasingly prominent within the academy, critics have said the group's membership and tastes do not reflect enough racial diversity.

Those claims gained prominence last year when the roster of acting nominees included no black performers, even as Selma, a film about the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr, joined the eight Best Picture nominees.

Another prospect for the producing job, according to several people, has been Michael Shamberg, a seasoned film-maker who lately has been helping BuzzFeed Motion Pictures find its way in the movie world.

Shamberg has leaned towards youth and cultural edges in films such as Reality Bites and the coming Freeheld, about the real-life struggle of a lesbian couple denied a survivor's pension in New Jersey.

This year, he organised an academy seminar on the future of the movies and included BuzzFeed Motion Pictures President Ze Frank among the guests. It is a fair bet that digital outreach would somehow break down the walls between stars and viewers in a Shamberg-produced show

Because Zadan and Meron did three shows under a multi-year arrangement, the academy was spared the toils of a producer search and it turned early to recruiting a host - something that typically cannot be dealt with until a producer is in place.

In previous years, show producers sometimes have not been named until September or October. But growing competition from rival film awards shows, particularly the Golden Globes, has stepped up the pressure on academy officials to get their programme in order before the season's contenders arrive in force, at film festivals in Venice, Italy; Telluride, Colorado; Toronto; and New York.

An earlier decision also leaves time for a course correction. In 2011, Brett Ratner was named the Oscar show's producer in early August. But he resigned in November after a controversy over his public use of an anti-gay slur and the show's intended host, Eddie Murphy, departed with him.

Brian Grazer stepped in to produce the show and Billy Crystal became the replacement host.

Among other possible candidates for the next Oscar producer's slot, Isaacs and Hudson are said to have considered Laurence Mark and Bill Condon, past show producers who proved unavailable until 2017, and Michael De Luca, who recently left an executive job at Sony and had a blockbuster in Fifty Shades Of Grey.

Mark did not respond to a query, and De Luca said in an e-mail that he has already agreed to join Jennifer Todd in producing next year's Producers Guild of America awards and could not tackle the Oscars at the same time.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 25, 2015, with the headline 'Talent hunt is on for next Oscars'. Print Edition | Subscribe