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Oscar gang excited to get show rolling

There is some concern about the song from ‘Hustle & Flow’
/ Source: The Associated Press

As soon as the classroom doors opened, the students shuffled in.

The freshmen looked a little lost, maybe a little overwhelmed, while the seniors and postgraduate students greeted each other after the long break. Each was given an inch-thick syllabus of multicolored papers and a personalized binder to stow their stuff.

It was the first day of school at Oscar U — Wednesday’s kickoff production meeting at the Kodak Theatre for the gang putting on the 78th Annual Academy Awards on March 5.

The professor was veteran Oscarcast producer Gil Cates, assisted by the show’s 10-time director Louis J. Horvitz — looking very Hollywood in his burgundy shades — and longtime associate producer Michael Seligman.

Two flat-screen TVs and a large board of show secrets covered with a black cloth would aid in the day’s lesson.

“I’m glad we’ve all survived the year,” Cates told the group. “The show ... is remarkable and complex as always. And we have, as Lou points out, the A-team with which to put it together.”

The first order of business? Roll call, of course.

Cates passed a microphone around the theater lobby, where his 163 pupils upheld Academy tradition by introducing themselves and stating their years of experience with Oscar.

Eight years. Four years. Thirteen. Nine.

Then Bob Dickinson, “the lighting diva,” with 20. And programming executive John Hamlin of ABC, with 31 Oscar-studded years. The whole class clapped.

Then Buz Kohan, “rewriter to the stars,” with 19 years. And the Academy’s Executive Administrator Ric Robertson, with 25 years experience: “And I don’t do tickets,” he added, referring to the annual clamor for ceremony seats.

‘Hustle & Flow’ song causes concernsAll together, there were some 1,200 years of Oscar experience in the room, including script supervisors, technical directors and teleprompter operators, a doctor and a nurse, production assistants and even parking-lot personnel.

“By the way, has Susan Futterman been released from the psychiatric ward yet?” Cates asked, interrupting the introductions to inquire about Oscar’s longtime broadcast-standards enforcer. “She was given the lyrics for ‘It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp’ and she was taken away. I haven’t seen her since.”

The professor was referring to the best original song nominee from “Hustle & Flow” — a censor’s nightmare.

Next came a publicity coordinator, an orchestra mixer, a uniform guy and a loading dock manager, who, Cates noted, also “does not do tickets.”

Then there was Los Angeles Police Sgt. Mike Arminio, an Oscar route-planning coordinator for five years, “and I DO tickets.”

When the laughing subsided, Cates got down to business.

“OK folks, this is the family,” he said. “Let’s all get focused and get to work.”

That meant no outsider allowed.

After the meeting, production designer Roy Christopher said this year’s show will have a theme that’s “retro with a capital R” and a “let’s-go-to-the-movies kind of look.”

So retro, in fact, they’re bringing back that old Oscar staple, the production number — there’ll be two of them.

“But it’s very real-type production now,” said costume consultant Ret Turner, a veteran of 53 Academy Awards. “We’re no longer dancing on the wings of airplanes, which I have done on this show a couple of times. Now it’s much more realistic.”

“And Jon Stewart will clean up really nice,” added Christopher, who’s working on his 17th Academy Awards. “I think there’s a buoyancy about the show this year because of our host.”

Oscar’s first production meeting makes things “officially intense,” Christopher noted.

“Until this meeting, it doesn’t seem like we’re really doing anything. It’s like we’re all immersed in our own worlds,” he said. “This meeting is like, Oh yeah, we’re all doing the Academy Awards. Then you look at the schedule and think ’Oh my god, how will we get this all done?”’

Sounds like a case of first-day jitters.