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Oscar producers promise a new take on show

Bill Condon and Laurence Mark are producing the Oscars for the first time. They're bringing in Hugh Jackman as host and keeping some of the presenters a secret.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Bill Condon and Laurence Mark breeze into their offices at Sony Studios for a quick break during another marathon workday. The writer-director and producer, who worked together on 2006’s “Dreamgirls,” are joining forces again — this time to put on the 81st annual Academy Awards.

It’s the first time Condon, 53, and Mark, 59, have produced an Oscar telecast, and throughout the process, they’ve been making their own rules. They chose entertainer Hugh Jackman to host, rather than the usual standup comedian, and have kept nearly every element of the production — including presenters and performers — secret.

Not even members of the academy staff know who’ll take the stage on the night of Feb. 22.

The maverick producers took a few minutes to share their thoughts with The Associated Press about how they’re preparing for Hollywood’s biggest night.

AP: What have your lives been like since you’ve taken on this Oscar job?

Condon: We’ve both made a lot of movies, but it’s never been as intense as this is. It really is. We’re stumbling home at midnight every night and working on the weekends. It’s a full-time thing.

Mark: Well because you have this deadline that is, well, finite. You can’t fuss around ... You have a little leeway in movies, but you don’t have any leeway here.

AP: How do you prepare for a job like this?

Condon: We watched a lot of old shows. We each had our favorites we went back to look at. Some of them held up, some of them didn’t. We’re both huge theater fans, so all of that stuff, and we both work in some way in live entertainment, so all of that comes in.

Mark: In a way, we do stand on the shoulders of all the Oscar producers before.

Condon: It’s vaudeville. It really is putting on a vaudeville act and you’ve got 30 acts you’re putting on basically and you hope that most of them are going to work.

AP: Why all the secrecy?

Condon: We wanted to restore a certain kind of mystery to it. When I look at the old shows, one of the great things is they’re all giving this party and we’re lucky to be invited to it. Recently, it’s become more just like a TV show where they promote everything, you know exactly who you’re going to see. So I think you have to watch the show in order to find out what’s going to happen, in order to see some of the dresses, in order to see some of the stars, and I think that just makes it more interesting as the thing goes on ... It just adds some interest.

Mark: We could just never figure out why you would say everything you were going to do before you did it. Why not just kind of do it and hope people tune in to see what you’re doing.

AP: Could it backfire?

Mark: I think people tune in to see the Oscars. I don’t think they tune in to see any one person, or any one person perform or present. I think they tune in to see the Oscars and what we’re all up to this year with them, so that is our theory.

AP: Did you get any resistance from the academy or the network with that approach?

Mark: It took the academy a moment or two but I think they actually got on board very quickly with it. The academy has been around for a chunk of time and they do have traditions, and we’re honoring as many of them as we can possibly manage to honor. But one or two (we’re) breaking and they seem to enjoy the fact that things like this are going on, because by the way, you’re talking about it, aren’t you?

AP: How much room is there to revamp a show that requires 24 awards be presented on camera?

Condon: That is a given and it’s a big chunk of the show: we’re going to give out awards. The thing is maybe give them out in a different way, find a different way to present them. That’s what we’re hoping to do across the board, just freshen them up and surprise people again with the way these awards are given.

AP: Let’s go through some of the rumors. True that you’re taking some things out of the Kodak Theater?

Mark: There may be a bit of that.

AP: Is it true presenters won’t walk the red carpet?

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AP: Are you really planning to close the show with clips from forthcoming films?

Mark: We’re collecting them. The theory being this was 2008, and look at all the things you may have to look forward to in 2009 so that the show doesn’t just end with “Good night.”

Condon: It keeps you watching right through. The one rule we have is it’s nothing that’s appeared on trailers so it will be — if it works — a glimpse of stuff you’ve never seen before of the movies coming up.

AP: How will you measure success?

Condon: We’re very excited by all the things we’re doing and if we get close to executing them the way that we’re planning, I think we’ll feel very good about it. (Veteran Oscar producer) Gil Cates gave us that advice which was you have to please yourself and you’re never going to please everybody. That’s part of the show too. There’s always going to be people who pick at it. We’re ready for that.

Mark: One of the things we’ll be happy about is if we come in close to three hours, to be very honest and not to be too artistic about it, but we are trying very hard to make that happen. The closer we get, the happier we’ll be. It hasn’t been three hours in decades.

AP: So you’re really keeping all the presenters secret until the big night — except for the ones who out themselves?

Mark: The ones that out themselves will have their all-access passes denied.