Bruce Vilanch is sitting at a folding table in a windowless room at the Kodak Theatre. "Writers Room," reads a piece of yellow paper taped to the door. Another, with the veteran Academy Awards writer's name, is taped above his makeshift workstation and laptop.
The only view into the theater is a flat-screen monitor in the corner of the room.
Not all that's Oscars is glitter. For the Academy Awards show writers, who have been working furiously since nominations were announced last month, it's crunch time.
Vilanch, who is taking on his 20th Oscar gig this year, leads the team.
Wearing one of his trademark tongue-in-cheek T-shirts and bright pink glasses, the 60-year-old writer briefly traded the writers' room for the retro-themed green room down the hall — which in true Hollywood fashion features a picture window with a fake view of downtown L.A. — to talk about Sunday's 81st Academy Awards.
AP: Where are you in the writing process?
Vilanch: There's a complete script and it gets changed every hour on the hour. It will continue to get changed every hour on the hour until we go on the air, and then it will get changed again as the show unfolds and we begin coming up with stuff for Hugh Jackman to do to react to things that have happened on the show.
AP: How many Oscar traditions did you cast aside to make room for the show's much-touted shake up?
Vilanch: There's no standup comic hosting it. Hugh is going to come out and say a few things, but he's not going to do a 10-minute monologue... He's going to be doing a lot of musical stuff, so that will have a different feel to it. The show's got a narrative line this year, so all the awards are grouped around that. The sequence in which they're given is dictated by this narrative. There are different people doing groups of awards instead of a different set for each one, so all that stuff kind of makes it different. But, you know, it's still the Academy Awards, and there are 24 of them to give out.
AP: How does working on the Oscars differ from your other writing jobs?
Vilanch: I've done a lot of other awards shows and the Oscars, of course, are the biggest of them and the most problematic. You've got 24 awards — only four of them the public really cares about — and everything else has to be kind of dressed up to maintain people's interest. It's not like ... the Golden Globes, where you have 28 acting awards. You don't have to have any jokes because in a few minutes, someone famous will stagger up on stage and do something drunk.
AP: What excites you about the Oscars?
Vilanch: The movies change every year, so there are new jokes to make about the different movies and world events. It's an interesting amalgam of what's happened the last year in the world as seen through the eyes of the movies that have been made in the last year and released, and that's always fascinating. Look at "Slumdog Millionaire," which is essentially a "Rocky" that's been outsourced to India, like everything else.
AP: How much does the current economic situation affect the show?
Vilanch: We know everybody is suffering, so we have to acknowledge that, but you don't want to dwell on that because it's a downer... In a year where people are constantly worried, they want to see some glamour, they want to have some fun. The goal this year is to make it a party the way it used to be.
AP: What do you think about all the secrecy this year?
Vilanch: Every year they announce the names of the stars that are going to be on the show and the ratings keep going down. This year they're not announcing the names, let's see if the ratings go up. It could go either way. When (the producers) told me what they were going to do, I said, look, if it works, you're geniuses, and if it doesn't, you're the putzes who sank the show.
AP: How do you deal with the stress of Oscar season?
Vilanch: I kind of roll with the punches. I like it. It's fun. I've done it for so long that I know what to expect. This year, so much of what I've been doing is nanny-ing, because the producers are new, the directors are new, the host is new. So a lot of it is about guiding them through because I've been around.
AP: So after 20 years, you still love the Oscars?
Vilanch: It's the greatest show on earth. It's the biggest show in the world. Short of the Super Bowl, it's the most gigantic thing. Everybody shows up. People who don't go to the movies watch it. People who don't watch television watch it. It's kind of a cultural watershed, so it's tremendous to be a part of it.