How Oscar Producers are Navigating COVID-19 Restrictions on Hollywood’s Biggest Night of the Year

I know this is an obvious understatement, but what a wacky, messy awards season this has been! Of course it’s a logistical nightmare to try to produce a great and safe awards show during these pandemic-restricted times. I really do feel for all of those attempting to do just that.

We’ll see how this Sunday’s oddball one-hour SAG Awards ceremony pans out, but plans to inform all of the winners four days ahead of the broadcast could prove to be a total PR disaster if — or dare I say when — that intel leaks to the press.

As far as the Oscars are concerned, our Just for Variety editor Marc Malkin reported this week that in a Zoom call with studio and personal publicists of the nominees, show producer Steven Soderbergh referred to the logistics of organizing this year’s ceremony as “mind-numbing.”

It hasn’t helped the matter that the Oscar producers and the Motion Picture Academy have refused to provide any real clarity on the details of what the April 25 ceremony will look like.

“After weeks of speculation and leaks, it will be great to know how the show finally comes together creatively,” Malkin tells me.

On the March 30 call, Soderbergh and co-producer Stacey Sher begged for forgiveness for all of the confusion and promised they were working hard to figure everything out. “We’re sorry for the frustration our silence has caused,” Soderbergh told the talent reps. “It’s not because we don’t care. It’s not because we aren’t listening or that we’ve been caught off guard by the complexities of the show,” he said, explaining that every day since the nominations were announced “we’ve had an internal debate on whether to release information about what we’re doing even though that information is often etched in Jell-O.”

It seems to me that there’s still somewhat of an open question about the use or nonuse of Zoom on the broadcast. In a March 18 letter to nominees, the producers said they intended to forgo Zoom options for those unable to attend the ceremony. That decision was met with some serious backlash from foreign nominees and those filming projects in other countries. On the March 30 call, the producers reiterated that they will try to avoid using Zoom to preserve the picture and sound quality, but seemed to leave open the possibility that they may have to resort to it in some cases. They explained that for those unable to travel due to international COVID restrictions, the show would include a London venue for nominees to gather and participate in the ceremony, while others would be invited to participate via satellite from local broadcast affiliates.

Also unclear is whether the producers will issue a mask mandate for seated nominees. So far, their reps are being told that their clients should simply bring a mask with them. So does that mean that everybody should just ignore what the medical experts and President Biden are telling us that, vaccinated or not, we should still wear masks in public settings?

And, finally, other than COVID having directly impacted the production of awards shows this year, I sincerely hope that the Oscars will at least acknowledge how this deadly virus has affected the world at large.

“While it’s Hollywood’s biggest night of the year, nobody should lose sight of the fact that we’re still in the midst of the pandemic,” Malkin says, “and there should be some recognition in the show beyond the celebratory aspects.”

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