Sid Ganis won't reveal Oscar secrets…but others will
Pop quiz: Name any of the announced presenters at the Oscars, which is this Sunday night.
You got nothin', right? That's because the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences handed over the show to musical-theater pros Bill Condon and Laurence Mark this year, and Condon and Mark decided that secrecy and surprise was part of what makes Oscar night fun. Their theory is that all the announcements of who is appearing and who is presenting Oscars is not just unnecessary, but a buzzkill.
I sat down with Sid Ganis, the president of AMPAS, last Friday for some straight talk about the Oscars, secrecy and so forth. He wasn't spilling secrets, but we'll give you a few bits of online gossip. According to hitfix.com, Robert Pattison and Zac Efron will both be presenters. I didn't have that juicy (or maybe desperate) item on Friday when I talked to Ganis (alas), or I would have pushed him harder on the effort to attract younger viewers. I did get Ganis to talk about hiring Condon and Mark, whether he placed any limits on them, the viewer demographics, politicking and the Oscars and his own ballot.
TOC: So I want to imagine the moment; you say ‘Let’s get Bill Condon and Laurence Mark.’ These are not known as award show guys. They’re theater guys with razzle-dazzle in their bag of tricks. Were there things that you said ‘You can do anything you want except…’?
Ganis: Here’s what happened including the ‘except’ part. It must have been in July of last year…we went to lunch. So they talk to me and Bill had a couple of thoughts that he thought I might be interested in. At the end of the lunch, I got in my car, thinking ‘Maybe they should produce the show.’ Then I thought, "That’s risky; they’ve never had anything to do with this." But I call them and I asked and they said no. I said please think about it and they said no again. And eventually of course we got them to do it. Along the way I said to them, this is your show, you’re going to produce this show. I had asked the board of governors if they had any willingness to look at some of the [less prominent] awards and do them separately and the board said no. So that was the one and only rule that I could come up with, the integrity of the Oscars; each nominee is as important and significant as the next nominee for what he or she does. And we made an agreement that the show would be three hours or less.
TOC: Then they say "Hugh Jackman." So forget all the assumptions of the last 15-20 years that a comedian will do the show. Is there a moment where you think "Oh boy what were we thinking?"
Ganis:I said to myself, Hugh Jackman is exactly what we need. He knows to work with an audience, and he’s a legitimate theater guy and a movie person. Smart—as it turns out he’s smart as a whip—and he very much contributed to what’s happening. Then the other piece of the puzzle is that he’s gorgeous. He just is. And our demographic begins in the world of females. It’s good to have a gorgeous guy. Not to say the wonderful [last year’s host] Jon Stewart isn’t you know wonderful…
TOC: And there wasn’t a moment when you picked up the phone and said "I know I gave you the show but no nude musical numbers?"
Ganis: [Laughs.] Both of these guys are great. Both of them are filmmakers. So they’re used to hearing pronouncements from the boss man. So yeah, there have been moments of "Are you sure?" and "Is this the right thing to do?" And we’ve compromised on that basis.
TOC: You were talking about who the audience is: Women over 25. On the other hand you don’t want to lose everyone under 25. And yet right now there are people saying that no one under 35 is watching an award show at all.
Ganis: It’s turned into conventional wisdom. But I want the ratings. There was a time when I wouldn’t even talk about the ratings. It wouldn’t be what an Academy president talks about. But it’s important; I want the ratings to go up. Last year, Juno’s demographic was the kids, the kids who generally do not gravitate towards our show. So even though it did the best of all the movies [nominated for best picture], the kids weren’t interested in coming to see us. So we took a dive and I’m hoping that’s going to change this year.
TOC: Although this year is a funny year on its own.
Ganis: Yes it is. We don’t have The Dark Knight as one of the best pictures, although it does have a bunch of nominations.
TOC: Let me ask you then, the Academy’s recent move to February was in part because the campaigning got out of control. How do you think that change has gone? How do you feel about the state of politicking?
Ganis: I don’t believe the Academy members are influenced by stuff they get in the mail. When you get to be an Academy member you kind of have a mind of your own about what you’re responsible for. The Academy members, I’m not saying they are shielded from all of that completely, but they take it seriously. I have my ballot with me. I haven’t figured it out completely yet. And I’m thinking about it and when I go back today on the plane. Maybe I’ll fill out a couple of more boxes and by the end of the weekend I’ll have it all filled out and it’ll be there in plenty of time.