Sunday, February 26, 2017
Writing the Academy Awards
I did have the chance once, but had to turn it down. My partner and I were showrunning ALMOST PERFECT in 1996. We got a call from Quincy Jones (who was producing the show that year). He had first asked Larry Gelbart who passed. Quincy asked if he could recommend someone else and bless him, Larry mentioned us. I can’t tell you how many writing offers we received thanks to Larry Gelbart. He got us way more work than our agent. But we had to turn it down because we were already working 90 hour weeks.
All of the following information is second and third hand, but from what writers of award shows have told me, this is pretty much the assignment. You might find it somewhat less than idyllic.
The hosts generally have their own people. But they may want you to assist. And of course, the host’s people are in charge. Depending on who that is, you may serve at the pleasure of some asshole you wouldn’t hire to write a laundry list. Or someone you've fired.
You write the banter between presenters. Then it has to be approved by each presenter, their manager, agent, publicist, dog walker, and psychic. Also the producers, network, and standards-and-practices. When revisions come back you don’t know if they’re from the star himself and must be followed or his pool man in which case they’re just suggestions. And more often than not these revisions are way worse than what you wrote.
Still, when they bomb you’ll be blamed for it.
There’s also the issue of writing for some actors who couldn’t be funny if it meant world peace. They will take your genuinely funny lines and trample them into the ground.
You’ll be blamed.
Or worse, they will ad lib. We’ve all seen excruciating examples of that.
It’ll be your fault.
Sometimes presenters come in with their own schtick. So when Will Ferrell and Ben Stiller do a bit that bombs you’re the one who takes the heat.
From what I hear the weekend of the show (i.e. now) the rehearsals are insane. Presenters jockey for position, things get changed, stars are in, stars are out, your lines get cut, you’re scrambling to write new ones then don’t know who to give them to for approval.
The night of the show you’re on call to feed ad libs to the host so that he looks good. And if he doesn’t pull them off you-know-who is held responsible.
Meanwhile, some presenters can’t read off the teleprompter so they inadvertently kill a few of your jokes that have worked every rehearsal. Pin those on you, too.
Still, it’s gotta be a trip to at least experience this once. Even if Dustin Hoffman muffs your joke, hey, you can say you wrote for Dustin Hoffman. For two days you rub elbows with Hollywood royalty. Perhaps Amy Adams or George Clooney will say hello. (Good luck with the twins, George.) I don’t know if you’re invited to any post-Oscars parties. Or whether you get any swag. I doubt it but maybe you do. Like I said, it would sure be worth doing once.
Of course if I wrote the show I couldn’t review it. Hmmm. That’s probably reason alone to hire me.
But since they didn’t this year I will be reviewing tonight’s Academy Awards. For the first time I'll be delivering my snarkfest personally on my podcast. And if you don't like it, blame the Oscar writers.