Monday, March 3, 2014

Our View: Why the News
Media Got It Wrong

The press has been proven wrong, again. As it turned out, plenty of Academy members watched and approved of “12 Years a Slave.” It won three Oscars in significant categories: picture, screenplay, supporting actress. That it was nominated in nine categories altogether might have told journalists something about the diligence and sober preferences of Oscar voters. It didn’t, and it’s easy to see why.

Until last night you would have thought that Academy members were a bunch of blockheads, Neanderthals whose taste resides in their knuckles. That’s what you would have taken away from reading the endless tide of criticism over the past few months aimed squarely (and unjustly) at the dullards who make up the Motion Picture Academy. This is how it works: A handful of journalists from a few major newspapers and a couple of industry-focused web sites talk to a trickle of Academy members. One reporter admitted that his sources number a scant 25 individuals.

It’s safe to say that other journalists might have a similar number of sources. But what if a particular columnist talks to 50, 100, or even 500 members? It’s certainly not going to be a representative demographic sampling of the Academy. There’s nothing scientific about it. Are one-third of the 25 (or 50) actors? How many members of the sound, costume, or art directors branches do reporters talk to each year?

The motivation of their sources is another consideration. Academy watchers in the press talk to their same group of carefully cultivated sources each year. It’s a co-dependent relationship. The sources have to be provocative or they will get dropped. They will lose favor with those journalists on whom they rely for career support. Reporters need people to stir the Oscar pot. It gives them something to write about for many months each year. Who wants to read stories about Academy voters who are analytical and thoughtful, who pay close attention to all of the films, who evaluate Cate Blanchett’s work on its own merits? There’s no percentage in that.

On the day after the Academy Awards, the Los Angeles Times ran this headline, “The academy gets it right.” What the newspaper didn’t bother to add was, “And we got it wrong.” You’ll never see that because they don’t believe the speculation that passes for reporting is anything but solid journalism. It’s only academy members who deserve to have their knuckles rapped with a steel ruler.

There will be plenty more of that next year, and the year after that, and the year after that. You can count on it. The news media are not going to change their ways. They cannot survive if they do. Like the movie business, it’s a living, after all.

Note: This is the final day of this blog for this year. Almost like Brigadoon, we'll be back for one week each year. Watch for us next February.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

They Said It at the Oscars

"There are no atheists on Academy Award night."
– Bob Hope, from his opening monologue on the 38th Academy Awards telecast, April 18, 1966

Watch Hope's opening monologue

Dining With the Stars:
Saluting This Year's Foreign Language Film Nominees

International Celebs Shine on a Rainy Night
Sorrentino: "Thank you for being interested in nothing."

A convivial mix of American and international stars and filmmakers came together to celebrate on Friday night as The Motion Picture Academy staged its annual presentation of certificates to the directors of the five nominated foreign language films. The festivities took place at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, in a tent next to the landmark streamline moderne May Co. building, soon to be the home of the Academy’s Museum of Motion Pictures. To get there, the multi-lingual crowd had to slog through flooded streets on one of the rare stormy nights in Los Angeles.

AMPAS president Cheryl Boone Isaacs warmly welcomed several hundred well-dressed guests (to be expected with so many Europeans in attendance) before turning the proceedings over to producer Mark Johnson, an Academy governor and chair of the Foreign Language Committee. Phedon Papamichael, a Best Cinematography nominee this year for “Nebraska,” introduced Belgium’s impactful “Broken Circle Breakdown” and director Felix Van Groeningen. Also on hand was the film’s gifted, luminous leading actress, Veerle Baetens.

Kathryn Bigelow handed the certificate to Cambodian director Rithy Panh for his innovative “The Missing Picture,” which also took the top prize in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes in May. “Totalitarianism can destroy imagination,” Panh noted before thanking the crowd. Celebrating with him were his French producer, Catherine Dussart, star Randal Douc, and composer Marc Marder.

Thomas Vinterberg, the formidable director of Denmark’s compelling “The Hunt,” received his certificate from Matt Groening (yes, creator of television’s “The Simpsons” and certainly a strange choice to represent the Motion Picture Academy). Groening told the crowd that he checked with Vinterberg beforehand to make sure he was pronouncing his name correctly. “It’s close enough,” replied Vinterberg, who speaks flawless, unaccented English.

They Said It at the Oscars

The Oscars are "two hours of sparkling entertainment spread over four hours"

– Johnny Carson, 1979 telecast

"This is the shortest Oscar show of this century."

– Billy Crystal, concluding 2000's four-hour, eight-minute telecast

Watch Sammy Davis, Jr. and Steve Lawrence's musical number from the 1979 Oscar show.

A Few Words With "The Great Beauty's" Costume Designer, Daniela Ciancio

"He must be the king of the night."

Daniela Ciancio created the costumes for Paolo Sorrentino’s “The Great Beauty,” as she did for his 2008 movie “Il Divo.” Trim and youthful, Ciancio was in Los Angeles for an exhibit of her work at the Los Angeles Italia film festival. It was her first visit to Hollywood. She recently designed wardrobe for the forthcoming Michael Winterbottom film “The Face of an Angel,” a fictionalized treatment of the Amanda Knox murder case starring Kate Beckinsale and Daniel Bruhl. Like the character of Jep, played by Tony Servillo, she was born in Naples. We spoke to her as we toured her exhibit last week.
"The Great Beauty": What the well dressed Neapolitan man wears

How did you go about designing for Jep?

Everything in the film revolves around him. In the movie, Jep comes from Naples and he must have those special things that tell us he comes from this part of Italy. Neapolitan style for men is different from other parts of Italy. I did a lot of research about Neapolitan style and thought a lot about Jep. He must be completely different from the other people in the story. He looks at life around him from a distance. His character is full and empty at the same time. I used the Neapolitan style. The cut of the jacket is typical of Naples. A white shirt and light trousers, this is typical Neapolitan style of someone who lives in Capri or Positano. Sorrentino wrote in the script that he wanted a yellow jacket for Jep in one scene. Normally the jacket is blue or light blue, but we also used yellow and red.

What distinguishes the Neapolitan style?

It’s an old tradition. It’s related to the English style in men’s suits. The difference is in the cut of the jacket and the shoulder. It’s really soft. Cesare Attolini is a famous suit maker in Naples. We worked with them to get the shapes we wanted. The jacket fits close to the body, and we used square patch pockets and fabrics that wrinkle a bit.

Why do Italian men in general always look so elegant, sophisticated, confident?

I don’t think all of the men in my film were well dressed. Jep, yes. He must be fashionable, elegant, a little eccentric. He must be the king of the night. In Italy we have a big tradition of elegance in men’s fashions. I studied it a lot with the great designer Piero Tosi (“The Leopard,” “Death in Venice,” and a five time Oscar nominee). He was my mentor. Our tradition of designing is strong, but the result should be very simple.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

"I Know People That Disgusting." Jonah Hill, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Terence Winter Discuss
"The Wolf of Wall St."

Martin Sorcese’s rambling, immensely entertaining black comedy “The Wolf of Wall St.” is one of this year’s Best Film nominees. A few weeks ago, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, and screenwriter Terence Winter answered questions after a screening in Hollywood.

Terrence Winter on how he got involved with the film:

The book is so visual and so wild. I literally started to read it, I could not put it down… It plays out in your mind when you read it. Each one of those sequences, I saw the movie in my head… It’s such an incredibly compelling roller coaster [ride]… I had never written anything like it before.

Terrence Winter on the film’s three-hour length:

[The first draft was] 128 pages. We decided we needed to cut it, and it ballooned up to 146. That’s what meeting with Marty will do.

Jonah Hill on the real Jordan Belfort:

What was really compelling was how honest Jordan was about this behavior. And all true by the way. The FBI agent who tracked Jordan told me every single thing was true.

Jonah Hill on how he got the part:

I was nominated for an Oscar for Money Ball, and I sat in front of Scorcese at the Oscars. I had never met him, and Goodfellows is the reason I wanted to dedicate my life to films… I’m not going up to him and bother him, but by the end of the night, I said, “Hey, I really like Goodfellows.”… A week later I got a call that they were interested in me. I was at the bottom of the list of way better actors. Then Leo and I were in Mexico promoting different films. I asked him if I could meet with him, because he was the producer. This was a month before I was supposed to meet with Scorcese. We sat down and I immediately launched into who I thought Donnie was and told him, “I have to play this character. There’s no one else in the world who can play this character but me. I know people this disgusting.”

Oscar's Golden Moments:
1953 Fox Movietone "News"

Whether or not you think Fox News is fair and balanced, in 1953 the studio's newsreel division didn't hesitate to play favorites.

This Fox Movietone Newsreel on the Academy Awards for 1952 highlights winners from Fox pictures – Alfred Newman,  Susan Hayward, Anthony Quinn – and allots more time to studio chief Darryl F. Zanuck, presenting the Irving Thalberg Award, than it does to its recipient, Cecil B. DeMille.

The clip gives only a quick nod to Gary Cooper, who was named Best Actor for "High Noon"  from United Artists. Other award winners handily omitted were Best Actress Shirley Boothe ("Come Back, Little Sheba)), Best Supporting Actress Gloria Grahame ("The Bad and the Beautiful"), and Best Director John Ford "The Quiet Man").

Making the Cut: Giving It a
Good Run With No Money
Adam Bakri in the Oscar-nominated Palestinian Film "Omar'

M.J. Peckos is an anomaly in the movie business. While she’s smart, effective, and has distinguished herself over a substantial career, she’s gone about this by being kind, thoughtful, and soft-spoken. Her roots as one of the leading marketers of indie and foreign language films go back to the old United Artists Classics, the first studio in the modern era to set up a specialty films division. Since then she has contributed to the success of many difficult-to-market films. These include "Antonia’s Line," "Bread and Tulips," "Dirty Dancing," and John Huston’s "The Dead." She now often works in partnership with another indie mainstay, Steven Raphael. Last year their film, Canada’s “War Witch,” was one of the five nominees in the Best Foreign Language category. This year they scored again with “Omar” from Palestine. We asked Peckos a few questions about Oscar campaigning and the state of the foreign language film market in the U.S.
What’s the greatest challenge when you undertake an Oscar campaign for a foreign film?

Every year there are more and more countries submitting films, diminishing any film’s chance of making the cut for the shortlist. From 76 movies to 9 this year is a bit daunting. And, of course, we always have a problem getting enough money for advertising, public relations, and screenings. You need a couple hundred thousand to be competitive. It’s not much by studio standards, but not every producer or country has that kind of money. Fortunately, there are always exceptions. Many fine films get noticed even though their advertising budgets have been very small. 

Anything else?

Yes! Cutting through clutter, getting the press and Academy members to pay attention to smaller films. So much gets thrown at Academy members – screenings, Q&As, DVDs, scores, screenplays. It’s tough at this time of year. There’s a lot for them, and us, to navigate.

Academy members often have been accused of not participating in this category. How many voters are there for foreign films?

I don’t know how many members view the foreign films. I’m just grateful for the ones who do. This year it should be more because the Academy is sending DVDs of the five nominated films to all of their members.

How are foreign films in general faring in the U.S.?

I’m passionate about films. I’ve always loved foreign films in particular. But the number of people like me who support indie and foreign films is dying out. People are distracted with other things. That goes for movies in general. Studios are facing the splintering of the marketplace, too. It’s a pity.

Please complete this sentence: Hollywood is a place where… should never mistake motion for action.

Friday, February 28, 2014

On the Campaign Bus:
Matthew McConaughey Had to Say "No" to Get the Work He Wanted

No one deserves the Best Actor Oscar more than Matthew McConaughey. Then, again, the same could be said about Bruce Dern, Christian Bale, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Chewitel Ejiofor. All did outstanding work this year. All five men have enjoyed distinguished careers and can point to ample numbers of critically admired portrayals. What's an Academy Awards voter to do? We'll have to wait until Sunday to find out. In the meantime, here's what McConaughey, 44, had to say about his work in "Dallas Buyers Club" when he spoke to Dave Karger at a recent screening.

On McConaughey's relationship with the family of Ron Woodroof, the character he plays:

They opened their home to me. They opened every scrapbook they had... They did not sugarcoat who he was. The sister said he stole two of her cars twice, took all of her valuables. But then they said, you couldn’t help but love him. They were very honest about who he was... They said we have something we feel you should have, and then they gave me his diary, which was the diary he kept before he had HIV. That was really my secret weapon.

McConaughey explains what he means by "secret weapon":

As an actor you want to be seeing it from the inside. You want a secret. That [the diary] was my secret , the thing I had on my side. I ddidn’t share that with anyone else. There were certain excerpts that I would bring up to {director] Jean-Marc Vallee along the way that sometimes were added or improved, but it’s something that’s mine. And it was me and him. It was the thing that allowed me to be like, "There’s no way I could go wrong or tell and untruth in a scene," which is a great feeling to have when you’re going In to play a role.

On the difficulty of getting the film made:

It was around for 20 years. It got rejected 137 times… No way [it was going to get made, it's a] period piece, AIDS drama, with a bigoted hero. It’s not putting change in your pocket.. I wanted to do it. They said great, but no one’s going to finance it. A year went by, another year went by, and finally we set the date. People said again there’s no one to finance it. We said, "Fine, we’ll do it. We’ll get the money."

Jean-Marc comes on. We have the director, the lead, pieces are starting to come together. The producers didn’t flinch... We did believe that the film was real. We had a start date. We had locations. We had crew. And then at five weeks out the money fell out. It never went into escrow. I never asked if it was going to happen... At the time I didn’t have doubts. It’ll happen this fall, Nov. 1. There’s something about not pausing… We’re doing it in November.

Dining With the Stars:
Hollywood Salutes The Wrap's Fifth Anniversary

Give Them Five!

Whether Old School or new media, any publication that not only survives but flourishes for five years is doing everything right. That’s certainly the case with the movie business go-to web site “The Wrap.”

Former New York Times reporter Sharon Waxman launched the lively, tremendously informative site in 2009. It’s become one of Hollywood’s daily must reads, thanks to its smart reporting and analysis, complemented by its sharp, attractive design.

“We have been embraced by the insider Hollywood community for some time,” Waxman said, “and are now seeing that credibility scale into a broad consumer community that is savvy about
the entertainment business and eager for an intelligent, insider read.”
Sharon Waxman, Sony Classics' co-chief Tom Bernard
at The Wrap's fifth anniversary celebration

While acknowledging what she calls “those two intersecting communities,” Waxman declares that “no matter how big we get – and we grew 500% just last year – we will never lose sight of our core 
mission of serving the entertainment professional. That is the heart of our value as a news 

They Said It at the Oscars
"By the way, be sure to stay tuned for the whole show, because at the end of the night we are going to vote somebody out of show business.''

– Host Steve Martin, when the 2001 broadcast reached the 2 1/2 hour point

Thursday, February 27, 2014

On the Campaign Bus:
Steve Carell, Pharrell Williams, And Chris Meledandri
Prepare to Get Lucky

In mid-February, the star, composer and producer of the hilarious hit film "Despicable Me 2" – nominated for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song (the infectious "Happy") – talked to Oscar voters and other guild members at the Directors Guild about their experiences making the movie. Here are a few of their comments in response to the moderator's questions.

Carell and friend at "Despicable Me 2" premiere
Q (for Steve Carrell): Did you identify with your character, his challenges as being a parent and having career [as a villain]?

SC: I’m exactly that character, especially the idea of being a new father who is discovering all of these things for the first time. It’s a universal feeling when you become a parent. You feel that part of your identity has been taken away and has been replaced with something else. That’s scary. You feel like you’re losing control of what had defined you up to that point. [He paused, then:] I can’t believe I’m talking like this about an animated film.

All hat and lots of talent: Pharrell Williams at the
Grammys with Daft Punk and Nigel Rogers
Q (for Pharrell Williams): Tell us about your process and how you interacted with the talent going through it.

PW: It’s been amazing... One of the things that I learned is that you don’t make your art just for you and your crew. That’s what I used to think… That doesn’t matter [to the audience or filmmakers]. I had to learn that… I learned that I needed to harmonize with the writers, Chris, the actors.

Williams on writing the Oscar-nominated song "Happy": Happy speaks to human beings, my other songs speak to people who want to look at booty… This allows me to rise to the occasion of working with humans. And I’ve never done that. This has been the most humbling of [not just] situations, opportunities, but moments of my life, period.
Williams was asked if he found it hard to write "Happy": No. [He then launched into a lengthy depiction of the difficulties of writing the song.]

Oscars Firsts:
The First Best Picture(s)

Most people believe the first Best Picture Oscar was awarded in 1929 to "Wings," William Wellman's thrilling WWI saga starring Clara Bow, Buddy Rogers, and Richard Arlen.

That's only partly true. In its early years the Academy had two, not one, Best Picture categories, and neither of them included the word "best." The first Oscars were given to "Wings" in the Outstanding Picture category. Another Oscar went to "Sunrise" in a category the Academy called Unique and Artistic Picture.

First Oscar banquet at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel
While all of the Academy's initial 300 or so members voted in the nominations phase, the ultimate winner was chosen by a panel of judges, one from each of the original five branches.

Louis B. Mayer, the powerful head of MGM and the singular force behind the founding of the Academy, played a significant role in selecting "Sunrise," from Fox, over MGM'S own, critically acclaimed, "The Crowd."

The Crowd: coulda, woulda, shoulda
Emanuel Levy, in his authoritative book All About Oscar, relates how this came about:

On February 15, 1929, the Central Board of Judges met all night. The board decided to honor "The Crowd" with the Artistic Quality of Production, and the even called on its director, King Vidor. But Mayer argued against "The Crowd" due to its downbeat tone. Instead he championed "Sunrise," by German director F.W. Murnau, who was a respected filmmaker. Additionally, "Sunrise" starred all-American Janet Gaynor, had a happy ending, and was made by Paramount. Mayer feared charges of favoritism since "The Crowd" was an MGM picture. Mayer prevailed and the voting results were published in the "Academy Bulletin," on February 16 with the winners announced right away.

Vidor may have been robbed, but at least Mayer escaped looking like a gonif!

They Said It at the Oscars"Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, ladies and gentlemen. I don't actually have a joke for them. I'm just contractually obligated to mention their names five times during the show."

– Hugh Jackman, 2009 Academy Awards broadcast

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Hollywood Actually (Mostly) Loves British Films and Actors

From its earliest days to this year’s multiple nominations for “12 Years a Slave” and “Philomena,” the Academy Awards have welcomed the Brits

“There will always be an England, even if it’s in Hollywood.”

That was just one of many barbs Bob Hope aimed at the British film industry during the Academy Awards broadcast for movies released in 1964, a year when English films, actors, and filmmakers dominated the presentation. The ceremonies took place at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium (as they did during most of the 1960s) prompting Hope to open the show with: “Good evening and welcome to Santa Monica on the Thames.”
Nominees from the Old Country: veteran Dench, first-timer Ejiofor

This wasn’t the first time that England had figured prominently in the Oscars. The British Invasion of Hollywood began in 1930. George Arliss was the first of his countrymen to win a Best Actor Oscar for “Disraeli,” followed the next year by Charles Laughton for “The Private Life of Henry VIII.” Victor McLaglen, Vivien Leigh, and Robert Donat won Best Actor or Actress honors later in that decade.*

British stars enjoyed similar success in 1940s. Joan Fontaine, Greer Garson, Ray Milland, Ronald Coleman, Laurence Olivier earned Oscars. Olivia de Havilland won two (for “To Each His Own,” 1946, and “The Heiress,” 1949). (Curiously, until the late 1940s, the Academy reserved its praise for actors only. Up to that point, no Britons had been nominated for writing, directing, cinematography, Best Picture, or other categories.)

Chew(itel) on This!

As Academy campaigns go, this one is half-baked

We’ll find any justification for a good pun, but – seriously, folks – this ploy is pretty star-eyed. For the awards season, Manhattan Fruitier – purveyors of impressive gift baskets filled with gorgeous produce – is creating assortments of cookies bearing portraits in icing of the ten Best Actor and Best Actress nominees.

Yes, this really means you can dine not merely with, but in fact on Leo, Christian, Cate, Sandy, or Chewitel. For a modest $72 you’ll get 18 cookies in each batch, either all men or all women. You will have to spend $144 to to avoid being accused of gender bias. And, we presume you will want overnight shipping to get them in time for Sunday’s ceremonies.

Now, doesn’t this take the cake?

From the Oscar Trenches: Allison Jackson's First Time at the Oscars

One in a Series

In 1980, fresh out of college, I got my first job at Paramount Pictures working as assistant to Susan Pile, the head of publicity at the studio. We were having a big Oscar year, with multiple nominations for “Ordinary People, “The Elephant Man,” and “Ragtime.” 

We also had an Oscar-nominated documentary short called “The Dollar Bottom,” made by a Paramount film unit in London that was one of Jeffrey Katzenberg’s pet projects. I got to know the young French executive producer, because I was the only one in the department who talked to him on the phone. He was so excited about the nomination and ceremony, but tickets to the Oscars were not allocated to executive producers. We were having the same problem with one of the executive producers for “The Elephant Man.” 

A few days before the Oscar telecast the Academy’s wonderful Otto Spoerri – who had the impossible job of seating all of the nominees, stars, and VIPs – called to say that he had found some tickets in the balcony. My French filmmaker flew out to Los Angeles and, because he didn’t know anyone here, he invited me to go with him to the Oscar ceremonies. (Remember, I was just an assistant, a complete nobody).
Allison Jackson (right), Jasmine Madatian (left),
Sandy O'Neill at an Oscar party ca. 1990

When he came to our office at Paramount, he was more handsome than I ever could have imagined, and just as nice as he was one the phone. I was flat broke and sharing a barely furnished apartment with my sister, so I borrowed a dress to wear Oscar night. I felt just like Cinderella! 

We rode in a limo to the show with the film’s director and producer. We sat in the balcony next to Sissy Spacek’s mother and best friend. Sissy got the Best Actress Oscar for “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” “The Dollar Bottom“ won, too, for Best Documentary Short Subject. 

I don’t know what others did after the show – they were probably at swanky A-List parties – but we celebrated long into the evening at Carlos ‘n Charlie’s, a now-forgotten Mexican bar and disco on Sunset Blvd. that was owned by Joan Rivers’ sister. It’s safe to say that we were the only Oscar winners there. 

The next day my Oscar date sent a dozen yellow roses to my office with a note: “It was a wonderful and memorable evening. Thank you for sharing it with me.” He was such a classy guy. All of the other assistants were envious. 

I loved every minute of it! 

Allison Jackson stayed at Paramount until 2006, rising to senior vice president of special events and philanthropy. Today she operates her own firm and is one of the top party and events planners in Hollywood.

Got an Oscar story you want to share? Write us at

They Said It at the Oscars
"I won and I get to scream and jump a little. But I got to go back to work tomorrow."

– Benicio del Toro, accepting his Best Supporting Actor Oscar for "Traffic" at the 2001 show

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

"12 Years a Slave" Screenwriter John Ridley Talks About
Faith, Hope, and Clarity

Writer John Ridley didn’t come up with the idea for “12 Years a Slave.” That came from the wife of director Steve McQueen. She brought Solomon Northrup’s memoir to their attention. But it was Ridley, 48, who toiled four years on the screenplay, even though he wasn’t being paid and the production company, Brad Pitt's Plan B, had no funding to make the film. “I had immense faith in the material and the director,” said Ridley. He also had enormous confidence in his own abilities, a wager that paid off handsomely with universal critical praise, nine Oscar nominations (including screenplay), and $49 million so far in domestic box-office plus another $79 million internationally.

Ridley spoke thoughtfully and graciously with Hollywood Is A Place Where from Texas where he is scouting locations for an ABC pilot called “American Crime.” He was exhausted, having just returned from a grueling two-day trip to London to attend the BAFTA awards. (While “12 Years” was named Best Film, he lost to “Philomena’s” Steve Coogan.)
John Ridley on the set of his next film, "All Is By My Side"

Q: How do you prepare yourself to write such hateful dialogue for such abhorrent characters?

A: In the memoir [by Solomon Northup] there were a lot of things that were put in perspective. I’ve never been visited by that kind of hatred, nothing like what these individuals went through, but there was a level in Solomon’s writing, like with Mistress Epps or Master Ford, where he would try to explain some of the complexities of humanity. That was interesting to me that it was not – no pun intended – black and white, that these folks were purely evil. I think that’s really important for the story.

Q: Did you struggle with having to write these characters?

A: It never bothered me because it was true; these things happened. It was huge education for me. You think you know about slavery, you think you know about that era. I found out that I was ignorant about a lot of things. If there were things I was learning chances are there were things for others to learn. I never felt bad about what I was writing, that it was difficult, that I shouldn’t go down this road, or that it was too toxic for me as a writer to tolerate. I was fascinated by the depth of a lot of the things that I learned.

From the Oscar Trenches:
"Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolfe?"

One in a series

A veteran campaign consultant recalled this incident at the 1967 Academy Awards ceremony:

I worked on the campaign for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf.” It got nominations in every category for which it was eligible, only the second film to achieve that. (“Cimarron” was the other.)

The anticipation was heavy on awards night, to say the least. All of the stars and filmmakers were present, except for Sandy Dennis, who played Honey, the fragile, neurotic wife of George Segal. She had stayed in New York and had arranged for Mike Nichols to accept her award should she win.

Of course, she won for Best Supporting Actress. Nichols took the Oscar, gave a brief 16-second acceptance speech on her behalf, then quickly walked off the stage. I was standing in the wings. As soon has he saw me, he thrust the statuette in my hands. “Here," he said. "Take this. It’s bad luck for me!”

And it was, for while the film won five Oscars that evening, the Best Director award went not to Nichols but to Fred Zinneman for “A Man for All Seasons.”

It turned out to be a temporary bump in the road for Mike. The very next year he won for "The Graduate,” his first and only Academy Award. 

Got an Oscar story you want to share? Write us at

Oscar's Golden Moments:
Mae West and Rock Hudson

Jerry Lewis hosted the 1957 Oscar show,
but Mae and Rock stole it 

It might have been cold outside, but it was steamy inside The Pantages in 1957 when screen legend Mae West and leading man Rock Hudson took the stage to sing Frank Loesser's Oscar-winning duet, first performed by Ricardo Montalban and Esther Williams in 1948's "Neptune's Daughter."

Monday, February 24, 2014

Welcome to Hollywood
Is A Place Where

Watch this space!

I'm a former movie studio executive and a longtime member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

My new blog covers the business of the Academy Awards from an opinionated, insider's perspective. Here you will find commentary, party coverage, interviews with nominees, previously unpublished anecdotes about the Oscars from other industry professionals, and more.

On the Campaign Bus: Bludgeoned to Death By Questions and Answers

So many stars, so many questions, same old answers

The celebrity Q&A has become one of the main devices (ploy or contrivance might be the better term) Oscar campaign managers rely on to sway Academy members. There have been so many this year in particular that voters can’t keep track of them. Perhaps this is the point. Studios want it to appear as if an endless groundswell of enthusiasm (called “buzz” in Movieland) surrounds their Oscar contenders, so that all of Hollywood will stand up and salute. (Leo and Marty have invited us to hear them speak again. That film must be important!)
Academy hustle: Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence

Night after night from October through mid-February, the studios trot out their top-shelf stars, directors, producers, composers, writers and other creatives – sometimes adding a dessert reception or other blandishments – hoping to create a positive impression that will linger at least until the last ballot is cast. On some evenings, the casts of two or three films compete for attention (dueling Q&As!).

The roster of A-List stars on the circuit this season is impressive: Matthew McConaughey, Leonardo DiCaprio, Bruce Dern, Martin Scorcese, Alfonso Cuaron, David O. Russell, Amy Adams, Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Oprah Winfrey, Steve Carell, Joel and Ethan Coen all have turned up on multiple occasions, not only in Los Angeles, but also in New York, London, and, for a few, in Palm Springs, Santa Barbara and other posh communities where movie industry VIPs either reside or recreate.

Even pop star Taylor Swift appeared one night at the DGA “in conversation” for her song “Sweeter Than Fiction” from the British comedy “One Chance.” (It was not nominated.)

Because everyone is doing it, everyone has to do it. Indeed, it’s hard to think of a big star who hasn’t participated in at least one Q&A this year, other than Robert Redford who declined to do anything in support of his Oscar-worthy performance in “All Is Lost” and then, when he failed to get a nomination, famously groused to the press that the movie’s distributors did a poor job. Talk about chutzpah.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

From the Oscar Trenches:
The Offer Brando and Streisand Both Refused

One in a series

On the eve of the 1973 ceremonies, Marlon Brando announced that he would boycott the Academy Awards and send Sacheen Littlefeather to the podium to refuse his Oscar for “The Godfather,” should he win it. When the presenters, Liv Ullman and Roger Moore, read his name, Littlefeather calmly strolled onstage and concisely, yet respectfully protested the degrading depiction of Native Americans in movies and on television. She then exited to polite applause, leaving Ullman and Moore holding Brando’s statuette.

All of this has been much publicized. Less well known – or perhaps never publicly revealed, as there is no mention of it on the Internet – is the role Barbra Streisand almost played in this incident.

An industry insider who worked with Streisand at the time told us that after Brando proclaimed that he would decline the Oscar, the Motion Picture Academy asked Streisand to accept on his behalf. When Brando found out, he called Streisand to request that she not go ahead. He supposedly said, “I have something else in mind.

Oscar's Golden Moments: Jennifer Lawrence Answers Questions in the Press Room

They can't trip up this smart cookie 

Saturday, February 22, 2014

They Said It at the Oscars

"I guess this proves there are as many nuts in the Academy as anywhere else."

–Jack Nicholson on receiving the Best Actor Oscar (his first) for "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," 1975