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Chatting It Up with the Oscars’ Producers

Stephanie DePrez | Thursday, March 18, 2010

Once every year, there comes a day when all the cobwebs of this simple life wash away and we as a human race come face to face with real dreams coming true. It is a collective experience, shared by those across the country and across the world. Warriors lay down their weapons and feuds subside, even if only on the outside. But for three hours (or so) in March, the entertainment world stands still, takes a deep breath and congratulates itself for continuing to exist. This, ladies and gentlemen, is Oscar Sunday.
It has been my favorite day of the year for some time. I think it was the moment I realized Bjork could wear a swan as a dress and get the privilege of standing on stage to sing “It Is Oh So Quiet” that I realized, the Academy Awards offer a most unique opportunity for anyone to pull out pretty much whatever they want and get away with it, because everyone is so worried about being nice to each other (or at least appearing like they are).
A few weeks ago my own dreams came true when I got to interview Tom Sherak, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Adam Shankman and Bill Mechanic, the producers of this year’s Oscars and Mark Shaiman, the musical conductor. For two hours, I participated in a conference call with other students from across the country, beeping in whenever I had something pressing to inquire about (which was pretty much every 30 seconds). During the call, my last name magically transformed into “Deprue,” so unfortunately these guys won’t be recognizing me anytime soon.
Sherak seemed most pleased to even be talking. This fresh-into-office president made the point that the Oscars should be fun, and when he hired Shankman and Mechanic, that’s what he told them to do. When I first succeeded in getting a question through, and was announced as “Stephanie Deprue from University of Notre Dame” I have to admit, I panicked. “Hey, Tom. I hope you’re warmer than I am right now!” Thus opened the barrage of comments about Notre Dame that spanned not only Sherak, but Shankman and Mechanic, too.
“I love it. Midwest. I love it. I love the South too … but Notre Dame!” Pretty auspicious start, don’t you think? He said that his favorite part of the Oscars is sitting back and watching the audience’s faces. In an extreme highlight moment, he told me specifically after a question I posed that he would not be speaking at the Oscars, because he wanted to help keep the show within the time frame (which, you may have noticed, didn’t work — it still ran over, causing Tom Hanks to rush onto the stage to present Best Picture without so much as a reference to the 10 nominees). He informed me that I was the first person (besides his wife) to receive this information. Flabbergasted with joy, I did the only thing I could — tweeted the information to the Ausiello Files at Entertainment Weekly.
Talking to Shankman and Mechanic was probably the highlight of the interview, especially since it became frighteningly clear that both were USC fans. As soon as my name (Deprue, again) and university were announced, the hits started coming.
“You guys gonna win one of these years against SC?”
“Oh please. Oh please. Let’s not.” In retrospect, it was not the idyllic “your momma’s so fat” response I would have expected to come out of my mouth in the face of such a comment.  All I could think of to do after that was say, “Now you get a tough question,” and proceed to present a fairly involved, probing, insightful inquiry about balancing the Oscars as a commercial event and as an honor ceremony.
“I love that question.” Good retort, USC.
After their answers, which were highly satisfactory, I said, “I forgive the USC comment.” (But I didn’t, really. Not in my heart.)
The last interviewee was Shaiman, who wrote the musical “Hairspray.” He opted not to conduct the orchestra for the event, not only because he didn’t feel comfortable as a conductor but also because he doesn’t have the guts to cut off people’s speeches. He did, however, take great care to pair pieces of music with the different presenters that were a bit unexpected.
The chance to participate in the conference call was quite a rush, even if I did have to deal with Trojan chatter. I think the Oscars lived up to the hype, if only because the image of Kathryn Bigelow holding two Oscars and looking utterly dazed saved the show from its somewhat mediocre level of scripted comedy. Then again, it’s always the unexpected moments that make the telecast so interesting to watch.