Banning Zoom at the Oscars Didn’t Work Out: Producers Accommodate Overseas Nominees

Among the issues: International nominees face a 10-day quarantine if they travel to Los Angeles. The Academy met Tuesday with publicists to discuss.
Main railway station in Los Angeles, Union Station, view from City Hall, in December 2015. | usage worldwide Photo by: Frank Duenzl/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images
Main railway station in Los Angeles, Union Station, view from City Hall.
Frank Duenzl/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

As this elongated awards season lurches toward the 93rd Oscars on April 25, the operative mantra from the Academy is “fluid” as the pandemic disrupts the best-laid plans. On March 18, rookie Oscar producers Jesse Collins, Stacey Sher, and Steven Soderbergh sent a memo to nominees that announced a ban on Zoom speeches. The instinct was a good one: Under the rule of Zoom, awards shows like Golden Globes, Critics Choice, the WGA and the PGA have ranged from glitchy to deadly dull. (Eric Kohn and I discussed the decision and its implications in this week’s Screen Talk.)

At back to back Zoom meetings with nominees and their publicists Tuesday morning, the producers announced several changes to allow overseas nominees to safely participate on the show as Europe faces virus spikes — including remote speeches.

The 2021 Oscars present a production challenge that no one will want to repeat: Stage a must-watch celebration of movies without the benefit of blockbuster titles, an audience (beyond the nominees’ guests), or even red carpet. The producers hyped the biggest live event in the world, to be shot like a film on wide-screen at 24 fps, complete with a wowza opening number.

Although the Oscar producers would also tape on-camera interviews, the Zoom ban clearly hoped to lure as many nominees as possible. For anyone outside Los Angeles, this is not a modest ask. Los Angeles County currently asks anyone traveling from outside California to self-quarantine for 10 days after you arrive. “There’s problems with putting [oversees nominees] in solitary for 10 days when they come here,” said a press agent handling European nominees. For some, like 83-year-old Best Actor nominee Anthony Hopkins (“The Father”), an extended plane trip to attend the indoor-outdoor Oscar ceremony in Los Angeles could be ill-advised.

Then there’s the logistical factor: How do you safely gather Oscar nominees at L.A.’s venerable Union Station? Likely to attend are Glenn Close, Steven Yeun, LaKeith Stanfield, Aaron Sorkin, David Fincher, Lee Isaac Chung, Chloé Zhao, Frances McDormand, and Viola Davis. As of Tuesday’s changes, international nominees such as Thomas Vinterberg, Emerald Fennell, Sacha Baron Cohen, Gary Oldman, Maria Balakova, Vanessa Kirby, Carey Mulligan, Riz Ahmed, Olivia Colman, Youn Yuh-jung, and Daniel Kaluuya will now have more options. Academy guidance demands that attendees adopt “a low risk lifestyle” for ten days ahead of the ceremony.

The Father
Olivia Colman and Anthony Hopkins in “The Father.”Sony Pictures Classics

While the producers still want the nominees to attend in person and will avoid Zooms if at all possible (the show has limited Zoom capability), for those who cannot travel stateside, some 20 locations with satellite hookups will be set up around the world with a central hub in London with some presenters on hand — and possibly Paris. (Negotiations are in progress with venues.)

The Oscar producers and their health experts recommend to foreign travelers that they follow Los Angeles guidance for a 10-day quarantine, which can be shortened for first-class travelers or those who are vaccinated or already functioning in a production bubble. The producers are treating the Oscar show as if it were a film set. The Academy has built a testing facility just for the Oscars, and the Academy has arranged for their airline and hotel partners to handle the extra costs of going into quarantine.

The producer promised the attendees at Union Station a delightful “cocktail party,” Soderbergh said, according to The Hollywood Reporter. “Nominees will be rotated through the evening,” in batches, with sanitation crews between each new round. (This gives new meaning to commercial breaks.) The Grammys did something similar, with four performing “pods” moving in and out of the audience every 45 minutes. Then the guests will move to adjacent courtyards, where the pre- and post-show will also take place. And the Academy promises an outdoor event the day before the Oscars that will be “intimate, fun, and celebratory,” as well as some form of “untraditional” red carpet to be detailed later, and a virtual press room. Mask-wearing is still a question mark; the Academy asks that everyone bring a mask.

If it came down to choosing between good TV and accommodating nominees, the Academy had no choice but to come down on the side of its membership.

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