Oscars show to be reinvented as a film, say producers: 'Hopefully unique'

Co-producer Steven Soderbergh said the three-hour ceremony will have 'the aesthetic of a film'

FILE - In this Feb. 24, 2016, file photo, an Oscar statue is pictured underneath the entrance to the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. When the Oscars broadcast begins April 25 on ABC, there won’t be an audience. The base of the show won’t be the Academy Awards’ usual home, the Dolby Theatre (though the Dolby will still be involved), but Union Station, the airy, Art Deco-Mission Revival railway hub in downtown Los Angeles. For the producers, the challenges of COVID are an opportunity to, finally, rethink the Oscars. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, File)

A "teeny-tiny" red carpet, no invitations for Hollywood's most powerful moguls, and a "central" role for masks – next week's in-person Oscars are taking no risks when it comes to Covid-19, but the event still would have been "impossible" to hold just weeks earlier, say producers.

The 93rd Academy Awards will mark the first time Tinseltown's finest have assembled in more than a year, for a three-hour show that co-producer Steven Soderbergh said is "not going to be like anything that's been done before".

The delayed Sunday, April 25 ceremony takes place barely a week after California opened vaccinations to all over-16s, with infection rates plummeting after a massive winter surge ripped through the state. Cinemas are even reopening.

Asked about the impact of the show's two-month postponement, Soderbergh said on Saturday: "It would have been impossible for us to do what we're gonna do ... I don't know how we would have done it.

"This is the working definition of trying to build an airplane while it's in the air," the director told a virtual press conference, adding that his experience of making films during the pandemic – and his 2011 thriller Contagion – had proven invaluable.

The ceremony will take place amid the "physical grandeur" of Los Angeles's cavernous Union Station, with nominees mingling outdoors and then rotated in and out of the venue during the show.

Union Station is pictured, Tuesday, March 23, 2021, in Los Angeles. When the Oscars broadcast begins April 25 on ABC, there won’t be an audience. The base of the show won’t be the Academy Awards’ usual home, but will be held at Union Station, the airy, Art Deco-Mission Revival railway hub in downtown Los Angeles. For the producers, the challenges of COVID are an opportunity to, finally, rethink the Oscars.  (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

The traditional red carpet will be dramatically downsized, and the guest list will be so limited that even powerful Disney boss Bob Iger "won't be there", said Soderbergh.

Speaking from the venue's courtyard – where only nominees, their plus-ones and a handful of presenters will chat and drink – Soderbergh said he hopes the Oscars will present the world "a glimpse of what's going to be possible when most people are vaccinated, and rapid, accurate, cheap testing is the norm".

"Masks are going to play a very important role in the story of this evening," he added. "If that's cryptic, it's meant to be – but that topic is very central to the narrative."

'Snapshot of movies'

Soderbergh and fellow producers Jesse Collins and Stacey Sher are keeping many details under wraps, but said the unusual and "hopefully unique" nature of a pandemic-era Oscars "certainly opened up an opportunity to try some things that haven't been tried before".

The ceremony will have "the aesthetic of a film as opposed to a TV show," including use of movie-like "over-the-shoulder shots from within the audience" and high-resolution, widescreen formats, said Soderbergh.

Most nominees are expected to attend in person, with hubs in London and Paris set up allowing Europeans unable to travel because of restrictions to dial in – but only via slick, industry-standard satellite hookups, not Zoom.

Recent awards shows have been slammed for their heavy use of remote calling for nominees, particularly after Daniel Kaluuya briefly lost audio as he accepted his Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor in Judas and the Black Messiah.

"Zoom has been a great thing, we're on it constantly," said Soderbergh. "It's just in the context of this show... that doesn't really fit."

Following the awards-show-as-a-movie concept, no host has been announced, but presenters – billed as the ceremony's "cast" – will be "playing themselves, or ... a version of themselves."

Previously announced A-list presenters include Harrison Ford, Brad Pitt and Reese Witherspoon, with more set to be unveiled before the show.

Nominees will be asked to share personal stories, in a show set to make extensive use of interviews.

"The stories have been incredible, so helpful to us," said Soderbergh. "And a wonderful archive – a snapshot of movies in 2020."