Whether it’s James Franco and Anne Hathaway training their hearts out to become the ultimate Oscar hosts, Ellen DeGeneres and 300 tuxedoed dancers making their way through Warner Bros.’ backlot or Jimmy Kimmel being his self-deprecating self, the creative team of Joseph Uliano and Paul Feig have turned the art of the funny Oscar host promo into something that’s getting harder and harder to top each year.
Uliano is executive creative director of Black Label Content, while Feig is the well-known and well-dressed director of such movies as Bridesmaids, The Heat, Spy, Ghostbusters and the upcoming A Simple Favor, starring Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively, not to mention an executive producer on Joel McHale’s new talk show on Netflix. But even with all of that going on, he made time to produce this year’s Oscar spot, which features a traumatized Jimmy Kimmel trying to make peace with the huge mistake that happened at the end of last year’s telecast.
“There wasn’t much more you could do this year with everything that’s gone on,” said Uliano. “This idea generated inside Jimmy’s camp. Thank God they’re irreverent.”
The spot (above) also features a cameo of Warren Beatty, who now famously was presenting the 2017 Best Picture Award with Faye Dunaway when, due to a mishap with the envelope, the pair mistakenly announced La La Land as the winner, when in fact the winner was Moonlight.
“Of course, the best way to redeem yourself in any situation is to make fun of yourself and have a sense of humor about it,” said Feig.
Uliano has been executive producing ABC’s Oscar host spots since 2011, when Franco and Hathaway hosted.
James Franco and Anne Hathaway Train for Their Oscar-Hosting Gig in 2011
Feig came on board in 2014, when DeGeneres was the host. In that case, the idea came easy — it was the execution that was hard.
Ellen DeGeneres and 300 Dancers Strut to Fitz and the Tantrums’ “The Walker”
“I found that song that we used. I got obsessed hearing it. I had this image of people in suits dancing and I had thought I should make some sort of video for the Internet promoting men in suits and doing this fun dance number,” said Feig. “I was just sitting this idea and when this came up I thought it would be great to have Ellen in a tux, with all of these people in tuxes coming down the street.”
So You Think You Can Dance’s Stephen “tWitch” Boss appears regularly on The Ellen DeGeneres Show as the deejay, so he was recruited to choreograph the spot.
The piece looks incredibly complicated to produce, and on top of that, Feig insisted that it all be captured in one long SteadyCam shot. Complicated or no, the team secured the 60-second spot by take nine, although a few more were required to nail down the 30-second version.
“I just thought [capturing it in one shot] would give such energy to it,” said Feig. “I have a hatred of really cutty musical numbers. I feel the reason they do it is sometimes to add excitement but also to cover for the fact that the star can’t dance or that people make mistakes. Watching the Oscars all these years, I wanted to bring all that magic and pageantry back to the idea of the Oscars.”
Cut to 2017, and Uliano and Feig teamed up again, this time on a spot starring that year’s host Jimmy Kimmel.
The spot was initially supposed to feature lots of celebrities walking Kimmel through the process of winning an Oscar (step one: “Get a job as a waiter”) but those busy celebrities fell out one by one. Lucky for the team, Feig had an ace in the hole: an actor by the name of Karan Soni.
“He’s what I call one of the best-money-in-the-bank guys,” said Feig. “He shows up and he’s a great improviser.”
Feig also wanted that spot to be shot in one take, walking viewers seamlessly through multiple sets as Kimmel and Soni act out how to win an Oscar. While it seems easier to make that happen with two people instead of 301, as in the Ellen spot, Feig said that was not the case.
“It’s very difficult when you are balancing dialogue and moving people set to set and getting timing right on jokes. It was intensive,” said Feig.
This year, Kimmel is back, although Feig thought he would not be. Feig was wrapping up production on A Simple Favor and his schedule was insane. But the script, written by Kimmel and his team of writers, convinced him.
“I knew [Uliano, Kimmel and ABC] wanted me to do it this year but I didn’t think I could,” Feig said. “But then they sent me this script and it was too funny. I thought, there’s no way I’m not going to do this.
“Now I can always say for the rest of my career that I directed Warren Beatty.”
To hear all of Uliano and Feig’s conversation with PromaxBDA Editorial Director Paige Albiniak, which is full of behind-the-scenes info on these shoots, tune into this episode of The Daily Brief Podcast.
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