2021 Oscars Ceremony Changes

Awards shows weren’t exactly the most exciting programming to behold before the coronavirus pandemic came along and made them far worse. So far we’ve seen hybrid ceremonies for the Emmys and Golden Globes that have involved limited attendance and acceptance speeches on Zoom, which made for sloppy and boring entertainment. But don’t expect the same nonsense when the 2021 Oscars come around.

The 93rd Academy Awards will air on Sunday, April 25, 2021 starting at 8:00 P.M. ET, and when the cameras start rolling, producer Steven Soderbergh says viewers will quickly see that he’s taking this opportunity to significantly shake up the awards show format. The Ocean’s 11 director said, “Right out of the gate, people are going to know: ‘We’ve got to put our seatbelt on.'”

This morning, the Associated Press published an interview with Steven Soderbergh, who is producing the Oscars with Stacey Sher and Jesse Collins. The director behind such films as Magic Mike, Logan Lucky, and the all-too-relevant Contagion is tackling the 2021 Oscars ceremony with a new perspective by using the challenges posed by COVID-19 to rethink the program a little bit. Soderbergh is bringing his filmmaking sensibilities to the table for the ceremony, saying:

“At any step in the creative process of making a movie, when I ask a question about why something is being done a certain way and the answer is, ‘Because that’s the way it’s always been done’ — that’s a real red flag for me. All of us this year have taken advantage of the opportunity that’s been presented to us to really challenge all the assumptions that go into an award show.”

That means we’re not going to see any acceptance speeches on Zoom or winners wearing pajamas. But perhaps the most intriguing approach to the 2021 Oscars ceremony is that Soderbergh wants it to feel like a movie. The filmmaker vaguely explained what he means by that:

“It’s going to feel like a movie in that there’s an overarching theme that’s articulated in different ways throughout the show. So the presenters are essentially the storytellers for each chapter. We want you to feel like it wasn’t a show made by an institution. We want you to feel like you’re watching a show that was made by a small group of people that really attacked everything that feels generic or unnecessary or insincere. That’s the kind of intention when I watch shows like this that is missing for me. A voice. It needs to have a specific voice.”

We’re not sure exactly how that will be achieved with an awards show, but at the very least, the 2021 Oscars certainly won’t be presenting awards in the traditional way. Normally a couple of Hollywood’s biggest stars walk out on stage, read some questionable banter from a teleprompter, muck up someone’s name, and hand out the award. But this year, Jesse Collins (who produced this year’s celebrated 2021 Grammys ceremony) says, “When you see cast members go up to give awards, you’ll see a connection.”

That’s another component of this different approach that Soderbergh, Collins and Sher are taking. Rather than treating the stars as presenters, they’re referring to them as cast members, further adding to the idea that this will be more like a movie. Does that mean that we’ll be getting performances from these cast members as they hand out the awards? Again, we’re not entirely sure. But since the base of the 2021 Oscars will be Union Station in Los Angeles rather than the typical Dolby Theatre (which is still being used in some capacity for the show), at least the location will feel a little more cinematic. The awards will also have a “more widescreen look,” not to mention having Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson serving as music director.

The Oscars have needed a makeover for a long time. Having a three-hour ceremony that does the same thing nearly two dozen times with some montages and musical performances tossed in between gets old after awhile. Much like the coronavirus pandemic has shaken up the traditions of theatrical distribution over the past year, maybe it will also help the Oscars and other awards shows step into the future and become must-see events again. We’ll find out on April 25.

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