Oscar producers talk unprecedented show amid COVID, the 'teeny' red carpet and the role of masks

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Bryan Alexander, USA TODAY
·3 min read
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The producers for the 93rd Academy Awards have the ultimate challenge of bringing an entertaining show next Sunday, a joyous celebration of film achievement, amid a safe environment COVID-19 — with nominees and the biggest stars in Hollywood in-person at Los Angeles' Union Station.

Producers Steven Soderbergh, Stacey Sher and Jesse Collins discussed their many hurdles and greater hopes for Sunday's Oscars (ABC, 8 ET/5 PT), including a red carpet, at a virtual press conference Saturday.

"We’ve had a lot of practice, this industry was at the forefront of creating protocols for bringing people back to work," said "Contagion" director Soderbergh, who helped create COVID-19 protocols for film and TV production. "It’s incredibly complex logistically. And it’s expensive. This is an ongoing conservation. There’s no universe which we would ever put anybody at risk. We are hoping to combine safety with a show that feels like a glimpse of what is going to be possible when most people are vaccinated and rapid testing is the norm."

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Union Station will serve as the primary location for the 93rd Annual Academy Awards that will air on April 25.
Union Station will serve as the primary location for the 93rd Annual Academy Awards that will air on April 25.

"It's not going to be like anything that's been done before, so we're leaning into that," he added.

Each of the attending nominated stars, their allowed guest, and presenters will undergo a battery of tests and quarantine period just as if the show is a working movie set.

The Oscars will continue its red carpet tradition, which is a significant feat, but on a much smaller scale than in year's past.

"It’s not a traditional (Oscar) red carpet, it’s a teeny-tiny red carpet," said Sher, who was a "Contagion" producer with Soderbergh. "It’s a very small footprint for safety reasons, obviously."

When questioned about whether masks will be worn during the live show, Soderbergh said masks will be worn by attendees, but did not discuss specifics.

"Here’s our quote on that, masks are going to play a very important role in the story of this evening," he said. "If that’s cryptic, it’s meant to be. But that topic is very central to the narrative."

Collins discussed the Oscar's pre-show (ABC, 6:30 ET/3:30 PT), hosted by Ariana DeBose and Lil Rel Howery. The show will feature red carpet coverage, interviews, and each Oscar nominated songs "performed in its entirety."

Four songs will be pre-recorded at Los Angeles' Academy Museum of Motion Pictures — "Fight for You" (from "Judas and the Black Messiah") performed by H.E.R.; "Speak Now" ("One Night in Miami") by Leslie Odom Jr.; "Io sì (Seen)" ("The Life Ahead") by Laura Pausini and Diane Warren; and "Hear My Voice" ("The Trial of the Chicago 7") by Celeste and Daniel Pemberton. The fifth song, "Husavik" (from "Eurovision Song Contest"), will be pre-recorded by Swedish singer Molly Sandén on location in Húsavík, Iceland.

"The pre-show will really bring you inside Hollywood and inside the Oscar experience. And we’ll roll right into the show," said Collins.

The first wave of Oscar presenters have been announced — stars like Angela Bassett, Halle Berry, Harrison Ford, Regina King, Joaquin Phoenix, Brad Pitt, Reese Witherspoon, Renée Zellweger and Zendaya. Soderbergh promised more names would be announced next week. "It’s taking a little time to lock these people in," he said.

Oscar winners not able to present at Union Station will not give their speech over Zoom. But they will be able to give "virtual" speeches.

"We will use satellite hookups," said Soderbergh. "We can control the image, the sound, working it into the overall show."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Oscars 2021: Producers talk pulling off red carpet, cryptic on masks