“Hello, I’m Jake Gyllenhaal.”

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Oscar Workers Meet to Talk Shop

The Associated Press
Wednesday, February 7, 2007; 1:45 PM

— EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third story in this year’s Oscar Insider series, a behind-the-scenes look at the Academy Awards.

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ On Feb. 25, the Kodak Theatre lobby will be filled with superstars in tuxedos, designer dresses and boatloads of bling.

On Tuesday, though, it was occupied by the Oscar-show staff _ from the producer to the parking guy. Most wore jeans and sneakers.

They gathered for the annual Oscar production meeting, which serves as an official call to arms for the big show.

“Blast off is actually in, I think, 20 days,” producer Laura Ziskin told the group. “Scary!”

She and the show’s other honchos sat at a head table flanked by two golden Oscars, overlooking a class of 200 workers. Each held a dictionary-thick stack of papers detailing the show’s particulars. The workers stood, one by one, to declare their names and years of Oscar experience.

Costumer Ret Turner, with 54 years of service, was the undisputed longevity king.

“There’s no prize,” he quipped.

Head writer Bruce Vilanch _ known for his shaggy yellow hair, clever T-shirts and orb-like form _ stood and said, “I’m Jake Gyllenhaal. That picture really changed my life.”

The room roared.

This is Vilanch’s 16th Oscar telecast, his 16th production meeting. Neither has changed much during his tenure, he said: “This is what we do every year. It’s the same show every year. It has to fall into a certain kind of format. What makes it different is the host.”

Vilanch has been working with this year’s host, Ellen DeGeneres, and her writing team, he said.

Ziskin announced at least one major change for this year’s show: Oscar is going green.

“We are making an attempt to use sound ecological practices,” she said, encouraging the crew to keep environmentalism on their minds.

Then everyone got down to business. They reviewed the production schedule and the show’s 10 acts, which were plotted out on a white board behind the head table. A model of this year’s Oscar stage stood unobtrusively in a corner.

Tom Vicari, who’s worked with the orchestra for the past 11 Oscar shows, got an important piece of information at the meeting.

“Today I learned that there’s a choir,” he said, mulling over the challenging rehearsal logistics the addition presents for him.

For art director Greg Richman, the production meeting is practically a halftime event. Like most of the show’s creative team, he’s already been working for months on the 79th Academy Awards.

“Our department has been meeting since the very beginning. Our scenery is starting to load in right now,” said the nine-time Oscar veteran. “This is our first big production meeting with our whole group. Everyone talks about each department so we’re all on the same page.”

Sid Ganis, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, left the meeting feeling confident.

“Everybody working on the show knows, at least theoretically, where the show is heading,” he said. “In the world of production, often people learn what’s happening the day before.”