Oscar Insider: The producer's web

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CULVER CITY, Calif. — Spider-Man and Oscar have some things in common. Both are iconic figures: Spider-Man can climb buildings and spin webs; Oscar can make an actor’s asking price climb and also spin a web of excitement. Spidey and Oscar also share another thing: producer Laura Ziskin. ...

Ziskin is two-timing the icons these days, producing the 79th annual Academy Awards while finishing the anticipated summer blockbuster ‘‘Spider-Man 3.’’ And she’s done it before. When Ziskin produced the Oscar telecast in 2002, she was working on the first ‘‘Spider-Man’’ film, which went on to gross more than $403 million (the seventh-highest all-time box-office take).

Ziskin keeps images of her two main men throughout her Sony Studios office, which doubles as a temporary Academy Awards headquarters. A giant golden Oscar keeps a life-size Spidey statue company. Oscar and ‘‘Spider-Man’’ posters also share wall space.

A bulletin board filled with photos of famous Oscar dresses occupies an entire wall. Other display boards are covered with cloth so no show secrets are revealed to any outsiders. A stuffed Spider-Man toy stands guard between them.

Ziskin — whose credits include ‘‘Pretty Woman’’ and ‘‘As Good as It Gets’’ — agreed last summer to produce the Feb. 25 Oscar show, which is broadcast worldwide. Now that the nominees have been announced, and the show is less than four weeks away, production intensity is gathering momentum.

Still, Ziskin doesn’t seem stressed. Putting on the Academy Awards is a dream job, she says.

‘‘When I was a little kid, I’d always put on plays and shows, and this is like that feeling of, ‘Let’s put on a show,’’’ says the Los Angeles native, who knew since childhood that she’d work in show business. ‘‘But instead of me inviting the neighborhood kids to put on a show, I get to invite the biggest stars in the world, and they come for that night and they’re our cast.’’

For Spidey and the Oscars, Ziskin calls on the time-tested skills she’s honed since earning her first production credit in 1978: ‘‘trying to see the big picture, motivating people, hiring good people and solving the daily problem.’’

But producing a live show is far different from making a movie.

‘‘A film is a very manipulated reality,’’ she says, looking over her tortoise-shell glasses to make eye contact. ‘‘A live show, the whole appeal of it is that it’s live, it’s happening. We’re not manipulating it. We’re creating an environment where something’s going to happen. Obviously, every envelope that’s opened, we don’t know what’s in it, so that’s where the excitement is.’’

In an effort to spread that excitement beyond the ceremony’s A-listers, Ziskin plans to introduce viewers to lesser-known nominees so they have ‘‘a rooting interest’’ in each. This will include profiles throughout the ceremony and a change in the arrivals pre-show, which typically focuses on fashion, to featuring the interplay between actors and their less-famous colleagues, ‘‘so you feel that a cinematographer is as important as a movie star.’’

Like Spider-Man’s endless web, Ziskin’s reach doesn’t stop there. She also revamped the annual Oscar fashion show — a private media event held each year a few weeks before the awards. Rather than forecasting potential red-carpet looks, Ziskin decided this year’s show would be a retrospective of memorable outfits from Oscars past.

It’s this kind of unconventional approach that academy officials were after when they invited Ziskin to produce the program, says academy President Sid Ganis.

‘‘She’s doing stuff that we haven’t seen before,’’ he says. ‘‘She’s fueled by the work. She’s got a head that can move in eight different directions at the same time and she has a charm that superwomen have.’’

She has to be a superwoman to leap over tall orders such as making her Oscar telecast unique, despite the traditions that define it — its marathon length, for instance.

‘‘It’s always going to be too long,’’ she says, adding that she learned from her experience in 2002, when the telecast spanned a record four hours and 24 minutes.

‘‘We certainly won’t do that again,’’ she says. ‘‘But ... even in its shortest version it’s long, so you just have to kind of accept that.’’

Though Ziskin divides her time between Spidey’s and Oscar’s worlds, she’s completely dedicated to each project, Ganis says.

‘‘One feeds into the other,’’ he says. ‘‘Her ideas beget ideas. She’s always thinking about Spider-Man and she’s always thinking about her show.’’

She proves that daily, zipping from the ‘‘Spider-Man 3’’ set to impromptu Oscar meetings to working on Spidey’s next moves. Never mind that Ziskin is also remodeling the home she shares with her longtime partner, screenwriter Alvin Sargent. (He works with her on the Spider-Man films. Ziskin’s 23-year-old daughter, Julia, is working on the Oscar show.)

‘‘I love what I do,’’ Ziskin says. ‘‘I either like to do absolutely nothing or I like to be really busy. I don’t like that in-between.’’


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This page contains a single entry by Thomas Conner published on January 29, 2007 1:38 PM.

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