By SANDY COHEN
LOS ANGELES — Most people watch the Academy Awards on a single TV screen — but not Louis J. Horvitz. He watches on 85 screens at once.
Horvitz, 60, directs the Oscar show. But he won't be rubbing tuxes with the fancy folks inside the Kodak Theatre. His seat is out back in the parking lot, past the loading dock and smoking area, inside a high-tech production truck that controls Oscar's television operations.
"We're in the space shuttle," Horvitz says, "and they're on land."
He and his team have a panoramic perspective on the show, seeing everything inside the theater from the truck's 85 monitors.
Surrounded by electronics and blinking lights and crammed into a space the size of a roller-coaster car, Horvitz and half a dozen others shape what viewers around the globe will see on TV come Sunday. Horvitz talks with stage managers on a headset while his eyes mostly follow the 19 cameras shooting the show inside the theater. He shouts out which shots should be shown on TV and technical director John Field responds, controlling the console that beams the chosen images to the world. This exchange happens every few seconds throughout the three-and-a-half hour show.
"We equate it to motor racing — Formula One — because it happens so quickly," Horvitz says.
It's a close-quarters, high-stress environment. But Horvitz and his crew are comfortable. Most of them have worked together for more than 30 years.
"It's a team sport," he says.
"We have a lot of built-in camaraderie," Field adds.
Horvitz and Field have collaborated on 15 Emmy Awards programs, 10 Kennedy Center Honors and dozens of other live shows. This is their 11th Academy Awards — the most demanding of all, Horvitz says.
"The Oscars has big everything," he says. "It's a two-and-a-half month project for me. Other shows that are live we can go and do them in a week, maybe two weeks."
Maybe that's why he uses such grand metaphors to describe the task. It's like flying "a 747 or DC-10," he says. Like "riding a bullet train" or "studying for your ultimate exams."
Field's imagery: It's more like "putting together a giant jigsaw puzzle."
However they perceive it, they've got it down pat: Horvitz has won four Emmy Awards for his Oscar shows.
He was actually directing the Emmys when he won last year. Good thing there's a camera inside the production truck.
"I cut to myself," he says. "Then I go, 'We have to play me off,' " and cues the orchestra.
As director, Horvitz is the guy who cuts long-winded acceptance speeches short by telling the conductor to strike up the band. But he insists he's not the only one to blame.
"Usually it's a combination of me going `Should we play them off yet?' and the producer having to make that decision," he says.
The veteran director has never seen an Oscar or Emmy show from inside the theater, but he doesn't mind: "We like to say this is the show in here."