Oscars Producer Defends Divisive Changes: ‘You Have to Think About This as an Entertainment Property’

Will Packer is still a month away from making his Oscar-producing debut, but his tenure has already attracted plenty of controversy. The show will omit eight categories (documentary short, film editing, makeup and hairstyling, original score, production design, animated short, live-action short, and sound) from the live broadcast, opting instead to tape them awards earlier and edit them into the live show.

The decision immediately prompted outrage from cinephiles and Hollywood insiders who see it as a snub of the artisans who make movies possible. Packer, the prolific producer behind blockbusters including “Girls Trip” and “Ride Along,” has a different view. In a new interview with Variety, he says decisions that prioritize viewership will be good for the Academy’s long-term health.

“One of the things I wanted to do early on was to make a decision to treat this as an entertainment property,” Packer said. “You have to make a decision: is it something we’re going to say is for Hollywood by Hollywood, and that’s good enough? Or, are we going to say we want to get as many people under the tent, so to speak, to now celebrate and watch the most amazingly talented artists and craftspeople in the world? Well, I lean more towards the latter.”

While Packer is open about focusing on the entertainment value of the broadcast, he does not believe that the winners and nominees in those eight categories will have their experiences diminished.

“Nobody is going to be shortchanged by this decision to try to make the show more efficient, expedited, and make more people watch the show,” he said. “I’m going to have every one of the nominees have a moment. All the nominees for all the categories will hear their names in that show. The winner will have their speech. You’ll hear from them in the show. Most viewers will not be able to tell the difference.”

That defense is unlikely to please everyone and Packer seems to be at peace with that. He recognizes the difficult position of overseeing a show that is struggling to stay relevant while maintaining its industry gravitas. But he believes he has found the right balance.

“I respect everybody’s opinions and I’ve got my own opinions, and mine is not more important than anybody else’s. But I am in a position where I’m able to put mine into action,” he said. “It’s a celebratory night during a time when the world, at large, is going through a tough moment. So I want to keep the focus on the celebration.”

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