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Rating the Oscars: Event Pros on What They Loved and Hated

Although MacFarlane received mixed reviews as host of the Oscars, the event professionals we polled all liked the striking set design at the Dolby Theatre. Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Although MacFarlane received mixed reviews as host of the Oscars, the event professionals we polled all liked the striking set design at the Dolby Theatre.

Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Sunday night's 85th Academy Awards brought Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane, several musical numbers, legendary singers Shirley Bassey and Barbra Streisand, and a stage from Tony Award-winning set designer Derek McLane to the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. We asked event professionals to give us their take on film's biggest night; here's what they said about the show, MacFarlane's first crack at hosting the awards, and Michelle Obama's surprise on-screen appearance as presenter for Best Picture.

Stefan Beckman
“It's the show we always love to hate. Swearing off it after another long broadcast we find ourselves back year after year. But this year was an evening of some great surprises with Shirley Bassey delivering in the Bond homage and Michelle Obama giving a passionate introduction for Best Picture. Barbra Streisand also did not disappoint. Seth MacFarlane found his footing and proved to be a funny and charming host. His prerecorded bits with Sally Field were great. I especially liked the multitude of lights onstage, which were beautiful and looked great on camera. Very 1970s but effective. Overall the look and staging was good, although I'm not so sure about the strange Oscar florets that were on the sides and the designs on the floor. Musical numbers were hit and miss. The incredible cast of Les Misérables were inspiring while Adele, who looked beautiful in front of a stunning beaded curtain, was drowned by her orchestra. Overall grade: A-.”
Beckman is the founder of an eponymous, New York-based set design studio, which works on events for a number of high-end fashion houses, including Marc Jacobs, Hermes, and Cartier as well as nonprofits like Bailey House.

Marcy Manley
“I did not know what to expect with Seth MacFarlane as the 2013 Oscars host, however I was not overly impressed. I, however, was very impressed with the overall stage design, lighting, and video. The look was whimsical old Hollywood creatively interwoven with just the right amount of technology. The highlight of the evening for me was the live performance of Les Misérables.”
Manley is C.E.O. and partner of Chicago's WPI Event Partners, an event design and production firm that works on events for Fortune 500 companies, including those in the automotive, pharmaceutical, and financial industries.

Benji Tschudin
“This year's Oscars reminded me of the statue itself—elegant, classic, and simple. Production designer Derek McLane incorporated bold clean looks while adding depth to the normally all-black flooring with elegant patterns strategically placed on the two stage plugs allowing for a stunning view from the jib shot. In addition, he incorporated Swarovski crystals into the set and theater itself, creating some amazing wide shots for the camera. The set was accented with clean lighting that brought out both the gold and silver in the mini statues embedded in the background. The producers still incorporated high-tech lighting and video elements to The Avengers intro and Bond tribute while still maintaining the underlying classic look. The designers brought out old and new with past musical movies tribute such as Chicago with old school Mylar stage curtains to singer Adele's performance with a three layer backdrop that included a video drop with a choir in front and a beaded curtain as a reveal for the choir. In all, this show was a 10 in my opinion.”
Tschudin is partner and lighting designer at Atmosphere Inc., a  lighting company that works on some of Washington's biggest events, including the Washington National Opera's Opera Ball, the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, and the National Christmas tree lighting.

Tracy Kessler
“Wow, I wish I had more positive things to say about the Oscars, but it was almost painful to watch this year. Especially after such an entertaining Golden Globes and Grammy broadcasts. In terms of the host, Seth MacFarlane, he was cute to look at but the off-color jokes were a bit much. The opening skit went on for hours and hours (or it felt like it.) It's a tough gig but I give him a D-. Chicago was fantastic, but why was it a part of this show? Wasn't that like five years ago? That was confusing. [The Les Misérables performance] was amazing—who knew Amanda Seyfried could sing?! Adele, Barbra Streisand, Shirley Bassey, and Norah Jones—all great but it all made the show longer than it needed to be. Having the students be the 'Oscar girl' might have been a good idea in theory but it made for some awkward moments. One of the kids almost pulled someone away from the mic—it was very uncomfortable. The set looked its best during Barbra Streisand's performance. Overall the lighting and stage set looked awesome.”
Kessler is the owner of TK New York, a event management and production company that has worked on events including Maxim's Super Bowl party, the New York City Wine & Food Festival's Grand Tasting, and the Women in the World Summit.

Jennifer Howell
“Overall, the attention to color and texture was thoughtful. From the often overlooked stage deck finish with its bold pattern appliqué and textural changes to the detail of simple set design with hard scenics, soft goods, and theatrical technique, beautiful overhead shots were executed and the stage design was classic yet current. Light color temperature complemented warm chandelier-esque fixtures against intelligent moving heads and large walls of HD video panels created an inviting yet sophisticated look. [But] the status quo of what this show is, is a little discouraging. If, with the talent we have in the events industry and this event's format remaining stagnant, can we not define a better way to honor the powerhouse of the film industry? Viewers biting our nails to see who will reluctantly be ushered off the stage, with shots lingering just long enough to catch this embarrassment on camera, it's kind of sad that we can only squeak by—watching exactly what we expected the event to be: running behind schedule, music from Jaws awkwardly signaling a 'wrap-it-up' cue. Producing a three-hour parade of overzealous thank yous for a society that would rather have the highlights on Facebook, I refuse to believe that this can't be improved upon. With that being said, it takes sleepless nights and a lot of blood, sweat, and tears for all the things we may notice about an event like this not to go perfectly, while there are hundreds (if maybe not thousands) of successful moments that us viewers will never be privy to because teams of talented people executed their cues with precision. Kudos to the teams who have worked tirelessly to give us something to discuss and be entertained by, all the from the comfort of our homes, without all the sweaty palms, antacids, and aspirin. Overall, I'd give the show a B-.”
Howell is creative manager at Creative Community Connections (C3), a Wakefield, Massachusetts-based planning, production, and design agency that counts Saucony, Monster Inc., and the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies among its clients.

André Wells
“I love the Oscars—I always have and always will. This year's show I felt pretty entertaining although there were a few flat moments. However, I think that will happen when you have a show which lasts as long as the Oscars. I like Seth MacFarlane as the host. He did a great job, he felt current, and he was funny. The stars really came out and they looked gorgeous from their gems to their gowns. The stage set was beautiful and I like what they did with the lighting. I too liked the different production numbers with the talented actors and actress and dare I forget the fantastic First Lady presenting the Best Picture award.”
Wells is the owner of Events by Andre Wells, a full-service event production firm in Washington, D.C., that caters to corporate and high-profile clientele including PBS, NBC, Stevie Wonder, and Robert Johnson. Wells has coordinated more than 4,000 events in the past 11 years, including the BET Awards and BET Honors celebrations.


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