Oscars Review: Event Producers Give 2016 Show a "B"

Industry professionals from across the country discuss what they liked and disliked about the 88th annual Academy Awards.

By Ian Zelaya February 29, 2016, 8:23 AM EST

Many producer-reviewers praised the ceremony's stage design, citing the use of 21st century technology combined with Old Hollywood elements.

Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

The 88th Academy Awards has been surrounded by controversy due the lack of nominee diversity for a second year in a row, so it was no surprise the issue took center stage at last night's ceremony. Host Chris Rock tackled the subject head on, addressing it in his opening monologue for the more than three-hour telecast that was broadcast live from the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. Event producers from across the country gave BizBash their thoughts on Rock's performance, as well as what they liked and disliked about the show, including the glitzy stage design, nominee graphic packages, and the new divisive “thank you” tickers during acceptance speeches. 

Vince Thompson
“I thought Chris Rock rocked the opening. He was balanced, nuanced, and humorous, yet struck a very serious chord throughout his opening monologue. He managed a very serious subject with great grace and aplomb. And, the Girl Scout Cookie segment with his daughters was brilliant and a great product placement on behalf of a great cause. 

I thought how former Fox president and Oscar producer David Hill gave the awards out in chronological order of a film's production was brilliant and made the show move along well. The addition of the crawler of thanks and acknowledgements from the winners made the show move along with a great flow and was a welcome innovation.”
Letter grade: A-
Thompson is founder and C.E.O. of Melt, an Atlanta-based sports and entertainment marketing firm. Clients include Coca-Cola, Bud Light, and Kia.

Josh Murray
“The stage set and decor were gorgeous. It was classic and classy with golds and platinums all nodding to the evening's prestige and glamour. It was very appropriately ritzy from the dazzling arch over the front of the stage to the mid-century-inspired flourishes as a backdrop at sidestage. Equally, outside, the 3-D red carpet step-and-repeat was awesome! A must-steal build.

I loved the perhaps Taylor Swift Grammy-inspired confetti drop at the end. At least the Oscar producers decided to go with Mylar confetti over the glitter bomb Swift dropped on the entire Grammy audience.

It was disappointing that there was no social media activation at all. The Academy is currently fighting the generalization that it is a group of older, out-of-touch, members. But the lack of a new media presence just reinforces that perception. There should been some sort of second-screen involvement. Perhaps an audience choice award as decided by online votes. The minimum should have been encouragement to use the hashtag and tweet or Instagram your Oscar thoughts and experience. At this time of writing the hashtag #Oscars had been used in over 10 million tweets. It's amazing to me that there was no integration of it.

The preview scroll of who winners thanked was an interesting new approach. I imagine the goal was to keep winners' speeches shorter by not needing to go through a list of ‘thank yous’ because the scroll had done it for them. I think there may be something to this, but it will take years for winners and viewers to accept the scroll as a replacement to the customary mention in an acceptance speech. Hopefully the concept isn't abandoned too quickly.

Chris Rock as host couldn't have been more perfectly timed with the controversy around a racist Academy and #OscarsSoWhite. His ability to make hard-to-swallow social commentary go down easy with a dose of comedy is genius and he adeptly and brazenly addressed numerous touchy subjects on national television. I was genuinely surprised he was allowed to deliver some of the brutal analysis that he did. I have to assume he went considerably off script in the opening monologue and that show producers had their hands hovering over the 'go to ad' button. But his ability to navigate the fine line of speaking the harsh truth and being censored allowed him to deliver some powerful messages about some of the challenges we are currently facing as a society. Right down to closing the show with 'Fight the Power' by Public Enemy.

Unfortunately on the flip side of Chris Rock were the skits such as Black History Month Minute and the appearance of Stacey Dash that were awkward and appeared to poke fun at and minimize a very serious concern of equal and diverse representation in Hollywood. The show producers should have left it to the pro, the host, to navigate.”
Letter grade: B+
Murray is a Los Angeles-based freelance creative director and creative strategic consultant. Clients have included the N.F.L. for Super Bowl 50, Verizon, and Bloomberg.

Nathalia Llama
“The award for most notable production element went to stage design. Beautifully executed, the design paired Art Deco elements that embodied the glitz and glamour of Old Hollywood with 21st century edge. While there were some technical hiccups, visual effects were artistically crafted. I was especially surprised by the aesthetically creative use of tiered LED screen panels.

Host Chris Rock managed to ‘keep it real’ while being extremely charismatic and entertaining to watch. Rock was refreshing and lighthearted, steering away from the stuffy and serious tone of Oscars before him. However, the eagerness to overcompensate for the lack of African American nominees was impossible to ignore and became a prevalent theme throughout programming. While an important issue, the approach overshadowed the event as a whole.”
Letter grade: A-
Llama is events and social media coordinator for the Brand Collective, a Miami-based global marketing, branding, and event planning agency. Clients have included Playboy, Polaroid, and the Orphaned Starfish Foundation.

Megan Thompson
“The first thing that caught my eye was the step-and-repeat on the red carpet. I liked its dimensional simplicity and play on the logo. I loved that proscenium with glamorous sparkles. It was exactly the kind of glittering statement piece I think of when I think Oscars. I also enjoyed the way the LED screens on the sides of the stage elevated the production. My favorite use of them was during the main categories when they showed the nominees on each screen.

The addition of the TV screen tickers for award winners was new and I have to say I hated it. I found them to be distracting and they really took away from the glamour of the show. I also did not enjoy the overwhelming amount of gold starbursts that kept popping up mid-stage. I get the radiating gold theme happening, but there’s no need to overuse it. 

While some elements of the show were successful, it was overkill for me. There were too many scenic elements, too many of the same jokes, and too much TV ticker.”
Letter grade: B-
Thompson is experience designer at Creative Community Connections, a Wakefield, Massachusetts-based planning, production, and design agency. Clients include Saucony, Monster Inc., and the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies.

Stefan Beckman
“There was a lot of anticipation this year because of the boycotts and the diversity debate, but the show was a major disappointment. The glamour seemed to be missing this year. The set was a mishmash of too many ideas and did not look good on screen. Less would have been more—what were those large Oscar mannequins?  

The floor was too busy as well. The low camera angles and many other camera moves felt sloppy. One bright spot was the film montage with Whoopi Goldberg. It was quite good and should have opened the show followed by Chris Rock’s effective, if not a bit long, speech. His ‘real man on the street’ interviews were funny, but other attempts to make fun of diversity fell flat and did little for the cause.

I liked the idea of the story of the process of making a film as they handed out the awards throughout the night. The show, however, was much too long and missing the excitement and glamour that it deserves. The few other bright spots were heartfelt speeches by Leonardo DiCaprio and Ennio Morricone, but the thank you titles used on screen throughout the night were unnecessary.”
Letter grade: D
Beckman is founder of Stefan Beckman Studio, a New York-based set design firm that works on events for a variety of high-end fashion houses and brands including Marc Jacobs, Prada, Coca-Cola, and Absolut.

Marcy Manley
“Amidst the controversy leading up to the show, the view from my couch was nothing short of visually stunning. The overall production value of the Oscars achieved its goal in respect to stage design, lighting, and overall multilayered audiovisual production. The three-dimensional staging heightened not only the musical performances but the overall presenter platform. Chris Rock’s ‘take no prisoners’ opening monologue was witty and spot on.

The musical performances were strategically placed and added much needed entertainment value. The messaging from the winners to the presenters was on point and, most importantly, relevant. Although I was personally disappointed with some of the winning choices, this year’s Oscars did not disappoint. In fact, I think the 2016 awards were one of the best in many years.”
Letter grade: A
Manley is C.E.O. of WPI Event Partners, a Chicago-based event design and production firm that works on events for Fortune 500 companies, including those in the automotive, pharmaceutical, and financial industries.

Russ Holt
“The 88th Oscars should be commended for tackling the racial backlash head on. From the opening remarks to the video skits and the varied presenters, the show was threaded with the same statement of unity. Unfortunately that aspect got a little too heavy handed at times and had an obvious rushed-to-completion components that broke up the overall flow of the show into choppy segments, which sometimes worked and sometimes didn't.

Minor audio technical issues peppered the production, crowned with a drop out during the presentation of best audio design. I’m still questioning if that was scripted. On a plus note, the Oscars' new format of text info boxes for presenters as well as the scrolling thank you bar appears to have helped keeping acceptance speeches in check.

The design and production hit the mark of upholding the classic Hollywood grandeur of the Dolby Theatre, and weaved in the Oscars tagline of ‘dream in gold.’ The set utilizing a traditional approach of hard set, fabric, video, and dazzling crystals all crafted to maintain the sunburst design. The set design was smart in creating depth by incorporating pieces broken up with video and elements that fly in and out. Once again, the naked Edison bulbs were heavily featured, demonstrating that the soft warm golden glow of light emitted will continue to be used as a lighting designer’s controllable golden sparkle.

While everyone involved with the production knows how to seamlessly move sets and props, choosing to keep the traditional theatrical method of a stagehand’s setting and striking components was a refreshing touch. It demonstrates that all of the magic is still made by hand for others to enjoy.”
Letter grade: B
Holt is co-owner and lead designer of Got Light, a San Francisco-based company that specializes in lighting, audio, video, draping, and staging. Clients include the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco Ballet, San Francisco Symphony, and San Francisco Opera.

John Best
“With these type of shows it is important to get things started on the right foot and Chris Rock certainly did that. His opening monologue proved a point, plus it was funny and very well written and delivered. I thought he handled the controversy of #OscarsSoWhite very well. The jokes were good and he tied them into the event itself. He took shots at all of the controversies that have been in the press lately. The monologue was entertaining, real, and he nailed it. This issue was certainly carried throughout the entire broadcast in many ways.

I was not a fan of the ticker on the bottom of the screen when they announced the winners. It was distracting, very fast, and looked like the bottom of a cable news channel. I also didn’t like the fun facts that popped up on the screen when the presenters were onstage. Those too, I found distracting and unnecessary.

The nominees graphic packages were new and very well done, as were the character projections behind the winners acceptance speeches. The section of the craft awards—costumes, production design, makeup, and hair styling—was well produced and I enjoyed that section of the show. Adding all of the props and scenic elements on the stage added to those awards.

The set was beautiful and elegant and what you would expect of classic Hollywood and the Oscars. The projections in the set throughout the night added to the overall visual beauty of the set.

Chris Rock did a great job as host and the presenters were a great overall representative of the film industry. It would be good to shorten the show by an hour. There are just too many awards.”
Letter grade: A-
Best is owner of JM Best Entertainment, an Orlando-based event firm. He was worked on production for more than 100 network TV specials, including the Oscars, the Emmys, Olympic ceremonies, and other award shows and music specials.

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