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Oscars Review: Event Producers Give 2017 Show a "B+"

Event producers from across the country discussed what they liked and disliked about the 89th annual Academy Awards.

By Ian Zelaya February 27, 2017, 8:15 AM EST

Producers cited the 3-D city-theme stage sets as a highlight of the 89th Oscars. 

Photo: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

The 89th Academy Awards returned to the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles on Sunday, presenting a much different show from years' past—thanks to numerous speeches that reflected the current political climate, a more diverse lineup of winners, and a moment that allowed everyday tourists to experience the ceremony firsthand. Hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, the four-hour telecast included live-tweeting president Donald Trump, parachuting candy, and one of the most awkward Oscar mishaps ever—La La Land mistakenly being announced as the Best Picture winner when, in fact, the award actually went to Moonlight. Event producers from across the country shared their highlights and lowlights from Sunday's ceremony.

Suzanne L’Erario
“On a night of rain and chill—I can only imagine the stylists freaking out over protecting the shoes, the dress, the hair—the Oscars brought the warmth and glow out to the red carpet. As Jessica Biel phrased it, gold is the color of the night, and it glittered everywhere—woven into many of the dresses, the 3-D step-and-repeat, and the decor sprinkled throughout. 

I enjoyed how the show kicked off with a surprise high-energy performance by Justin Timberlake. It was a refreshing way to incorporate entertainment, song, and to introduce the host. In this year of presidential discord, Jimmy Kimmel navigated many political land mines with humor and grace, his jokes witty with a sharp comfort. Although the night flowed fine, the overall production value of the show was not impressive. At times, it seemed a bit flat and predictable. The stage sets, while rich in color and texture, did not seem particularly cohesive. I wish they would have used less of them so I could have focused more on their design.

The additions of the unsuspecting tour bus group and the candy floating down on the crowd were quirky. They added a sense of surprise and delight to the night. And what an ending! It is rare that a show will go off without a hitch, and tonight’s mishap over Best Picture will go down in the Oscar history book. It is the production team, with their calm under pressure and quick thinking skills, that helped remedy an embarrassing mistake.”

Letter grade: B
L’Erario is the director of production at AgencyEA, a Chicago-based brand experience agency. Clients include McDonald’s, Under Armour, and Target.

Amanda Rockwell
“I like to organize my award shows into categories—cool (the Grammys), funny (People’s Choice), and glamorous (the Oscars). I continuously tune into the Oscars for the visual eye candy of decor, dresses, and overall glam effect. While this show stayed pretty ‘on brand,’ there were a few instances where the set elements seemed a better fit for the Grammys. The dripping crystals that formed into Oscar himself was a nice element that drew in a more playful vibe. I do respect the producers for adding a fun spin to the show.

One thing I am always so surprised about is how intimate this show feels, given its status as the shining star of the award show family. The vibe feels inclusive, and seeing the celebrities sitting closely together makes them feel more like traditional colleagues. This serves as a nice reminder that celebs are just like us. Albeit with a much better wardrobe than I’ll ever have. 

One of the cool factors that I was really into was, of course, Justin Timberlake opening the show. That man can do no wrong. Pumping up the crowd with a bit of JT dancing through the audience is the best way to start a show. Bravo to the Academy for that selection! The five-year-old sugar addict in me loved the balloon drop of assorted sweets. As a marketer, the lack of logo representation was shocking, but as a viewer I loved the clean look of the all-white balloons dropping from the ceiling. This did seem like a missed opportunity for interesting audience lighting, or at least more glitz and glam. I also enjoyed the tour bus bit—mostly because I’m jealous that things like that never happen to me!

The whole card mishap is not new to those of us who enjoy watching all shows, but I do think the La La Land team handled themselves very well in the chaos. Whenever you see an event producer running around the stage, you know it’s not a good sign!

Overall, I would have loved to see a touch more glam and some more exciting lighting elements throughout the venue, but I was still very much impressed with the show. At the end of the day, the Oscars are a celebration of a beautiful craft, and seeing people take pride in their work is something that should always be celebrated. Especially now.”

Letter grade: B+
Rockwell is a project lead for the experiential marketing team at Cramer, a Boston-based brand experience agency. Clients include Walmart, I.B.M., and Johnson&Johnson. 

Bobby Stern
“I viewed the Academy Awards as an awakening, and by awakening, I refer to the respect the Academy paid to the actors and actresses that paved the way for today's inspiring artists. While this is a yearly tradition for the award ceremony, it is a reminder that yesterday's trailblazers have set such a high bar to allow today's talent to push the limits for the next generation. It is a reminder that the past helps shape the now and it is the now that helps define the future. As a millennial running a company of all millennials, this is an important attribute to me. 

I commend the event designers and producers as it proves that even as the trends change, there is a respectful and tasteful way to pay homage to those who have allowed us to be in the creative industry we are in today. I also enjoyed the musical transitions throughout the awards, as it kept the consistency of this respect while playing classical songs that every viewer could relate to. 

As a caterer who gets challenged everyday to create the next best food presentation, I applaud the producers who conceptualized the idea to drop the candy, donuts, and cookies from the ceiling. It is these ideas that allow us to push the envelope of ‘experiential.’”

Letter grade: A
Stern is the co-founder of Riviera Caterers, a New York-based event production and catering company.

Mistyka Garcia
“The magic of the stage design captured the show. The use of a variety of 3-D stage sets combined with video projection created a glam background worthy of Hollywood. The larger-than-life Oscars created purely out of crystals was an incredible statement piece, adding the perfect amount of sparkle to the backdrop, that I think also tied nicely to the show’s theme of inspiration. 

Another successful and creative way they brought the theme to life was with the playback videos of past winners, which many times have been the current winners' inspiration. Although traditionally the Oscars are known for the celebrities, fashion, and the winners, the additional elements of surprise throughout this year's production really added another layer of entertainment value—from the parachute candy drops throughout the evening to the lucky and shocked Starline tourists as they became part of the Oscars show. 

A shocking ending to the evening, with a not so welcome surprise, reminds us that so many things can happen during a live production including moments that cannot be undone; however, how mishaps are handled in that moment is what is most important. Both La La Land and Moonlight impressively handled the unfortunate confusion.”

Letter grade: A
Garcia is the owner of Special Occasions Events, a Los Angeles-based event production and design company. Events include the Adobe Max Bash and the Diamond Ball.

Gabrielle Kessler
Derek McLane’s stage design faithfully stuck to this year’s theme, ‘Art Deco and Hollywood Regency,’ a nod to a simpler time in entertainment where the stage was a place for people to escape into a shiny, spectacular fantasy world. As usual, Swarovski and Oscar’s silhouette played a leading role, but in spite of the 1930s-style opulence, the staging felt paired down in comparison to years past, with McLane opting to use six large structures he calls ‘wire towers’ arranged in various formations throughout the evening, instead of multiple complicated set pieces and complex draping. While executed beautifully, the old-school theme seemed an odd choice for an organization desperately trying to justify its place in the ‘new’ Hollywood and an ill-fitting backdrop for featuring new, diverse faces and voices.

Jimmy Kimmel played it relatively safe with his minor political jabs at Trump, but what I think producers hoped to be the tweet-worthy moments, including the bus stunt and tweeting at Donald Trump, fell flat. The Mean Tweets section was also a bit of a letdown, considering how entertaining that sketch is on Kimmel’s show. I did enjoy watching celebrities squeal with delight as candy and donuts fell from the sky. The real winning comedic moments were centered around the long-standing feud between Kimmel and Matt Damon, the best example being when Kimmel was conducting the orchestra to play Damon off as he and Ben Affleck began reading off nominees.

I generally feel like the musical numbers at the Oscars are underwhelming, but Moana and La La Land’s Best Song performances were standouts, partially due to interesting staging, but mainly because of great performances from 16-year-old Auli'i Cravalho (who nailed it in spite of getting beamed in the head with a giant flag mid-song) and the amazing John Legend.

Letter grade: B
Kessler is the creative director of the Visionary Group, a Los Angeles-based experiential marketing agency. Clients include Samsung, Mazda, and Calvin Klein. 

Jennifer Lapeyre
As expected, beyond the star-studded red carpet and the interviews with the heroes of our time, the evening started off with a bang as Justin Timberlake opened up the ceremony with a heartwarming and fun performance of “Can’t Stop the Feeling!”

What especially hit home was seeing our beloved JT sing and dance not only with the audience but also with his wife, Jessica, setting a light and hearty mood from the onset. 

Besides the performances and the spectacles, what most Americans were expecting out of the Oscars this year was a politically charged monologue geared towards rectifying Hollywood’s sense of defeat in the recent elections. What was most fresh about this year’s Oscars to me seemed to be the participant’s ability to set aside the customary political diatribes while still focusing, often in a witty and satirical manner, on the issues of equality and our nation’s changing political environment. 

The theme of this Oscars is inspiration. Set upon the awe-inspiring oval proscenium, with its homage to the '70s, where love was becoming free and the nation united, Jimmy Kimmel’s simple remarks at the beginning of the show, though satirical, reflected all of our hopes in a more inspirational and better tomorrow.”

Letter grade: A
Lapeyre is the marketing coordinator for the Brand Collective, a Miami-based experiential event agency. Clients include the Marseilles Hotel, the Four Seasons Resort Palm Beach, and Baoli Miami.

Debi Lilly
“I loved Justin Timberlake’s instant inclusion of all guests, which created a huge warm welcome for everyone. Jimmy Kimmel knocked the opening monologue out of the park. His humor presented just the right amount of roasting, while toasting to happy movie making.

The Art Deco Great Gatsby set—full of mixed metal pleated arches and amber-hued peacock feather fan lit backdrops—perfectly crowned with the glittering silver and velvety red proscenium, was simply stunning. The musical acts mixed with award presentation was, and always is, my favorite part of the show. Sixteen-year-old Auli'i Cravalho was incredible—that voice, that poise, and that dress—and for a teenager!

The ending was unfortunate to say the least. I can't even imagine. I mean, the Oscars doesn't stuff an envelope wrong, until tonight. It was a huge, gigantic fumble. A production issue times infinity. It was a sour way to end a beautiful evening.”

Letter grade: B
Lilly is the chief eventeur for A Perfect Event, a Chicago-based event production company. Clients include Harpo Studios, Dom Perignon, and People magazine. 

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