Winter 2019


Oscar's Go-To Director

Glenn Weiss, in tackling the granddaddy of awards shows for the fourth consecutive year, exhibits nerves of steel

By Steve Chagollan

Director Glenn Weiss surveys the room during a rehearsal for the 88th Annual Academy Awards (Photo: Matt Petit/AMPAS)

When it was announced in October that Glenn Weiss would be directing the 2019 Oscarcast, the match made perfect sense. While the Academy was looking to shake things up by recruiting Oscar-winning producer Donna Gigliotti (Shakespeare in Love) to co-produce with Weiss, Weiss himself represented a kind of insurance policy that the show would run smoothly, at least as smoothly as can be expected.

After all, Weiss—winner of eight DGA Awards and 14 Emmys, including Emmys for directing the 2017 and 2018 Oscarcasts—is a proven commodity. And with the Academy looking to both lift sagging ratings and wrap the show within three hours, Weiss is considered uniquely equipped for the challenge.

"Timing on any awards show is always an issue, simply because it's one of the few shows where you don't control the content—at least 50% of it," says Weiss, "because people win awards and you don't know what they're going to say or do."

Weiss explains that a great deal of thought and preparation "is not about action but reaction—being premeditated enough to have your cameras in the right place to get that reaction." He's also a stickler for "avoiding obligatory shots at obligatory moments."

When posed with the notion that many people tune into these affairs for the unscripted, or controversial, drama, Weiss has his own take. "I don't know if I would go with controversial, but unscripted certainly. We all have different philosophies on this. I think people want to watch award shows because you get to see actors not acting but being themselves. You get to see folks really show who they are."

For brevity's sake, certain awards will be handed out during commercial breaks, which Weiss and his team will edit down and present at some point during the broadcast. "It's a work in progress," the producer-director told DGA Quarterly just before Thanksgiving. "But the intention is that everything will be [included], just maybe in a condensed form."

Typically, Weiss' staff and crew swells to "around 330 people" as it gets closer to the airdate, and he has employed as many as 17 cameras for coverage. "It's a three- or four-month process," he says, "and it gets really intense when the nominations come out." In the meantime, the early stages involve working through designs and building sets—what Weiss calls "a shell… Then, as we get more information, we'll start building what's inside of it."

In Weiss' mind, the nominations go a long way in determining how many viewers will tune in (ratings were down 19% this past year compared to 2017). "From year to year you're at the mercy of what films have come out," he says, "and how many people are interested in what's been nominated."

Weiss became a bit of a celebrity in September when he proposed to his significant other at the Microsoft Theater in Downtown Los Angeles as he accepted his Emmy for directing the Oscars (she said yes). Weiss was also in command during "Envelopegate" in 2017, when the wrong picture was announced for the evening's top award. He calls it a "defining moment," but one that comes with the territory.

"Part of what we do in live television is make very quick decisions on how something like this is going to play out to the rest of the world," he explains.

"Instinctually, as a live director, your training is that when something's not going right, you cut away from it. And counterintuitive to that, as soon as I heard from Gary Natoli, our key stage manager, that he heard the accountant say, 'They gave the wrong envelope,' my instinct at that moment said, 'I can't leave this because it will look like we're covering something up.' And boy, it was just a real intense couple of moments in the truck. But my decision was to make sure I showed the story as real as I could, and I stand by the decision."


Feature stories about the craft and challenges of directors and their teams in episodic television, movies for television, daytime drama, reality, sports, news, variety, childrens, commercials and other television genres.

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