At the Oscars: Academy President Sid Ganis

Sid Ganis, President of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences and a Marvel board member, expounds on his last Oscar broadcast, Marvel movies and kissing Anne Hathaway!

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By John Cerilli Love movies? Then you love Sid Ganis. Trust us. The President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and a member of Marvel's Board of Directors; Ganis simply radiates filmmaking. When we last spoke with him, Hugh Jackman had just been selected to host the Academy Awards. On Sunday night, Ganis presided over his last Oscar broadcast from the third row of the Kodak Theatre—his term as the Academy's president ends August 15. Ride off into the sunset? No way. Ganis takes us through his night at the Oscars, tells the world what Hugh Jackman was doing during commercial breaks and reveals his thoughts on upcoming Marvel movies "Iron Man 2" and "Thor."
Marvel.com: What did you think of the show Sunday night? Sid Ganis: Well, I was hyperventilating up until the halfway point, hoping for no disaster. And not only did we have no disaster, we had a few amazing surprises! In the end—loved the show. The good news for me is I've had hundreds, literally, hundreds of emails. People have said to me before, "Nice work, Sid," but not like this. The feedback has been so good. Sure I guess people who hated it didn't write to me, but the feedback has been so good. And, in terms of the show, we had a guy who balanced an Oscar on his chin! What more do you want? Marvel.com: Philippe Petit, from "Man on Wire." That film was awesome! Sid Ganis: Philippe Petit, yeah. I know him a little bit. Met him a year ago. Marvel.com: Really? He's a fascinating guy and that film was unbelievable. Sid Ganis: It was fascinating. Think of it, this is a guy that when he was a little kid said, "Hey, maybe I'll shoot some film of myself practicing this stuff, and who knows what I'll do with it." Marvel.com: Walking out of that film, it wasn't difficult to think "That's one of the greatest things I've ever seen." Sid Ganis: I agree with you, it's an amazing, amazing movie. I saw it at the Berkshire Film Festival in Lenox, Massachusetts. This was in May of 2008 and it was one of things where I said, "Woah!" I thought, this could be a nominated movie. Well, it turned out to be a nominated movie and then the winning movie [for Documentary Feature]! Marvel.com: Amazing. So, the set seemed a lot more intimate this year, even watching on TV—the way the stage jutted out and the audience encircled it. The setting just seemed much more intimate inside the theater. Was that true? Sid Ganis: We worked on it. One of the criticisms for years now has been that kind of stiffness and distance between the audience and the performance. We thought about it a lot. Priced it out. Covered the orchestra pit. Lowered the stage in the thrust area. Ripped out the seats of the front orchestra. Bought new seats. Redid the seating—and created a much, much more intimate setting, very purposely. So if it came across on television, you have no idea how thrilled I am to hear that. We worked our ass off on it and it was a gigantic criticism. Guys in this business, dear, dear, wonderful people like Jeffrey Katzenberg came up to me and, among other things, said "You can't do that, it's so cold, it's so stiff." And we thought about it and, hopefully, figured it out. Marvel.com: We were discussing the show on Monday in the Marvel offices and one of the comments made was exactly what you're talking about. It was kind of cool that the orchestra pit wasn't there…The band was on the same viewing plane. Sid Ganis: We moved them onto the stage and sometimes they were there and sometimes they weren't there. Sometimes there were 40 pieces and sometimes there were 28 pieces and then during the breaks, there was a six-piece jazz combo off on stage left. They were all great studio musicians who were wailing during the commercial breaks. People in the audience hung around, instead of getting up—I mean, people got up and schmoozed, but not to leave and go to the bar…All that orchestra and band and combo configuration was Michael Giacchino [the show's musical director], he did a great job. Marvel.com: What's the most memorable moment for you? What's going to stick out in your head the most? Sid Ganis: Anne Hathaway coming over to me and planting a kiss…On. My. Lips! And thanking me for, as she put it, letting her do her bit for the show…She was sensational! Memorable moment, she planted a kiss…On. My. Lips! With my wife two feet behind me—who understood [laughs]. Marvel.com: She didn't even give you an elbow or anything? Sid Ganis: Well, I don't know what she's thinking [laughs]...Another memorable moment—Queen Latifah singing "I'll Be Seeing You." I mean, my goodness gracious, so evocative. I understand there was a problem on television with it—not with her singing—but with the way we covered the "In Memoriam" section. I'm not sure whether the emotion of the package came through. Sorry it didn't quite work, we never got it down. We tried. That's what happens with a show like this, you work it and you try and you criticize and you watch and you redirect it and…most of the time it works… Marvel.com: The ratings were up— Sid Ganis: Oh the ratings were up! Oh my goodness gracious—how great for us. The ratings were up! The feeling around ABC, our benefactor, is sensational as opposed to dreary, which it could've been. They're happy guys, and, of course, we're happy guys. Marvel.com: What do you attribute it to? Is it the popularity of films that were out there this year? What do you think gave it the boost? Sid Ganis: I think it was a combo. For one thing, we just poured it on in terms of the marketing of the show. We just wouldn't stop. Never quit. The Academy used to be super duper duper conservative and we couldn't do some of the good stuff because we had our own internal rules for use of the Internet and ads on the Internet and Oscar.com—stuff like that. But we loosened up a lot. We got a lot more out there this year and I think that was a big part of it. And the movies, of course, yes. When you have this little thing called "Slumdog" ["Slumdog Millionaire," 2009 Academy Award winner for Best Picture]—people know about it. It has a great title, so people know "Slumdog," even if they haven't seen it yet. There was a curiosity about these little Indian kids and that helps. And then "Benjamin Button." ["The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"] And Brad Pitt and Angelina in the house, both nominated, which is pretty good. So it was a combo of those things. The other big part of it is we took a big, gigantic risk by saying, "Well, we're going to have some surprises for you," and we kept pushing that. We committed to marketing this show as a show with surprises. It turns out that our "surprises" paid off. Certainly, the acting categories and the five past winners— Marvel.com: It was so great to see all those people all in one spot and, after the first one, the Supporting Actress group came out, as a viewer, you were looking forward to the next group of five. Sid Ganis: We paid off, in the very end. There was Sophia Loren, oh my God! Marvel.com: She still looks unbelievable. Sid Ganis: She still looks amazing. She was sitting a few rows behind us, I promise you—this is a woman getting up there in terms of her age—she's gorgeous. And Hugh Jackman! Marvel.com: So what did you think, how'd he do? Sid Ganis: Damn he's so good! So easy. He makes it look so very easy and he's so personable. In between the acts, during commercials, he was out there talking to the audience. Towards the end of the show, in between acts, he brought a plate of cookies—chocolate chip cookies—and specifically, presented them to his wife. He said out loud how much he loves his wife, she took a cookie and he spread the rest of them around the front orchestra there. He was great. He knows how to hoof. He knows how to sing. He can be our own killer-diller guy! And he can also be sweet as pie—a combination of both. He's really an all-around performer. Marvel.com: It seemed very effortless for him. Sid Ganis: It looked effortless. I can only tell you the weeks and weeks of rehearsals that went into that. Well, when I said weeks and weeks, that suggests five weeks. I don't mean that at all. Two and half solid weeks of getting that production down and his opening number. Marvel.com: Now that we're talking about Hugh Jackman—let's go over some super heroic stats. Eight nominations and two Oscars for "The Dark Knight," two nominations for "Iron Man," Wolverine hosting the show…Are super hero films finally being recognized by Hollywood as more than just "popcorn" films? Sid Ganis: I think they are. They're serious films. Our [Marvel's] movies, and the other movies, are really fine work. They're fine films. They're not just noisy action movies. They are very good, deep, interesting stories. And the techniques that we all—including "Dark Knight" and the others—put into them, couldn't be more state-of-the-art up to last Thursday. It's so contemporary and things are moving along so quickly and we have so much at our disposal to work with. Marvel.com: Of the next four Marvel films, "Iron Man 2," "Thor," "The First Avenger: Captain America" and "The Avengers," which would be the one you're looking forward to the most and why? Sid Ganis: I'm looking forward to "Iron Man 2" the most—it's the next one! I'm looking forward to the rest of them by degrees, but "Iron Man 2" is the challenge. We have to make it as compelling and interesting and surprising and cool as the first. Marvel.com: Absolutely. And this week, we officially announced Kenneth Branagh will be directing "Thor." What are your thoughts about Kenneth and what are the sensibilities he's going to bring to this character? Sid Ganis: I have to start off by telling you that when I was the head of Paramount, I gave him his very first movie to direct—the very first. He made a great movie in "Dead Again." So my thoughts about Kenneth are very positive. He's had a movie career, stage career and acting career—in both movies and on stage and as a director and writer in some cases. I'm very excited for what's about to come from Ken. When I check in with Kevin Feige [President of Marvel Studios] and the guys here, [they tell me] Ken is conceptualizing "Thor" in such a unique way—I think us fan guys—we will be happy with what turns up. I'm excited about Ken, He's great and committed to "Thor." You have no idea how committed to this he is. There's nothing else on his mind, of course not, it's a huge job. But he's not acting in other movies, or thinking about directing other movies after "Thor." His whole brain and being is with "Thor." Marvel.com: That's so fantastic to hear. And now some questions about you…You're leaving as President of the Academy? Sid Ganis: Yeah, I'm not leaving the Academy, I'm leaving as President of the Academy and that's because I had the opportunity to serve four one-year terms. That's the way it works. You have to be elected every year by the Board of Governors. This is my fourth and last one-year term. There'll be a new President next year. On August 15, I'll fade into the sunset. But not really, because our production company [Out of the Blue Entertainment] is thriving and my Marvel life is a very, very important part of my being…It was a really good gig, representing the art of filmmaking. Marvel.com: It's got to be one of the most unique things out there. Sid Ganis: Pretty unique. The first President was Douglas Fairbanks, a founding member of the Academy along with his wife Mary Pickford—then all the way from there to Sid Ganis, huh? Huh? [laughing] I don't quite get the connection, but whatever, I'm happy about it. Marvel.com: It's your last broadcast as President of the Academy, why didn't you make the traditional on-air speech? Sid Ganis: Well, what I would have said, I did say in rehearsal. [I didn't make the speech on the broadcast] for a couple reasons. One was just a simple reason of time—you know, length of show. Another was, because I didn't think it was quite powerful enough. I cut myself out of the show. And that's what you do—you take one for the cause. So, instead of [the speech], Hugh Jackman did his little banter with me about not making a speech and got a laugh. So what would you rather have—a slightly stuffy speech about film or a good solid laugh? I'd rather have a laugh…I'm going out with a smile. Check out the official Marvel Shop for the best mighty Marvel merchandise! Download episodes of "X-Men: Evolution" now on iTunes!
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