Director Troy Miller on His Celebrated Oscar Intro -- and Why You Should Lay Off James Franco


The show has had something of a hard landing culturally, but your film is widely regarded as the brightest spot of the night. What was your reaction to how they paired up?

I can only really speak for the film. I think that everybody who likes the short film that I made should thank Joel and Ethan Coen or Chris Nolan, you know. I sincerely mean this: We're on their coattails. You get credit, but I remember we did Fargo for the first Billy open, and we intercut Billy and Frances McDormand in the snow. And I got credit for Frances McDormand. Using what Jeff Bridges did in True Grit, I get credit for that in a weird way. But I'm just supplying the joke. They're already laughing at the image -- the wide shot I have. I just think the films are so good this year and so visually interesting that it's easy for us. It's easy for Jordan Rubin, who's the principal writer, to just riff out 25 jokes and say, "Insert one of those jokes." It's kind of a no-lose situation. And Anne and James were really hilarious on-set when we were shooting. Whatever people have to say about the awards show, they really brought it in the film pieces.

How do you think they did as hosts?

I thought they were great. It think it's a weird thing -- that now, with the blogosphere, it's all full of haters. I was there at the show, and I thought they did great. Maybe because I know them both, but I laughed and the house was laughing like crazy. Suddenly it gets out that they didn't do quite as well. It's also partly about the people writing, who are used to the older, more conservative Oscars. That might have had something to do with it as well.

Well, in fairness, the Oscars can't seem to win. If its skews older, it's accused of not taking chances.
If it skews younger, people go after that.

Look, ultimately, it's about a presentation of other great work. It's a lot of pressure; these dreams come true, and it's so much pressure on people. And I guess there's no sympathy for that. But I think they did great. Anne belting out that song was fun, and the James stuff... I think if you watch the show again and keep your eyes just on James, so much going on that just cracks me up.

Like what? Honestly, I wasn't a fan of Franco's -- except in your movie -- but what did I miss?

There's this inner monologue. The thing about James is that he does do so many things, and I'm a believer that there is a there there. People say there's no there there, but with him, there is. He would fly in from Amsterdam, on one occasion, come straight from the airport and walk on the set. He and I would have three words, and he would just nail it in the line reading. Maybe it's because I see more of the actor in him, but I watch the show, and I just see a lot going on in his eyes. Everybody else says he's staring, but he has for me this great appeal -- like a great film actor. And you compare that to Anne -- I mean, if she were on television she probably would have the Anne Hathaway show because she's so multitalented. Again, maybe it's because I just spent three weeks working with him. But I'm still a fan, and I think he did great.

How would you change the Oscars going forward? What should stay, and what should go?

I would probably hire Don Mischer and Bruce Cohen again. I think as producers, it's a hard road because there are so many elements at work. I can't put a "coulda woulda shoulda" to it, but I thought that the film segments were great. I'd probably go for more integration -- being able to do more satellite work around the theater. I thought did really well in terms of having multiple cameras interacting during the show. There's a whole hilarious world that's happening around the Oscars that's not necessarily happening onstage. It's definitely something to exploit. I think Chris Rock tried it when he did his, but there's a whole other level of where you can go.

Ultimately it comes down to the films that win, and great surprises. There was a great sketch that got cut for various reasons, which included Will Arnett reenacting the streaker, which you've probably heard about. It's hard when the show's running 10, 15 minutes over to put in just a sketch or a joke. But if you have three of those in the body of a show, then suddenly it changes the whole tide. I know when I did Jon Stewart's show, Jon had a lot of his writers with him, and not only did I do the opening with him and Clooney and the whole group, but we also had four or five other segments that dakota, my company, produced. So we had all these comedy packages throughout. In a weird way -- and I guess that show may not have performed quite as well -- but it gave it the comedic feel. Whereas with this, with the nominated films being more dramatic, I think it's harder for them to throw too many in the middle. Anyway, I really can't get the answer to that question right.

Well, when you're one of the few credited with a successful bit on the show, I would hope your input counts.

I don't know. It's kind of like the Best Visual Effects with the film itself: There's a certain level that you have to attain with a short film. I mean, the competition... You have Joe Letteri, who won for Lord of the Rings, and you've got Spielberg in the audience. There is no room for error. Even from the straight craft of directing, I take it very seriously. and as a comedy writer-director myself, you can't miss. So I think it's easier to succeed with the film because I'm able to go in just keep molding the laughs and craft it. But the core is the hosts: Without Franco and Hathaway it wouldn't be as funny -- it's what they do. And they should get credit for that, probably. We hit it out of the park, but that's because they were heavily involved in the writing and the production of it. It's thanks to them that everybody liked that opening.

[Photos: Dakota Films]

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  • Alex says:

    Celebrated by who? That clip was also crap: Unfunny and unoriginal. What's wrong with just getting Jon Stewart? At least the guy understands what being a host means. And Franco is a primadonna THIS close of becoming the next Joaquin Phoenix.

  • All right, well trust me, you're in the minority. Not wrong, just in the minority.
    And I hear you about Franco, though let's be realistic: Charlie Sheen has dibs on being the next Joaquin Phoenix

  • Jeff says:

    Um, everyone at the party I was at agreed that was the worst one of those opening "host going through nominated movies" videos the Oscars has ever done. The transitions going from one film to the next were horrid, the jokes were not funny and they are going through nominated films and then for some reason Back To The Future is in there at the end? When they meet up again with Alec Baldwin (first of all they never get any real sort of "advice" that they can then use throughout or call back in the actual show, which was the "mission" premise of the opening video) they talk about how strange the setting they are in is but never actually show what that setting is or why they are making "jokes" about it. I assume the setting was the Grease bit that got cut, but if you are going to cut the bit your actors are now making jokes about please also cut the jokes that don't pay off now.
    If people are really saying that video was a bright spot in the show (and I have not met one person who liked it) they must have just liked that it was fast and light, unlike the rest of the show which was dull and dragged.
    They have done those videos well in the past with Billy Crystal and Jon Stewart and I seem to remember a good video segment last year with Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin...but this years it honestly felt like they have made too many of them and run out of ideas. Poorly constructed, is my opinion.

  • Panama says:

    I don't usually comment but I gotta jump in. People DID like the opening. I thought it was hilarious. Anne Hathaway and James Franco were really freaking funny in it. The rest of the show? Snoozeville.

  • Rj Patterson says:

    The opening was great! So was their Autotune segment - unless you were at a party only half paying attention. It looked like the actors were shot when they shot the actual movie and it's did it's job because Anne and James were funny and look liked friends. Too bad about Will Arnett not making the show.

  • Liz F. says:

    We watched the open 3 times in a row - and it made perfect sense - you just have to listen to the dialogue. I don't even remember a story in the past opens. And it was funny. Loved Franco as the Bearman!