How Will Packer Plans to Revive the Oscars: ‘This Is The Year’

Oscar producer Will Packer is in good spirits about producing this year’s 94th telecast. Like everyone globally, he’s spent the past two years having existential thoughts regarding his legacy, influence and priorities. But, a Hollywood outsider, Packer could be the right man for the job.

Packer and the Academy have received criticism following the announcement that eight categories, three shorts and five artisan, will be pre-recorded and edited into the live telecast for viewers at home. He says he has empathy and respect for the craftspeople. Still, he decided to treat the show as an entertainment property, telling Variety’s Awards Circuit Podcast, “I’m going to do the best I can to treat this show with the reverence and respect I think it deserves, but I’m also going to try to make an entertaining show.”

He compares creating a newly envisioned Oscars to the Super Bowl. “The NFL can never control who plays in the game,” he says. “What they can control is who’s their half-time show, pregame show, who’s singing the national anthem to get everybody in. That’s my job. To get everybody in to celebrate the most talented people in the world.” Listen below!

Packer acknowledges the criticisms he and the Academy have received but ultimately agrees with the decision. He’s also unafraid to clap back at the “people who want the world to burn,” as he describes them. “It’s amazing to me because some of these folks live off this industry, and what’s the ultimate purpose and goal of this negativity? It’s a short-term mentality.”

Packer is generally a fearless person, unafraid of challenges, but he admits to the “hesitation” for taking the responsibility of ushering the most prestigious awards show in history into a new dawn. He had conversations about taking this gig before, but the timing wasn’t right. Mostly due to the steering of his self-owned media company, Will Packer Prods., which has assembled an array of blockbuster titles that have grossed more than $1 billion worldwide.

Nevertheless, as he tells his children and people he mentors regarding overcoming the obstacles that scare us, “that’s the thing you got to face head-on. It’s never going to be the ‘perfect’ time. This is the year.”

What’s really important to Packer, 47, is for people to see his face, and know he’s the one doing the job. This isn’t for vanity but for a viewer at home to say, “I look like him.”

Born in St. Petersburg, Fla., and an alum of Florida A&M University, he’s a fierce advocate and supporter of HBCU schools, which have been incorporated into the ceremony. Before he made it to this point, Packer says the Oscars represented “the highest heights of success for people that have labored for years, decades, in some instances, a lifetime, to achieve a certain status where their peers say you are the best of the best.”

This is not unique to Hollywood but all professions, whether they’re doctors or teachers, etc. “There’s something very human about the need to celebrate those that give everything towards a particular goal and then succeed. It can inspire you in other facets of life.”

He, along with producing partner Shayla Cowan, tapped Regina Hall, Amy Schumer and Wanda Sykes to emcee the evening, the first time multiple women will host this awards ceremony. With an oversaturated market of events, and access to celebrities that didn’t exist as it does today thanks to TikTok, Instagram and other social media avenues, Packer says, “I always think of my audience first.”

Best of all, he keeps his mind sharp and looks for those connections, proven by his daily fix of “Wordle,” “Quordle,” the four-lettered game version and the New York Times Spelling Bee, all before he goes out to his morning meetings and tasks. His love of movies runs the gamut between “The Shawshank Redemption” (1994) to “Aliens” (1986), with a never-ending respect and love for the late Bill Paxton.

There’s anticipation for this year’s ceremony in which films including Netflix’s “The Power of the Dog” and Focus Features’ “Belfast” are in the hunt for best picture glory.

“It’s like producing 10 movies at once. But I’m ready,” he says, while marching toward March 27.

Also on this episode, the Awards Circuit roundtable gives its final predictions for Sunday night’s Academy Awards.

Variety Awards Circuit podcast is hosted by Clayton Davis, Michael Schneider, Jazz Tangcay and Jenelle Riley and is your one-stop listen for lively conversations about the best in movies. Michael Schneider is the producer and Drew Griffith edits. Each week, “Awards Circuit” features interviews with top talent and creatives; discussions and debates about awards races and industry headlines; and much, much more. Subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify or anywhere you download podcasts. New episodes post every week.

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