New crop of writers for Oscars indicates a sharp focus on comedy
Exclusive: Oscar producers Brett Ratner and Don Mischer are exhibiting an intense focus on comedy for the 84th Academy Awards presentation in February. The duo has hired a crop of veteran screenwriters to bring the funny to the show. The scribes boast credits for shows including "Saturday Night Live" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and will be attempting to breathe new life into a program that in the last few years has fallen flat.
Many of the writers have a history of working with either Ratner or his Oscar host, Eddie Murphy, and will work primarily with Murphy. They will write bits for the actor-comedian ahead of time and will be backstage in the writers room the night of the event.
The team includes two of the three writers who currently work on Larry David's "Curb" -- Alec Berg (who also wrote for the 68th Academy Awards) and David Mandel. The third member of that team, Jeff Schaffer, was unavailable but may come in on a part-time basis to help.
Ratner's longtime collaborator, Jeff Nathanson, who wrote the director's new film, "Tower Heist," and worked on his last two "Rush Hour" movies, has also come aboard, in addition to fellow "Heist" scribe Ted Griffin, who penned "Ocean's Eleven," among other films.
“I’m new to this and I wanted to feel comfortable, since I have to drive this whole thing. So I brought in guys that I have a personal relationship with and I’ve worked with before," Ratner said Sunday from the Beverly Hills Hotel, where he was about to sit down to breakfast after hearing the news that "Tower Heist" had opened to $25 million this weekend.
Also on board are Barry Blaustein and David Sheffield, two veteran writers who worked with Murphy on the "Nutty Professor" series and "Saturday Night Live."
The one truly veteran Academy Awards scribe on the case appears to be Jon Macks, who in addition to writing for the last 14 Oscar shows has also penned bits for the Emmys, the Country Music Awards and "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno."
Ratner said he will bring other writers in part-time to work on specific parts of the show, including writer-director Cameron Crowe.
The new crop of writers, who seem to tend toward the irreverent and absurd, could breathe some life into a show that is inherently tough to change.
Ratner said he's confident that Murphy’s stand-up style, which he describes as more about story-telling than joke-telling, is going to bring a fresh perspective. Ratner pointed to Murphy’s ice cream skit from his “Delirious” album and his impersonations as the kind of humor he hopes to bring to the Oscars.
The director said he was pleased with Murphy’s round of appearances on late night talk shows as part of his promotion for “Tower Heist,” calling it proof that the 50-year-old comedian is still on top of his game despite the years he’s been off both the stand-up circuit and SNL.
“Go watch him on Jimmy Fallon and you tell me,” said Ratner. “It’s incredible. He’s funny, smart, irreverant, everything you want in a host. And he wants to win.”
-- Nicole Sperling
Photo: Brett Ratner and Eddie Murphy with the cast of "Tower Heist." Universal Pictures