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Last Updated: Tuesday, 28 February 2006, 07:57 GMT
Behind the camera at the Oscars
By Peter Bowes
BBC News, Los Angeles

Directing the Oscars ceremony is one of the most challenging jobs in television. It will be seen by hundreds of millions of people around the world, in almost every country.

The man at the helm, albeit unseen by viewers, will be the director, Louis J Horvitz.

Louis J Horvitz
Louis J Horvitz says directing the Oscars is the "highest honour"

"It's my job to show them everything that's happening here at the Kodak Theatre on the stage," he says.

"I make it a point to not editorialise but to just go ahead and show as much as I possibly can."

It is Mr Horvitz's 10th year in the hot seat. He has made a career out of directing awards show.

Previous high-profile assignments include the Daytime Emmy Awards, The MTV movie awards and the Kids Choice Awards.

"I think the highest honour is to be asked to direct the Academy Awards," he says.

"There are many great shows that I direct but as a live gigantic event the Academy Awards has that appeal. It's the Super Bowl of the award genre."

Brokeback Mountain
Brokeback Mountain is tipped to do well at the Oscars

While the Oscars ceremony is the granddaddy of all awards shows, it also tends to be the most formal in its style of presentation. It is drummed in to celebrities who take it in turn to hand out the awards, that they should not deviate from their script.

A team of writers, overseen by the Academy, pens every word. The winners are told to keep their acceptance speeches brief and, preferably, interesting.

"I always say to people: 'I need to remind you now this is live television. It's not good to make the live television director unhappy'," says Mr Horvitz.

"Clearly, our objective is not just to make the show fast, it's to give the viewing audience the best of that evening."

A "very poignant or meaningful moment" is allowed to hang in the air - but Mr Horvitz says overly long acceptance speeches can expect to be drowned out by the orchestra.

Chris Rock
Comic Chris Rock hosted last year's ceremony

With audience figures for awards ceremonies dropping in recent years, the show's producers face a constant challenge to keep viewers from drifting away.

"It's just hard today to get people to pay attention," he says.

"I'm certain that the viewing individual today, while they're watching the Academy Awards, they're online and probably watching and they're also watching a car race or they're playing with their kids.

"Everyone is in a multi-task mode so the amount of attention span has dwindled down to not too long."

The challenge this year is to capture the imagination of a TV audience, many of whom will not have seen the main nominated movies.

Director's challenge

With the field dominated by low-budget, independent pictures, viewers may be less tempted to tune in than in a year when the buzz is about The Lord of the Rings or Titanic.

"The challenge certainly is to make sure the people at home see as many stars as possible to keep them tuned in," Mr Horvitz says.

"In a way, show them clips of these movies so that they may go out and experience the best of the 78th annual Oscars."

Within Hollywood circles, there is nothing bigger than the Academy Awards. The prestige of winning is attached to an actor for life.

"If you were to go and ask an actor: 'I'll trade you three Golden Globes, a Screen Actors Guild Award and god knows what else kind of award for your work, for one Oscar, you'll have no actor give up an Oscar," says Mr Horvitz.

"Each year I never take for granted being asked back by the Academy. Every year I get a drive in a Formula One car and the year that I don't is going to be disappointing."

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