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Thursday, 15 March, 2001, 14:32 GMT
A night of surprise
Roberto Benigni at the Oscars in 1999
Roberto Benigni gets carried away
The BBC's Peter Bowes talks to the producer of the Oscars ceremony, Gil Cates, in Hollywood

The Oscars ceremony is one of the most meticulously stage-managed live shows on television. But almost every year something happens that strays from the script and steals the show.

Roberto Benigni's triumphant dance of joy - perilously balancing on the backs of chairs in the auditorium - was one such magic moment.


I love those surprises and I take as much glee in watching as the audience does at home

Gil Cates

Cuba Gooding Jr went berserk on stage unable to contain his excitement at winning best supporting actor for Jerry Maguire.

The unpredictable responses of stars, overwhelmed by the occasion, are welcomed by the show's organisers.

The ceremony is broadcast to an estimated audience of a billion people around the world. The producer, Gil Cates, says he relishes the impromptu stunts.

"I love those surprises and I take as much glee in watching as the audience does at home," he says. "I'm delighted when they steal the show," he adds.

When Roberto Benigni picked up the best foreign film award for Life is Beautiful inf1999, the Italian actor said: "This is a moment of joy, and I want to kiss everybody. I feel like now, really, to dive in this ocean of generosity."

Cates says Benigni's antics got his vote of support. "I thought that was wonderful. I thought that was great - that was inventive. I thought his acceptance speech was sensational," he says.

Bribe

Few stars appear to put much preparation into their acceptance speeches. Perhaps some fear their chance of winning would be jinxed by them going to the ceremony with a carefully thought out response.

Others, to the frustration of the show's organisers, produce a long list of colleagues to thank.

Steve Martin
Steve Martin is this year's host

Gill Cates says it's the last thing he wants to hear.

"When someone accepts an award and insists on thanking every agent they ever knew or every manager they ever knew I think that is really unfortunate," he says.

Cates adds: "I tell them: 'If you thank your agent you're going to make him very happy but you're going to send 200 million people to the refrigerator to get a soft drink."

This year, as an incentive to the winners to keep it short, Cates says he's offering them a bribe.

The person delivering the most succinct speech will receive a high definition TV as a prize.

But Cates says he understands that his plea for no 'thank-yous' may well fall on deaf ears.

"The truth of the matter is, it's their award," he says. "They have earned the 30 or 45 seconds and if they chose to spend it doing that I have no right to limit that."

'Surprises'

When a winner persists in going over-time, however, Cates warns that he will be forced to cue the orchestra to play them off stage.

Last year the Oscars ceremony was the longest ever - 4 hours and 9 minutes.

Cates says he believes the show must last at least 3 hours in order to squeeze in all the awards.


Steve is a big movie star. He has experience as a stand up comic and he is very erudite, very funny - It's going to be a cool show

Gil Cates

But that duration would leave little time for additional entertainment, he says. "You could do the show and it would be very businesslike," he explains.

"I'm not sure how interesting it would be - other than the horse race which is obviously the reason people watch the show - to see who gets the Oscars."

While Cates's job of keeping the show moving is done from behind the scenes, it is the host's job to keep everything under control on stage.

This year, for the first time, actor Steve Martin, will be in the hot seat. Cates says there are few celebrities capable of taking on such a role.

"Finding a host for the Oscars show is probably the single most difficult job that a producers has.

"You need someone who can effectively work a room or someone who has experience as a stand up comic," he explains.

"Billy Crystal was a wonderful host. Whoopi Goldberg as well. Neither of them were available so I have always wanted to work with Steve Martin.

"Steve is a big movie star. He has experience as a stand up comic and he is very erudite, very funny. It's going to be a cool show.

Cates adds: "We're planning some surprises. I hope you get a kick out of it."

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