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Oscar Hell Week: Play By Play

Awards
by Anne Thompson
November 12, 2011 6:27 PM
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AMPAS president Tom Sherak

Exactly how did all the changes go down at the Oscars last week? Well, Academy president Tom Sherak gives us the play by play.

Last Sunday morning, Brett Ratner called Sherak to tell him "I messed up. I did something, made a remark, I didn't mean anything by it. But it's going to come back and haunt me." Ratner had said "rehearsals are for fags" at a Friday night "Tower Heist" screening Q and A. Sherak immediately gave him public relations 101: "Write an apology." Ratner emailed Sherak his statement, Sherak read it, approved it, and told the director to have his people get it out.

Sherak also told the filmmaker that what he said was terrible, insensitive, reckless and dumb, but he knew him, and believed that he made a mistake, and that his apology was sincere. "But you can't do this again," he warned Ratner, who replied, "I got it."

Ratner's statement: “I apologize for any offense my remarks caused. It was a dumb and outdated way of expressing myself. Everyone who knows me knows that I don’t have a prejudiced bone in my body. But as a storyteller I should have been much more thoughtful about the power of language and my choice of words.”

On the same Monday that Sherak released his own statement of support for the filmmaker, a friend emailed him to tell him some of the colorful things Ratner had said on that day's Howard Stern Show. "You're kidding, right?" said Sherak. He wasn't. Sherak went home that night and turned on the show. He was appalled.

Tuesday morning an Academy officers meeting had already been scheduled, with the Oscar show on the agenda. Ratner called during the meeting and said, "Tom, I screwed up, I know, I want to resign, I know I made a mistake."

After Sherak accepted Ratner's resignation, the calls started pouring in from people offering to help. One of the people who called was "Tower Heist" and "J.Edgar" producer Brian Grazer. "What do you need me to do?" he asked. The Academy had approached Grazer before, but he had always been too busy to serve. "You have to give up five months to do this show," Sherak says. This time, Grazer was eager to do it. (The way he tells the story, Sherak called him.) "Will you produce with Don?" Sherak asked. Grazer said, "Yes."

Sherak knew immediately that host Eddie Murphy would ask to be let go. "He signed on because of Brett," says Sherak. "Once a host doesn't want to do it, you can't go back. Doing it as quickly as he did helped Don and Brian."

The three men, Sherak, Grazer and Mischer met at 4 PM Tuesday and agreed to go to Billy Crystal. "If he wants to do it, fine, I'm in," said Sherak. "There was never any chaos." And Ratner's team of writers? "We're working on that."

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