Glenn Weiss has made a career directing some of the most nerve-wracking live television shows ever created.
Working on the Emmy Awards, Tony Awards, American Music Awards, BET Awards, Super Bowl halftime show, and New Year’s Rockin’ Eve, Weiss thought he’d seen it all over a 30-year career.
But then came last year’s Academy Awards.
It was the second time he had directed the epic show, and everything was running smoothly until the final award of the night: best picture.
You know the rest.
The presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were given the wrong envelope, they incorrectly said “La La Land” won, and the cast and crew came onstage, setting up one of the most incredible live moments in TV history. A “La La Land” producer, Jordan Horowitz, realising his movie did not win, held up the card revealing that the real best-picture winner was “Moonlight.”
A year later, Weiss is preparing to direct another Oscars telecast (airing Sunday), but he still can’t shake those infamous few minutes of live television.
“I had no idea that one shot of a card that says ‘Moonlight’ will probably define my career for the rest of my life,” Weiss told Business Insider over the phone.
Here Weiss breaks down how his team captured the best-picture win at the 89th Academy Awards.
“I really thought he was just being funny”
In retrospect, Warren Beatty’s reaction to seeing what was inside the envelope he and Faye Dunaway were given spoke volumes. But at the time, Weiss just thought Beatty was putting on the same act he was doing during rehearsals.
“Warren and Faye were very playful with each other during rehearsals,” Weiss said. “So when he started doing that I really thought he was just being funny.”
Once “La La Land” was announced as the winner, Weiss said, he and his team were getting ready to present the host Jimmy Kimmel’s closing bit and the end credits.
“It didn’t feel like anything was wrong – looking back, Warren was looking for help,” Weiss said.
Still on the live broadcast, Beatty eventually told the audience that he had been given not the card for best picture but a duplicate of the card announcing Emma Stone as the winner of best actress for “La La Land.”
“All my years of training at that moment went 180 degrees”
Weiss said he wasn’t notified that something was wrong until a minute and a half after “La La Land” was announced. By that time, the producers of the movie had begun giving their acceptance speeches.
“I hear in the headset from my lead stage manager, ‘The accountant just said he thinks we gave the wrong winner,'” Weiss recalled. “I said, ‘Get out there and get this fixed.'”
The broadcast showed a person with a headset walking into the camera frame onstage. Weiss said he allowed that to be seen because he decided instantly to show what was unfolding, which goes against everything he was taught.
“When you direct live television, your training says if something is going so wrong that your stage manager has to go out there, you’re going to do a wide shot,” Weiss said. “That’s just what we do when we try to keep shows clean. All my years of training at that moment went 180 degrees. I basically thought, something really bad just happened – I don’t want the headline tomorrow to be we tried to cover it up.”
Weiss showed all the whispering and scurrying onstage as producers gave their acceptance speeches and members of the crew tried to obtain the correct envelope.
Weiss was “obsessed” with getting a shot of the card that named the real best-picture winner
Weiss said he became “instantly obsessed” with finding someone holding the correct winning card.
“I basically told one of our camera operators who didn’t have an assignment at that moment to just go tight on the card if anyone holds it up,” Weiss said.
The director said all he was trying to do in the moment was show the audience watching at home what they all were seeing. And then the “La La Land” producer Jordan Horowitz lifted up the card that said “Moonlight” was the winner.
“When that card was held up and we took the shot, honestly, I was just doing what my gut told me to do,” Weiss said. “Now, it’s the most talked about thing. It’s crazy.”
Weiss said the significance of that shot didn’t hit him until the next day when he began seeing the shot in newspapers and on TV. He acknowledges that didn’t make him that pleased.
“I felt really good about that television show I made,” he said. “The next morning reading about this one shot of the card was weird because I really thought the show was beautiful.”
“I’d rather not have the infamy”
Most directors of live TV don’t want to be the center of the story, and Weiss is no different.
Preparing now for Sunday’s Oscars (a third accountant will be in the truck with him as a stopgap just in case a mistake occurs again with the winners’ envelopes), he looks back on last year with some happiness because he was awarded an Emmy and a Directors Guild of America Award for that show. But he hopes it wasn’t just for how he handled the final award of the night.
“I’m ever the perfectionist,” he said. “I hope that I was being recognised for the work up to that point. When you’re on live television things happen all the time. Every show I’ve ever done there’s something that happens that you didn’t plan – just most of them aren’t things that reporters are calling me a year later to talk about. It was a beautiful show, and then that happened. And that’s what everyone will remember. I’d rather not have the infamy. I’d rather have the beautiful show.”
Watch the entire best-picture presentation from last year’s Oscars:
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