4B - Thursday, February 24, 2011
The Michigan Daily - michigandailycom
4B - Thursday, February 24, 2011 The Michigan Daily - michigandailycom
Wolverines walk the red carpet
students tell their
By DAVID RIVA
When the 83rd installment
of the Academy Awards airs on
Sunday, viewers will be greet-
ed by some familiar sights - a
scarlet carpet, tough-to-open
envelopes, sappy acceptance
speeches and rude interruption
music - the essential ingredi-
ents for the film industry's night
of top honors. On TV, the ritual-
istic practices of the event seem
to remain static over time, giv-
ing at-home audiences a general
idea of what to expect from year
to year. So it can be easy to for-
get that all the nominees have a
story - a "road to the Oscars," if
Whether winning their own
award or reporting on the cer-
emony, University alumni John
Nelson and Katie Cwayna and
former University Law School
student Kurt Luedtke sustain
more ofapersonal connectionto
the Academy Awards than most
people. Their experiences pro-
vide a unique look into the lives
of Oscar winners as well as the
behind-the-scenes aspects of an
eventful week in Los Angeles.
"As much as it was fun, I was
exhausted and not sleeping and
writing scripts and revising
scripts through all hours of the
night," she said.
"The first eight rows are
where the movie stars are seat-
ed, and that section's lit for tele-
vision," Luedtke wrote. "When
you're accepting, you're looking
down at, and seeing very clearly,
a dozen or 20 of the most recog-
nizable people in the world who
are, for some reason, looking up
The press room, photogra-
phers and poster signing after
winners are ushered backstage
make for a surreal moment,
This kind of pressure is
something that he rarely expe-
riences, and he believes the
Academy takes steps to put the
crowd at ease.
"I think once you go through
it, you realize why it is very
important to have someone
funny hosting the event." he
wrote. "The humor relaxes peo-
ple who are really, really ner-
Once he had the infamous
golden statue in hand, Luedtke
claimed that expressing grati-
tude to a laundry list of people
was harder than it looked.
"Delivering my carefully
rehearsed 'Out of Africa' accep-
tance, I entirely forgot the part
acknowledging the director," he
Luedtke later found out that
"Out of Africa" director Sydney
Pollack asked his wife, "You
think Kurt's speech was a little
short?" after this blunder.
Nelson's speech for his "Glad-
iator" win, on the other hand,
would forever be remembered
by the inclusion of a person rath-
er than an exclusion.
His father turned 86 years old
the day he won and was fatally
ill with cancer.
"I ended my allotted 30 sec-
onds with, 'Thanks to my mom
in heaven and my dad and fam-
ily back in Detroit. Happy birth-
day, Dad. I love you,' " he wrote.
"I brought the Oscar home and
showed him it. He thought it
was beautiful, and the next week
Touching storylines are not
the only aspects of the ceremony
that go unnoticed by the TV-
viewing audience. The Oscars
have some surprises that are
concealed by the network airing
"What most surprised me was
that plenty of people attend the
Academy Awards who aren't
Academy members," Luedtke
explained. "The advertisers get
free tickets, I was told, and they
wind up in the strangest hands."
One pair of tickets was auc-
tioned off at a fundraiser for
Cranbrook Educational Com-
munity in Bloomfield Hills,
Mich. - Luedtke attended its
swood High School. He believes
the tickets arrived there via
General Motors, which runs
Early mornings in L.A. I'd like to thank the Academy
It only seems logical that a
person who could potentially be
in the running for an Academy
Award would vigilantly wait for
nominations to be announced.
But John Nelson, a 1976 Univer-
sity alum, is normally too tired
for anxious anticipation.
"They announce the nomi-
nations at 5:30 a.m. L.A. time
to make the 8:30 a.m. news in
(New York)," Nelson wrote in
an e-mail interview. "If you live
in L.A. and get nominated, the
phone wakes you up with people
Nelson has been woken up in
this manner on three occasions:
when he received nominations
in the Best Visual Effects cat-
egory for "Gladiator," "I, Robot"
and "Iron Man."
Former "Good Morning
America" segment producer
Katie Cwayna, a 2007 University
alum, was similarly affected by
this time gap between the East
and West Coast. Last year, the
morning show was broadcasted
live in L.A. on the Friday before
and Monday following the Acad-
emy Awards ceremony.
Cwayna - who majored in
Communication Studies while
at the University - noted that,
though many people were excit-
ed to hear she was covering the
event, the experience was gruel-
COURTESY OF DREAMWORKS
'U' alum John Nelson won a Visual Effects Oscar for his work in "Gladiator."
What happens on TV does not
tell the whole story.
When the sun goes down on
the day of the Oscars, Nelson
said being a nominee becomes
considerably more nerve-wrack-
ing than one might expect.
"You are pretty much scared
shitless until you know if you've
won or not," he explained. "After
that you are either very happy or
a little depressed."
Two-time nominee Kurt
Luedtke felt this tension so
much that he, found it neces-
sary to leave his seat and smoke
a cigarette, almost missing the
presentation of his award.
"According to the program,
the Adapted Screenplay award
was several presentations
away," he wrote in an e-mail
interview. "I went out for a ciga-
rette (and) eventually returned
to an agitated wife who told
me they'd changed the order of
things and Adapted Screenplay
Luedtke had barely sat down
when he was announced as the
winner of the category for writ-
ing "Out of Africa."
Both Luedtke and Nelson
were shocked by the response
they received immediately after
winning an Academy Award,
claiming the celebrity and press
attention was somewhat over-
commercials during the broad-
Some of the seats are also
filled by hired help.
"What most surprised (my
wife) was that the show hires
high school kids to dress up in
their prom clothes to fill the
seats for the cameras when
ticketholders like me are wan-
dering around elsewhere,"
The weight of the hardware
was also unexpected.
"The Oscars are heavy, heavi-
er than you'd think," he wrote.
"I'm surprised more winners
don't drop them."
Additionally, the nightlife
afterthe ceremony is only briefly
alluded to on TV. In reality, the
party scene is vast and contin-
ues into the wee hours of the
morning. According to Luedtke,
lugging around that heavy gold
statue commands a sizable
amount of respect around town.
"En route to the Academy
Governors Ball, we got caught
in traffic, left our limo, got lost
and wound up outside the rear
entrance of the Beverly Wilshire
ballroom," he explained.
But all Luedtke had to do was
flash the figurine to gain admit-
tance to the festivities.
According to Cwayna, the
ceremony acts as the formal cen-
terpiece for aweek-long celebra-
tion throughout Los Angeles.
The movie capital of the world
is taken over by parties, promo-
tional events and other festivi-
ties that extend the excitement
around the Oscars well beyond
its allotted TV time slot.
Lounges and gifting suites
at the event provide a constant
source of excitement as brands
promote themselves with give-
"It's more than just, 'Who's
going to win Best Actor?' "
Reaching for the gold man
The Oscars might be one
whirlwind of a week, but nomi-
nees don't arrive in L.A. without
first doing some old-fashioned
Nelson's road to the Academy
Awards ran straight through
Ann Arbor, as he graduated
from the University with a bach-
elor's degree in General Studies.
"I got a good education
in making films with lim-
ited resources," he explained.
"Teachers like (Screen Arts &
Cultures Prof.) Frank Beaver
taught us how to be inventive
with what we had and encour-
aged us to take chances. We
had less courses in film pro-
duction or scriptwriting than
the programs at USC or NYU,
but we have put many people
in the industry just the same.
We learned how to improvise to
At the time, the vast resourc-
es available for students within
the Department of Screen Arts
& Cultures were not available.
In fact, the SAC department
wasn't founded until recently, so
aspiring filmmakers had to look
elsewhere to get an education.
As for the next generation of
moviemakers, Nelson encourag-
es an emphasis on narrative over
technical extravagance, despite
being a visual effects supervisor
"Learn technique, but know
that the creative part of film-
making that tells the story will
always be more important than
the technical thing that looks
cool or is new," he wrote.
Luedtke expressed a similar
sentiment, but had a more brash
way of saying it.
"Get offyour assand research
your story, its period and set-
ting; and your characters' lives,"
The Oscars mean something
different to everyone, and
despite its annual appearance
on.TV, the show is always pro-
ducing heart-wrenching and
hilarious stories and unforget-
Though he admits winning
the award was a nice piece of
recognition, Luedtke wrote that
"getting the movie made was
the high point."
Nelson, however, can hardly
put into words what the little
gold man means to him: "It
ranks up there with my wedding
day and the birth of my son."
From Page 1B
The Oscars are power. They are
a way for the rich to get richer.
They are prestige. They are what
gives Jack Nicholson the right
to a lifetime of courtside seats at
Lakers' games, and what help him
pay for the $10,000 sunglasses he
wears to them.
But the Oscars are also coun-
terculture. They award directors
and actors whose art defies social
and cultural norms. The Oscars
show us that there are epic tales
to tell in everyday scenarios, and
how insane, conflicted, confused
or controversial characters often
end up being the most meaning-
ful to us. They are the governing
body that awarded and applauded
a much younger Jack Nicholson
for screaming,'spitting and curs-
ing at the powers that be in "One
Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."
Some call the Oscars fake. A
symbol of our culture's vanity and
But the Oscars are as real as the
emotion that an earnest Tom
Hanks or an exuberant Cuba Good-
ing Jr. displayed while accepting
their awards for unforgettable per-
formances in "Forrest Gump" and
"Jerry Maguire," respectively.
The Oscars are a formality for
some films - directors and actors
that everyone assumes will win
before their films even finish pro-
duction. They are cherries atop
epic cinematic sensations like
"The Lord of the Rings," "Gladia-
tor" and "Titanic."
But the Oscars also help films
"break even," as Woody Allen
quipped while receiving his
award for a film that actually lost
money (1977's Best Picture winner
"Annie Hall"). The Oscars help
lesser-known directors, writers,
actors, costume designers, edi-
tors, sound mixers, musicians
and production companies finally
gain recognition. Oscar is a jack
of all trades, hobnobbing with
diamond-encrusted legends while
simultaneously lifting struggling
filmmakers out of obscurity. Even
an Oscar nomination boosts an
artist's career, guaranteeing an
increase in his or her status with-
in our cultural canon - or, at least,
in his or her ability to pay the gas
The Oscars are America. Thus,
they are a paradox - they contra-
dict themselves and contain mul-
titudes. They are modern artistic
decadence. They are tearful;
answered prayers. They are exclu-
sive. They are nationally tele-
vised. They are nods to the past.
They are signs of where the art of
film is headed.
The Oscars are a three-hour
spectacle that gives us something
to argue about between football
and baseball season. They are
timeless, connecting us to previ-
ous generations of film lovers we
never met, and to those we've yet
They are the only American
tradition we count on to reinvent
itself. They are scripted. They are
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