Atlanta’s Will Packer on producing the Oscars: ‘Making waves is my goal’

A Twitter fan favorite and pre-recording eight categories are among the changes.
Will Packer at the Oscar Nominee Luncheon held at the Fairmont Century Plaza on Monday, March 7, 2022. The 94th Oscars will air on Sunday, March 27, 2022 live on ABC.

Credit: Kyusung Gong / ©A.M.P.A.S.

Credit: Kyusung Gong / ©A.M.P.A.S.

Will Packer at the Oscar Nominee Luncheon held at the Fairmont Century Plaza on Monday, March 7, 2022. The 94th Oscars will air on Sunday, March 27, 2022 live on ABC.

Atlanta producer Will Packer isn’t afraid to swing for the fences. He boosted the careers of both Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish with comedies like “Ride Along” and “Girls Trip.” He tackled a bold reboot of “Roots” for the History Channel. He dug into the Atlanta child murders for ID Network.

So when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences last fall asked Packer to produce the 94th annual Oscars, he didn’t shy away from the what is often perceived as a thankless challenge.

“It’s been a roller coaster,” Packer said in a phone interview Tuesday with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution five days before the Oscar telecast on ABC Sunday. “I could use a couple more months but it is what it is. We’re doing a show Sunday.”

Here are excerpts from the Q&A:

Q: Was this more work than you expected?

A: I knew it would be a ton of work. It’s like running a marathon. You know it’s long and hard. You get to mile 20 and think, ‘What the hell was I thinking?’ I’m probably at mile 23 right now. I’m ready for Sunday to come. I’m excited. It’s interesting because I wish I had more time, yet I’m ready for it to happen right away. It’s such a mammoth undertaking.

Q: Why do you think the Oscars has lost so much audience in recent years?

A: A lot of reasons. We’re in an oversaturated content environment. Why would I watch an awards show when I have 10 shows I’m in the middle of binging? We’re also in the social media age. You used to watch the show to see your favorite stars. Now you can see what they wore yesterday and what they ate this morning. The ratings have dropped precipitously. That’s no secret. I’m trying to stem that.

Q: So who decided to pre-tape eight of the Academy categories and run edited versions later during the live show?

A: It was an Academy decision. I support it. Any time you change anything, it’s going to be controversial. That’s okay. Change can be good. This is a show that should try different things. I came into this job knowing that if I don’t agitate people or shake things up, then I’m just doing the same things everyone else has been doing for years. Why take the gig if I don’t make changes? We are the first all-Black producing team. We’re coming off two very tumultuous years. We need a celebratory event. We don’t need this to just cater to Hollywood insiders. We feel it’s for everybody.

Q: I have heard that the pre-taped winners will get their time on stage and the change will simply streamline the show for viewers.

A: My goal is to treat everyone with the upmost respect and honor them on a huge night. I’m effectively making the show an hour longer. The first hour is when these awards are given away. Then the live telecast will start and you’ll see everybody that won and their speeches within the show.

Q: The Oscars has always been notorious for running long.

A: This is a show that has a lot of awards to give away. It’s a long night. I have musical performances. I’ve got entertainment and surprises throughout the night. I want to focus on the entertainment. For too long it felt like something only for people who have seen all the nominated movies. You can’t do a big entertainment property event and depend just on those people.

Q: Is that where the Twitter Fan Favorite idea came in? It’s gotten a lot of pushback. [The Academy provided a hashtag on Twitter and asked fans to offer up their favorite movies of the year. The winner won’t get an Oscar but will be announced on air during the telecast.]

A: Everything about this show is controversial. You can’t be afraid of controversy. Making waves was my goal coming in. This is an acknowledgment of what people are doing online anyway. Twitter is where real people talk about what films they love. We are there to tally those moments and acknowledge them.

Q: You’ve also brought back hosts [featuring the triumvirate of Regina Hall, Wanda Sykes and Amy Schumer.]. How did you feel about what happened to your friend Kevin Hart? [Hart in 2019 was supposed to host but stepped down when some old homophobic tweets were publicized. The Oscars went without a host the past three years.]

A: I think it was unfortunate what happened to Kevin. He’s one of my best friends. I believe he’ll host it someday. For this year, I really wanted multiple people because of the level of scrutiny, the length of the show and the need to lead a narrative throughout the night. I got three amazing female comedians. I’m super psyched. They each bring something different.

Q: Why are you choosing to honor the 50th anniversary of “The Godfather”?

A: Great movies are measured not just by how they make you feel in the moment but their lasting impact, their legacy. No question this film has had a major cultural impact.

Q: And while we aren’t supposed to talk about Bruno, what can you say about Bruno? [The song “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” has become a massive hit from the Disney film “Encanto.”]

A: Expect the unexpected. You’re going to get a great live performance and a little extra.


“The 94th Annual Academy Awards,” 8 p.m. Sunday on ABC