- Posted February 22, 2013 by
iReport Investigation: Oscar Speech Therapy
While Andy Warhol famously granted us all fifteen minutes of fame, he wasn’t talking about using it all during your Oscar acceptance speech. On Oscar night, if you’re fortunate enough to win, you can only clock in 45 seconds. Well, in theory.
Every year at the Oscar Nominees Luncheon, the producers give the nominees a lesson on what makes a good speech. This year Craig Zadan (who is producing the telecast with Neil Meron) urged the 163 potential Oscar winners present to, “Please speak from the heart, not from a piece of paper.”
President Franklin Roosevelt’s public speaking recommendations come to mind: “Be sincere; be brief; be seated.” Unfortunately, the last time Oscar winners took Roosevelt’s advice was during his fourth term in office. In fact, with each decade, they appear to be getting longer.
Rebecca Rolfe, a Georgia Institute of Technology graduate student has studied over 200 Oscar acceptance speeches in the acting and director categories. According to Rolfe, in the 1960s, the average speech was 42 seconds. Today the average speech is almost two minutes.
One of the ways producers have notoriously curbed run-on speeches is cueing the music. You know the drill. The music starts softly and starts to build, a not-so-subtle signal for the wayward speaker to wrap up and get off the stage. So who has this necessary but thankless task?
William Ross gets this question a lot. Ross is the Emmy Award-winning Music Director and conductor of the Oscar orchestra. He says, “To be fair, it doesn’t always play during an acceptance speech, it is a rarity.” As for when the music starts, Ross says, “That is not my call. The director of the show decides when a person has gone on too long.” Rolfe’s research found that the orchestra conductor cuts in (on average) after 1 minute, 30 seconds. But it doesn’t seem to have much of an immediate impact. After the interruption, they talk for another 42 seconds – the average speech in the 1960s.
While a couple of seconds here are there might not seem like much, they can add up quickly. As the only unscripted part of the three-hour plus telecast, the acceptance speeches are a wildcard for anxious producers, director, and orchestra conductor.
Ross is a prolific film, TV, and recording industry composer and arranger. He’s worked on dozens of projects including Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and The Hunger Games. Most recently, he composed the score for the feature film Alone Yet Not Alone, an epic family adventure starring Kelly Greyson and featuring country star Clay Walker. But Ross has spent the last three months carefully preparing for the Oscar telecast, and learning 140 musical pieces from films past and present.
Whether Ross will be asked to use any of those pieces to close out a rambling acceptance speech is yet to be heard.
Watch the 85th Annual Academy Awards on Sunday, February 24th.