The busy producing team of Neil Meron and Craig Zadan got a little busier recently when the duo, who head up Storyline Entertainment, were tapped to produce a little show called the Academy Awards next spring and the recent announcement that Seth MacFarlane would host created a stir in the Hollywood community.
But creating a stir is what Meron and Zadan do best, with high profile projects in film (Chicago), television (Smash and Bette Midlerâ€™s Gypsy) and theater (How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying). Itâ€™s no surprise then that this weekend at the Outfest Legacy Awards in Los Angeles, theyâ€™ll receive the Visionary Award from none other than Darren Criss, who is also performing at the event.
AfterElton grabbed some time on the busy calendar of Meron and Zadan to talk about what the award means to them, their plans for Oscar night, Smash Season 2 and whatâ€™s been the key to their long and successful business relationship.
AfterElton: So much to talk about, but letâ€™s start with Outfest. This isnâ€™t your first award, but does this one feel a little different just because itâ€™s coming from Outfest?
Neil Meron: I think being honored by your own is always the most impactful, so to be honored by a group that supports the continuation and the preservation of gay/lesbian/transgender/bisexual films isâ€¦
Craig Zadan: What about questioning, Neil?
NM: Yes. Exactly.
CZ: Iâ€™m still questioning. [laughs]
NM: Yes. Youâ€™re right. Itâ€™s significant, and itâ€™s very emotional if that answers it.
CZ: Iâ€™d say that it came as a complete surprise to us because weâ€™ve always been fans of the organization, and weâ€™ve always really loved and admired the film festival and admired, as Neil said, the preservation of gay films. It was a total surprise when we got the call saying theyâ€™d like to honor us. We just went, â€œWow.â€ We were really humbled by it and itâ€™s been an incredible year for us with Smash and getting the two GLAAD awards this year and getting the Academy Awards to produce. Itâ€™s sort of like this is the topper. This is like, â€œWow.â€ And the thing that makes it even more joyful for us is the fact that our adorable, wonderful, sweet, talented Darren Criss is going to perform and present the awards. Weâ€™re so grateful to him that heâ€™s going to do this because it comes from a very, very emotional place for us. We think so highly of him.
AE: When you think of the word legacy, is it something you guys ever set out to do when you first were starting out, or is it suddenly you looking back ten or twenty years and going, â€˜Wow. There is quite a legacy of work that weâ€™ve done?â€™
NM: I think Craig feels the same way. Weâ€™re just so focused on the present and then on the future that sometimes we forget about the past. These events make you reflect and think, â€œWow, there is a body of work.â€ Itâ€™s kind of amazing when you look at it and you go, â€œReally? We did all that?â€ because weâ€™re so focused on the present and the future.
CZ: Itâ€™s one of those things where we get up individually each day and go to work and have rough days and good days… and days that people are disrespectful and days that people are nice to us. We have days like everybody else that goes to work each day. We’re so focused on what weâ€™re doing at the moment that whenever weâ€™ve been honored or have been given any kind of award and you look at a reel of your work, you do, for the first time, sort of say, â€œOh my God. I forgot we did all that, and what amazing projects that weâ€™re so proud of.â€ Itâ€™s great to be able to have a body of work to leave behind.
AE: What was the one project that you think was a turning point in your career, whether it opened more doors or just took you to a different level in your career?
NM: I think it was doing Gypsy with Bette Midler. And I think that seemed to have been a turning point because I think prior to doing Gypsy we were only thinking about a career in features and then having the opportunity to work with Bette Midler and have her agree to do Gypsy for TV and having it land as big as it did, kind of opened the door for us to have a TV career which eventually led us back to feature films where we were able to bring some more notice to the movie musical genre. Weâ€™re always eternally grateful to Bette Midler for saying, â€œYes.â€
CZ: And I guess in terms of looking back on the TV work, the movie that Iâ€™m most proud of is the Judy Garland movie because think that when we made that movie and looked at it, we thought, â€œThis is as good as it gets,â€ and I donâ€™t really know how to make a better movie than that movie in terms of writing, direction, acting, sets, costumes, cinematography, editingâ€¦I just think itâ€™s as perfect as it gets in terms of doing a miniseries on television, so very, very, very proud of that.
In terms of features, Chicago is such a turning point because not only was it an important movie for us and the first movie/musical that got the Oscar in 34 years, so it was such a ground-breaking movie. And a movie that we can look at in retrospect and say kind of wouldnâ€™t change anything if we had to do it over again. Itâ€™s so good and weâ€™re so proud of it and it was like the coming together of really great work on everybodyâ€™s part.
AE: You mentioned the Oscars and of course I want to ask about that. Is that something you petitioned for, or did they just come to you out of the blue? And was it a big decision to say â€˜Yes?â€™
NM: Actually itâ€™s something that Craig and I had talked about ten years ago and we were actually very interested and wanting to do it, and then we just kind of moved on, thinking that it would never happen. We were happily involved in all of our other projects, with season two of Smash and doing some more TV stuff and developing features, and then we got a phone call. So we were not campaigning or petitioning. It was one of those calls out of the blue saying, â€œWould you like to do it?â€ Since we’d always wanted to do it, that was an easy â€œYesâ€ for us.
AE: Can we expect a gayer Oscars, or are the Oscars pretty gay to begin with?
NM: I donâ€™t know what a gayer Oscars is. I can say that our goal is to do the most entertaining Oscars that we could possibly do. Weâ€™re looking for ways to jam a much entertainment value into those three hours as possible. And we may be really successful at it or we may not be, but weâ€™re going to try. We have really, really exciting ideas about what we donâ€™t need in the show. What we can take out and buy us more time for entertainment. I think that weâ€™re going to take risks that if we fail, we fail, but weâ€™re not going to do a show where people are going to go, â€œWell, it looks like every other Academy Awards.â€ I donâ€™t think itâ€™s going to look like every other Academy Awards.
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