Interview: Neil Meron & Craig Zadan on their Legacy, Producing The Oscars & “Smash” Season 2
Posted by Jim Halterman, Entertainment Reporter on October 10, 2012
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 Midler’s Gypsy) and theater (How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying). It’s no surprise then that this weekend at the Outfest Legacy Awards in Los Angeles, they’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 what’s been the key to their long and successful business relationship.
AfterElton: So much to talk about, but let’s start with Outfest. This isn’t your first award, but does this one feel a little different just because it’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 is”¦
Craig Zadan: What about questioning, Neil?
NM: Yes. Exactly.
CZ: I’m still questioning. [laughs]
NM: Yes. You’re right. It’s significant, and it’s very emotional if that answers it.
CZ: I’d say that it came as a complete surprise to us because we’ve always been fans of the organization, and we’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 they’d like to honor us. We just went, “Wow.” We were really humbled by it and it’s been an incredible year for us with Smash and getting the two GLAAD awards this year and getting the Academy Awards to produce. It’s sort of like this is the topper. This is like, “Wow.” 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. We’re so grateful to him that he’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, ”˜Wow. There is quite a legacy of work that we’ve done?’
NM: I think Craig feels the same way. We’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, “Wow, there is a body of work.” It’s kind of amazing when you look at it and you go, “Really? We did all that?” because we’re so focused on the present and the future.
CZ: It’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 we’re doing at the moment that whenever we’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, “Oh my God. I forgot we did all that, and what amazing projects that we’re so proud of.” It’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. We’re always eternally grateful to Bette Midler for saying, “Yes.”
CZ: And I guess in terms of looking back on the TV work, the movie that I’m most proud of is the Judy Garland movie because think that when we made that movie and looked at it, we thought, “This is as good as it gets,” and I don’t really know how to make a better movie than that movie in terms of writing, direction, acting, sets, costumes, cinematography, editing”¦I just think it’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 wouldn’t change anything if we had to do it over again. It’s so good and we’re so proud of it and it was like the coming together of really great work on everybody’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 ”˜Yes?’
NM: Actually it’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, “Would you like to do it?” Since we’d always wanted to do it, that was an easy “Yes” for us.
AE: Can we expect a gayer Oscars, or are the Oscars pretty gay to begin with?
NM: I don’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. We’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 we’re going to try. We have really, really exciting ideas about what we don’t need in the show. What we can take out and buy us more time for entertainment. I think that we’re going to take risks that if we fail, we fail, but we’re not going to do a show where people are going to go, “Well, it looks like every other Academy Awards.” I don’t think it’s going to look like every other Academy Awards.
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