A Creative Genius Brings the Oscars to Life

IMG_2195.JPGBy Johnny Russo — 03/05/10
It all begins with a quarter inch. Drawings on a piece of paper start the process of constructing the set for the biggest award show on the planet. Long time set designer Joe Celli begins this famous process every October. His job is to oversee the set for the Academy Awards. The Oscars show takes a full year to plan, but Celli and his crew have only about 30 days to load the set and make sure everything is working and in place come Oscar Sunday.
Celli is in his 7th year with the Oscars. It will be the third year in a row he has had to work with new directors and producers. They all have different ideas, and it takes awhile for everyone to get on the same page. “The producers are traditionally film guys as opposed to tv guys. That takes them a bit longer to get them up to speed, but on the other side the new producers have new ideas which keeps the show fresh.”
Every year Celli and his team deliver a great looking set. As his years with the academy build, the pressure to outdo the previous year is interestingly not there. “I try not to carry that pressure on myself. I am just there to see the art designers come to life .”
Celli said last year’s set design had a strong narrative. It told a story how movies are made. This year Celli said the Oscars are going back to fun. The set is more glitzy and glamour. “It referenced variety shows from the 1960s and old Buzzbi Berkley movies with a modern twist.”
Celli has worked his way up the Oscars ladder and each passing year he takes on more responsibility. He knows improvements can be made to the set right until the show is about to begin.Celli’s goal is for the millions watching at home not to know if mistakes are made. Celli is cool under pressure and after all these years working on the Academy Awards, Celli keeps a level head. “No year is more special than the other. You got to keep it real, or you will freak out.”
One thing that is overlooked is the limitations live television puts on the set. Celli said, “The designers asked for a lot moving parts and moving LCD screens and we discovered after all these years they do not move so well. It is a challenge.” It is a challenge but Celli and his crew make it work.
Another difficulty is making sure the scene shop makes his drawings come to life. Celli visits the shops almost daily as the Oscars draws near. Even through limitations, a new producing and directing staff, Celli and his crew always finds a way to be creative and totally out do themselves year after year.