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FILM CLIPS / A look inside Hollywood and the movies

Calendar's Big Oscars Issue : For Presenters, Great Exposure, Lousy Pay

March 20, 1994|JANE GALBRAITH

Tom Cruise may command $12 million per picture, but he has to work for free at the Oscars. Same for Sharon Stone. Ditto Clint Eastwood and Geena Davis.

If there's one occasion where the "talent" can't--and shouldn't--expect their usual high fees, it's acting as a presenter on the annual Academy Awards show. The gig doesn't pay a red cent.

Gil Cates, in his fifth year as director of the telecast, isn't kidding when he says: "Anyone naive enough not to know (it doesn't pay) would not be of sufficient stature to get on the show in the first place."

That doesn't mean his office doesn't have to address such an issue--plus a myriad of others. The most common query is "What about me ?" and "What about my client?"

While the competition to be a presenter--there are less than 40 slots available--is intense, it's not because of the star perks.

The most the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences offers, in fact, is limousine service, occasionally airfare to out-of-town presenters, and loaner gowns for the women. Otherwise, the locals are pretty much on their own--two tickets to the show and Governors Ball included, of course.

Nonetheless, Cates insists, "Believe me when I tell you many more people call us than we call them."

No adage is more appropriate than "you can't buy this kind of publicity" when it comes to the Oscars. The telecast reaches an estimated 1 billion people in 95 countries via satellite, a technical achievement only a network like ABC could handle (or afford).

And the jockeying for whom the Oscar show producers go after as presenters is one of the great untold behind-the-scene stories in Hollywood. What starts as Cates' initial "wish list," posted on a large bulletin board in the production office, ends up to be something else indeed by showtime.

In a cyclical business, the most oft-quoted reason for declining is that one is out of town working . Otherwise, agents and publicists would argue, only a fool wouldn't say "yes."

There are also the rare dropouts and, occasionally, last-minute substitutions and pinch-hitters, as happened when Charlton Heston got a flat tire on the freeway a few years ago and Eastwood nimbly stepped in to read Heston's Moses jokes on the TelePrompTer (to some laughter) before Heston bounded on stage mid-speech (to more laughter).

Those picked to walk down the red carpet into the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion all dolled up for their big scripted televised moments need to satisfy at least one of three requirements, Cates said. They must be stars who can help generate good ratings (celebs, in other words), newsworthy types who have won in the past or may win that night and, for the women, those who are sure to make some kind of fashion statement.

The statuesque Davis, known for her flamboyant and revealing outfits, for example, seems to have replaced Cher, known for her outrageous scanty numbers. Davis handed out the costume design award last year.

There's also the nod to political correctness--Hollywood-style. Cates said that the producers try to satisfy age, race and sex quotas (not an easy feat in a white- male-dominated business) while attempting to mix and match presenters who work well as a team, though he himself would rather see just one person at a time at the podium.

"I'd like to avoid the embarrassment of two people who don't know each other well trying to make small talk," he said. Two days of rehearsals the weekend before, apparently, isn't time enough to get acquainted.

The really big names get to appear solo to hand out the big awards like best picture and best screenplay. Up-and-comers often get technical duty.

One perk that Cates says definitely is not included in the gig is political grandstanding--some antics of previous presenters notwithstanding. Last year, of course, several presenters ignored that dictum, including Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon, who championed the case of HIV-positive Haitian refugees, and Richard Gere, who asked the viewing audience to beam good thoughts on behalf of the people of Tibet. None of them are presenting this year.

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