Award-winning director Glenn Weiss has been at the controls for dozens of honors shows, including 15 Tony Awards productions. This weekend, Weiss gets his first shot at directing the gold-statue standard of all show-business celebrations, the Academy Awards (Sunday, Feb. 28, ABC).
Weiss, winner of 11 Emmys and six Directors Guild of America awards, thrives on being in the booth for live telecasts (Peter Pan Live!, Emmy Awards, Billboard Music Awards, BET Awards, Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve, American Music Awards, among many others).
Weiss and his producing partner, Ricky Kirshner, have a long list of additional credits, including the Kennedy Center Honors, four Democratic National Conventions and the 2009 and ’13 presidential inaugural balls.
The Long Island native and 1983 University of Maryland graduate began his career in CNN’s Washington, D.C., bureau before breaking into national TV on America’s Most Wanted in the late ’80s. An edited version of Weiss’ conversation with B&C contributor Richard Zitrin follows.
What is it about directing live events that you prefer? The instantaneousness scares a lot of people, but it’s really appealing to me. There’s a different energy level understanding that what you do, you have to do right the first time because that’s your only shot at it. The beauty of live television is you don’t necessarily know what’s coming. In almost every show I’ve done there’s something that has arisen that you’re not necessarily expecting, and how you dance around it is always the challenge.
You must be anticipating surprises at the Oscars considering the diversity controversy. The key is knowing your game plan well enough so when things leave the page and aren’t what you’re expecting, that you’re comfortable enough to keep it on the right track. Do I expect some of the speeches to not necessarily go in a direction that they would’ve gone in years past? Yeah, I think with what’s going on, things like that could happen. Every comment is potentially going to have a reaction, and you have to be very tuned in and listening and ready to keep the presentation moving forward, regardless of something happening on stage that was planned or not.
Other than the show ending on time, what’s your best-case scenario? That whatever happens that night, I hope everybody’s very respectful. What I do with my shooting of the show and what the music department does with songs and stuff, that’s all gravy and it’s all wonderful and we want to make the show as appealing as possible. But we’re there to honor the people who are winning Oscars, and I hope that’s understood and I hope that comes across to the world watching.
Favorite gig ever? The 2009 inaugural ball. I cannot begin to describe the feeling in D.C. as we witnessed the first African-American sworn in as president. Hope and genuine happiness were in the air. I cannot describe the feeling I had being a part of creating and sharing with the world the celebration that followed. A true-life experience.
Has your life turned out how you envisioned it would? I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life when I was a high-school senior. I had no direction. I took a television class, thought it would be something easy. They showed a film one day—the making of a live TV show from the booth—and, honest to God, I left that room and said, “I want to be a television director.” That was life changing for me. I was a 17-year-old high-school senior aimlessly watching a film, and I came out of it with a career.