Oscar producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron say they watched 40 years of past ceremonies to finds ways to keep the show moving at a brisk pace. They say they are looking to nip and tuck unnecessary moments that can turn the show into a marathon.
At an annual lunch honoring Oscar nominees, Zadan and Meron said they identified time-consuming segments that might run only 15 or 30 seconds but which collectively can bog down the show. In some years, the Oscars have run to a ponderous four hours or more.
"You start adding up those 30 seconds, and you have an accumulation of time that you can use for entertainment. So that's what we're doing. We're learning a lot about the things that we don't need in the show," Zadan said. "The main goal is to honor the nominees and the winners. And then beside that, there's a lot of pregnant pauses that you get in the show. ... We've scooped out a lot of those pauses and created more time for performance and entertainment."
Zadan and Meron said they have moments planned that should appeal to all ages and interests, including performances by Adele, Norah Jones and Barbra Streisand and a tribute to the James Bond franchise.
They also are working closely with Oscar host Seth MacFarlane, creator of "Family Guy" and last summer's comedy hit "Ted" who is known for edgy, potty-mouthed humor. The producers said they're not worried that they will need an emergency switch to censor MacFarlane.
"There's no oversized red button" to bleep the broadcast if MacFarlane goes too far, Meron said. "Seth is Seth, and we love him."
Among those attending the Oscar lunch were acting nominees Denzel Washington, Sally Field, Anne Hathaway, Hugh Jackman, Naomi Watts, Jessica Chastain, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro.
Also on hand was Ben Affleck, who missed out on acting and directing nominations for his CIA thriller "Argo" but does share a best-picture nomination as a producer on the film.
Affleck said he's thrilled with the awards attention the film has gotten and that he is not sweating his snub as director.
Since he got left out of the directing field on Oscar nominations morning, "Argo" has gone one to dominate other Hollywood awards, including the top prize for Affleck at Saturday's Directors Guild of America honors. "Argo" now has established itself as the Oscar favorite among the nine best-picture contenders, a rarity since films hardly ever win the main award if they are not nominated for best director.
"I just feel so incredibly honored to be nominated as a producer for this movie. To be here at the big party," said Affleck, who shared a screenplay Oscar with Matt Damon for 1997's "Good Will Hunting" but had not been nominated again until this season.
"There are nine amazing movies, any of whicnh could win, any of which would deserve to win if they did. I don't get into worrying too much about who got what and who didn't get what. I mean, I've had many, many, many, many, many, many years watching from home."
About 160 nominees attended the lunch, an annual rite leading up to Hollywood's big night. The 85th annual Oscars air live Feb. 24 on ABC.
At the lunch, stars discussed other rites of awards season, such as what to wear Oscar night and how to deal with the stress of it all.
Chastain, a best-actress nominee for the Osama bin Laden manhunt thriller "Zero Dark Thirty," said she expects to have a nice breakfast, with calming music and candles, on Oscar morning.
Best-actress rival Lawrence, nominated for the lost-souls romance "Silver Linings Playbook," said her family is pretty matter-of-fact about her Oscar success, using it a reason to party.
"The night of the Oscars, everybody just gets wasted and has a blast," said Lawrence, who dressed for comfort two years ago when nominated for "Winter's Bone" but is thinking style this time around. "This year, I'm like, 'No, suck it up. Wear a corset.' So yeah, I'm going to go for fashion this time."
Lawrence's "Silver Linings Playbook" co-star Cooper, a best-actor nominee, expects to be doing the reverse of his character, who's recovering from a stay in a mental hospital with help from his parents. Cooper said he figures he'll be minding one of his own parents before the Oscars.
"I'm sure the day of, I'll be calming my mother down," Cooper said. "She still doesn't know what to wear, so I'll be a caretaker that day."
Hathaway, a supporting-actress nominee for the musical "Les Miserables," said she hasn't given any thought yet to what she'll wear on Oscar night.
"Yeah, I need to get on that, don't I?" Hathaway said. "It was the Super Bowl. I couldn't think about dresses with all that delicious fried food around."
If the Oscar producers really want to keep the show moving, they might seek advice from De Niro, a supporting-actor nominee for "Silver Linings Playbook."
Meeting with reporters, seven-time nominee, two-time winner De Niro was asked how big a deal the Oscars are to him now. The notoriously terse De Niro lived up to his reputation with a five-word answer.
"It's still a big deal," he said, and moved on to the next question.