Sunday, November 4, 2007

Mary McNamara the Author of Oscar Season Drops Us A Note

Someone asked me once if anyone had ever been murdered during Oscar season. Without thinking, I answered: “If they were, it was only for the publicity.”

Things can get a little crazy during Oscar season, Every studio, star and publicist with any hope of winning is out there, courting the voters, the press, the public…and then Clint Eastwood releases another film right up against the deadline and blows everyone out of the water.

Those of us who write about Oscar season are always looking for a way to do it differently. Yes, I have spent years talking to the nominees, finding the trends in the films, telling the story of some exceptional creative process. But I write for the “Los Angeles Times”, so I also need to consider the mechanics of the spectacle, down to the details. Backstage at the Academy Awards show, watching Leonardo Di Caprio and Al Gore run through their presenter bit last year, I realized with a start that Leo was much more nervous than Al. Which of course made perfect sense—Al is much more used to speaking to big crowds. Also, if you can survive “hanging-by-chad,” I imagine a bunch of movie stars would not be intimidating.

By my fourth—or was it fifth?—Oscar season, I decided to look at the hotels. When you cover Hollywood, you spend a lot of time at hotels. Especially during Oscar season. Interviews, photo shoots, premiere parties and swag suites all take place at the big hotels in L.A. Hugh Grant at the Four Seasons, Robin Williams at the Hotel Bel Air, Bill Nighy at L’Hermitage, Phillip Seymore Hoffman at the Chateau Marmont, Pierce Brosnan at the Four Seasons again…you get the picture.

Convenient, safe, comfortable, the big hotels have everything a star could want, including a staff that understands how to cope with celebrities. But sometimes you do have to make sure that the same palm frond is not in the photos of both Imelda Staunton and Kate Winslet.

The folks at the Four Seasons kindly let me burrow into their inner workings and for the “Times” story we created a series of wonderful portraits of all the people interviewed: the chef, the concierge, the general manager, the publicity director. They all looked so perfect, I thought when I saw the pictures, like the characters in a game of Clue.

So when a colleague and I were joking about what the Academy should do if they were really serious about improving the show’s ratings—stage a fist fight between nominees, have the TV audience vote a la “American Idol”—I remembered the question about murder. What if a series of mysterious, and possibly connected deaths, occurred around the time of the Awards? Would it hurt the show or help it? Would they be real or just publicity stunts? If they were real, who would do such a thing and why? Was an Oscar worth killing for? Who would be in a position to do the sleuthing?

These questions, and all the little details I have accumulated over the years of interviewing actors, directors, producers and the chats with all their various publicists, led to Oscar Season. Which I hope you will enjoy. I have spent hours on the red carpet surrounded by the most beautiful people in the world and it is just as glamorous as you would imagine, but it is also quite grueling. Just ask the star battling jet lag and food poisoning, or the producer who had given birth two days before. I myself fought pregnancy nausea one year—my goal was to make it through the Oscars without actually barfing on a celebrity.

The point is, a lot of people work very hard in many strange and unexpected ways during the weeks leading up to the Oscars. And with so much at stake—money, ego, power, influence—it is a wonder murder hasn’t been done.

Or has it? Sphere: Related Content

Oscar Season Now In Trade Paperback $14.00

The classic mystery novel and today’s paparazzi coincide in this engaging, insider’s look at Hollywood in the weeks leading up to the Academy Awards.

She is one of the very few reporters allowed to witness pre-telecast rehearsals and for years has covered Oscar night from the celebrity side of the red carpet and backstage during the show.

A recent recipient of an L.A. Press Club and American Association of Features Editors Awards for her industry coverage, she has interviewed innumerable stars and directors, and used her experience to craft this deliciously entertaining whodunit.

Wide audience: This novel will fascinate the many readers captivated by Hollywood and the celebrity lifestyle, while also appealing to mystery devotees and fans of smart, entertaining women’s fiction. It’s equal parts Jackie Collins, Michael Tolkin, and Sue Grafton.