Director Troy Miller has a long list of comedy credits, from Flight of the Conchords to Parks and Recreation to Mr Show. But there’s no doubt Miller’s most viewed work has been his Academy Awards opening montages spoofing the nominated films. Last night’s opening spoof, starring hosts James Franco and Anne Hathaway (along with Alec Baldwin and Morgan Freeman), was in fact his sixth for the awards. EW spoke to the director about getting Morgan Freeman to bring the funny and what it was like to do “covers” of Inception, True Grit, and The Social Network.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When did you start work on this year’s montage?
TROY MILLER: We started about eight weeks ago. We shot our last piece last week and then we were just racing to the finish line. I delivered the final take at 2pm yesterday, on show day.
Do you need to get permission from the film companies to use their movies?
It’s an unusual circumstance, because it only airs once and it’s live and it’s promotional use. So, not really. I think it falls under fair use. It’s all in fun and nothing’s derogatory. So we never have a problem.
How do you get your footage to match the originals so accurately?
This year I tried a new guy, Michael Price as my DP, who’s really great. He analysed the films, did a bunch of research to find what cameras and lenses they used. We don’t so much reach out to the filmmakers, but those guys like [Oscar-winning Inception cinematographer] Wally Pfister, they’re so well known, their information is readily available.
Inception must have been a total gift to you in terms of having a reason why Anne and James would be wandering from one film to another.
Yeah, exactly. It was right there for us. It was a little bit complicated because we had two hosts this year. It’s easier with one guy. When you have two you have to service it’s a little bit different, so Inception being complicated, and us going the long road and making our film a little bit complicated, it was kind of fun to figure out that puzzle.
How did you approach Morgan Freeman?
Bruce Cohen, producer of the big show [did it]. He’s got everybody in his phone book. He talked to him and then Jordan Rubin, who’s a writer, had a brief conversation. We had him for, I think, 45 minutes on a green screen stage. He is hilarious. He’s so funny. On that one we have so much good material left behind with him just improvising with Franco and Anne. Morgan just walked in and nailed it. Same with Alec Baldwin.
You made a joke about it being Alec Baldwin’s dream to host again. Do you think there’s a grain of truth to that?
I think they all want to host again. And they should. Him and Steve Martin did a great show. It’s just the easy joke that’s going to land.
What kind of reactions have you gotten to the piece?
Only positive. [But] the piece is getting credit for what David O. Russell and Aaron [Sorkin] and Chris [Nolan] did. It’s written great and I’m happy with the direction and the style. But when you’re working with such great things, it’s like doing a cover song of a great band. You get credit for that great song. But we’re a cover band, basically.
Is there an award ceremony for award ceremony montages?
No. I wish there was.
Oscars 2011: The winners list