LOS ANGELES — The Kodak Theatre goes quiet as the big screen at center stage begins flashing images of actors and filmmakers who have died. A photo of Heath Ledger or Paul Newman might move the audience to spontaneous applause. Other images inspire deep sighs, as viewers reflect on the entertainers who have touched our lives.
The In Memoriam segment can be the most moving part of the Oscar telecast. It’s also the toughest to produce. "It is the single most troubling element of the Oscar show every year,” says Bruce Davis, executive director of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. "Because more people die each year than can possibly be included in that segment.” Davis’ office keeps a running list of academy members and others in the movie business who have passed since the previous year’s segment was compiled. Then, a few weeks before the awards, he and a small committee of academy officials whittle the list of more than 100 names down to the 30 or so folks who will be included in the show’s memorial — from the famous faces viewers at home are sure to recognize to the behind-the-scenes workers familiar only to academy members. "It gets close to agonizing by the end,” Davis says of the annual meeting. "You are dropping people who the public knows. It’s just not comfortable.”
A ‘constant balance’Oscar’s In Memoriam montage began in the early 1990s and other awards shows followed suit, including the Screen Actors Guild Awards, Grammys and Emmys — all of which go through the same painful process every year. "It’s a killer because we have hundreds of members that pass each year and we can’t get them all in,” says SAG Awards producer Kathy Connell. The film academy gives its final list of in-memoriam honorees to the producer of the segment just days before the big show.