My Q&A with Oscar's Lawyers
During the day, as many of you know, I'm the editor-in-chief for a national legal publication. Mornings I do this. Recently I combined interests. For the most recent issue in Southern California I interviewed the general counsel and main lawyer (John Quinn and David Quinto, respectively) for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. The Oscars.
It was fun and informative. I never thought about gatecrashers at the Oscars before--not being a gatecrasher myself and never guarding a gate worth crashing. I never thought that the script for the show has to go through lawyers:
Me: Earlier you mentioned you have to look at the Academy Award show script for approval. What are some examples of things you’ve flagged in the past?
Quinto: One year there was a joke about an actress that suggested she had been having sex out of wedlock with a minor.
Quinn: And we said, “You really can’t do this.”
Quinto: And the response from the producer was, “Look, I heard a joke about Jerry Buss going to Cedar Sinai to wait for his next wife to be born.” And I said, “That’s completely different. The imputation of a lack of chastity to a man is a lot different than the imputation of a lack of chastity to a woman. Plus, what you don’t know,” I said to the producer, “is that the Academy had a dispute this year with that particular actress.” The Academy had threatened a lawsuit. The whole thing was resolved confidentially. But if anyone had a reason to be sore with the Academy at that moment, it was that actress. That was one time I raised a challenge.
Me: Was it listened to?
Quinto: It was listened to. Another time there was a hysterically funny joke about an unnamed baseball player on steroids, and ABC broadcast standards said, “Look, people will tell in a nanosecond that this joke is about Barry Bonds. We’ll be sued. So the joke has to be cut.” And I said, “No, no. I’m a litigator. And as a litigator, I can tell you Barry Bonds will not sue. If he were to sue all his medical records would be open to discovery. He doesn’t want that.” So they kept it in. I thought it got good laughter during rehearsals but they cut it on the basis that it didn’t get enough laughs.
I love all that. I love this sentence: “The imputation of a lack of chastity to a man is a lot different than the imputation of a lack of chastity to a woman.” It's not funny cuz it's true.
Then there's the discussion of the riders (in effect since 1950) that Oscar winners must sign:
Quinn: When you receive your Oscar, before you take physical possession, you’ll be asked to sign a rider for a first refusal agreement. Basically, before transferring or selling it to anybody, you will offer it to the Academy for one dollar. The Academy is of the view that Oscar statuettes shouldn’t be articles of commerce. They are unique recognitions of achievement, and they shouldn’t be purchased and sold in the marketplace. So from time to time, somebody tries to sell one, and we’re in court seeking injunction against the sale.
Check out the whole Q&A. Digital version is here. A friend who once lived and worked in Hollywood called it “the best behind-the-scenes-at-the-Oscars piece I've read since Edgar Bergen won the Woodie.” Which I think is a compliment.
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