This year's set is notable for its shape-shifting. Normally, a few pillars move or a staircase is slid into the center stage. But as part of the narrative idea, this year's set will become entirely different by the time the best-picture prize is awarded.
"The evening builds from the beginning to the end," Rockwell says. "The physical environment doesn't stay the same. What you'll see for orchestrations is very different from what you'll see for best actor. That ability to morph and change is most unique."
The orchestra will be onstage rather than in a pit, which, Rockwell says, removes "a kind of moat" from between the stage and the audience. He says that will help create a kind of nightclub, Coconut Grove-in-the-1930s feel.
Other aspects will be almost futuristic. In some scenes, 20 screens at a time will be moving around the stage, sometimes coalescing into one to show scenes from the nominated movies.
Says Rockwell, "The screen is almost a live special effect."
The Fixer: Michael Seligman
Assignment: Supervising producer
As far as veterans go, Seligman is as grizzled as they come.
"My dad once asked me what I did in the show, years ago, and I said, 'If anything goes wrong, it's my fault.' "
Seligman turns all the gears of the telecast, hiring and firing, coordinating logistics and grappling with assorted crises. "One second today," he says, "we were losing one of our major stars. It's a continual juggling act. I'm talking to the agents and changing the schedules" — to accommodate one person.
He has done the show for 32 years. Producers and hosts come and go, but Seligman is the Oscars' institutional memory, the warhorse. He's a traditionalist, representing the academy's interests, but he acknowledges the need for change and says this year will be a significant leap.
He doesn't hesitate to speak up. "I do have a say, and I do voice my opinions, and sometimes they like them and sometimes they don't," Seligman says with a laugh, noting that often, "they have to come back to me and beg me for something."
The Muscle: Jon Macks and Bruce Vilanch
Assignment: Comedy writers
Tucked into a back corner of the Kodak, Macks sits forlornly at a desk beneath a sign that has a piece of white tape over the "h" in his misspelled first name, while Vilanch sits next to him giggling at a dirty joke while wearing a skin-tight hot-pink Finding Nemo T-shirt.
It's possibly the saddest joke-writing room in the universe, but still somehow funny.
The success of the experimental "storytelling Oscars" rests in the hands of these veteran telecast scribes. They hope the narrative approach makes the non-celebrity awards, such as cinematography, sound design, etc., more colorful.
"When best actor comes up, those are the big ones they're waiting for," says Macks, who also has written for Jay Leno. "But how do you present other awards so people understand they're important, and make it entertaining so they'll watch? That's our job."
Another challenge is powering momentum into the celebrity patter. "It's funny because when (viewers) don't like what people say, they say, 'Oh, the writers! What lousy banter!' " Vilanch says. "And when they do like what they say …"
Mack finishes for him: " 'I wonder if they came up with that themselves? They must have!' "
The Femme Fatale: Jenny Bicks
Assignment: Comedy writer
The Academy Awards team is mostly male.