BEVERLY HILLS — If they were solving a murder instead of producing the Oscars, Bill Mechanic and Adam Shankman would be like characters in a buddy-cop movie.
Shankman, the director of Hairspray and a judge on So You Think You Can Dance, is the extrovert — ostentatious and perpetually in CAPITAL LETTERS with lots of exclamation points!!!
Mechanic, much more intimidating, comes off as Mr. By-the-Book, a producer of Coraline and former studio chief of 20th Century Fox, where he helped shepherd Titanic, True Lies and Fight Club, among scores of others.
Mechanic is Nick Nolte/Jackie Chan/Turner to Shankman's Eddie Murphy/Chris Tucker/Hooch.
"We are the original Odd Couple," Shankman says.
"If you look at it from the outside, completely," Mechanic corrects. "But what goes on in between? It's become as natural a relationship as anything."
The division of labor is simple: Mechanic puts together the show; Shankman puts ON the show. "I'm not into getting in there and not playing to my strengths," Shankman adds.
"And neither am I," Mechanic says. "There's a checks-and-balances. Even though, obviously, I'm not going to tell him anything about dance."
"Bill is as serious as a gun about film, its value and its transformative power," Shankman says. "You know, I'm there, but in a less kind of ... maniacal way?"
Mechanic laughs. Shankman amends: "Intense way. But what I'm really into is showmanship, so the combination of that is really great for us. It has been a very happy partnership. We disagree about stuff, and I stomp my foot like a director, and he handles me like a studio chief."
"It's a meritocracy," Mechanic says. "Whoever has the best idea wins. We haven't had a blow-up. But we've definitely had disagreements, and definitely gotten heated a few times. He got me going one day, probably by mistake ..."
"With an e-mail," Shankman says. "As it always is these days."
"At 5:45 in the morning, and I probably didn't read it the way he intended it," Mechanic says. "And I got (angry) and uppity."
"I was like, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa!" Shankman says. "But the thing we share is we no longer sleep."
Here's what those sleepless partners have dreamed up for the Academy Awards broadcast on March 7:
Matching presenters with nominees
They liked last year's innovation of having five past Oscar winners coming out to introduce the individual acting contenders. But Shankman and Mechanic want the presenters to have some past connection to the person they're introducing.
"You had Robert De Niro presenting to Sean Penn — pretty damn good," Mechanic says. "But if you put a connection into it ...
"Something different happens. An energy changes in the show," Shankman finishes.
They plan to do that throughout the night, with each category's presenter having some specific past relationship to the category or nominees. Six degrees of Oscar.
"For things where you can't have a connection, for example documentary short, we'll put a comedian," Shankman adds. "We'll put an entertainment value there."
No best songs, but still some song and dance
Last year, host Hugh Jackman did a show-stopping dance number about musicals. But Shankman says there's no need to actually stop the show.
"It didn't really relate to anything else in the show, no matter if you loved it or hated it," he says. "It was just, 'Now we're going to block off some time to sing and dance.' I'm not doing that. It'll be integrating much more into the nominees."
There will be two big dance numbers. Though Shankman doesn't want to reveal too much, smart money is on a few awards being presented within a dance routine.
But the best-song nominees will not be performed live. That means no acoustic melancholy from "Crazy Heart," no bitter striptease from "Nine," and no torch song from "Paris 36". Also, no Broadway-style flamboyance for the two Disney songs from "The Princess and the Frog."
"I'm not doing dance numbers to the Disney songs. That is not going to happen," says Shankman, whose first trip to the Oscars was as a dancer in the 1990 number for "The Little Mermaid's" "Under the Sea," which won best song that year.
"With respect, and all due merit, songs and music are an important part of the show, so it will be dealt with in the same care and precision we would for best supporting actor or something like that," Mechanic says.
"It doesn't mean we have to do all the bells and whistles," Shankman says.
Something for everyone
Shankman says they'll be trying to highlight all of the best-picture contenders, particularly because they are so diverse: pop favorites ("The Blind Side," "Inglourious Basterds"), dramas ("Up in the Air," "The Hurt Locker," "Precious"), art-house fare ("A Serious Man," "An Education"), sci-fi ("Avatar," "District 9") and even animation ("Up.")
The producers hope there is something to draw in every movie lover. "We're allergic to the idea of just saying in some sort of fancy-pants way you get to peek into our little most-fancy party in the world," Shankman says. "This is a show for everyone."