Contagion director Steven Soderbergh to produce Covid Oscars show

The body behind the Oscars – The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences – have picked the director of the global pandemic thriller Contagion to produce next April’s awards ceremony show, which has been delayed by a real-life version of what his film portrayed.

Steven Soderbergh has been hired, alongside Stacey Sher, who produced Contagion, as well as his Oscar-winning drama Erin Brokovich, and Jesse Collins, a longtime producer of Grammy and Black Entertainment TV awards shows.

It’s not yet clear whether the 2021 Oscars will be held at its Hollywood home, now known as the Dolby Theatre.

In a joint statement, the three said, “We’re thrilled and terrified in equal measure. Because of the extraordinary situation we’re all in, there’s an opportunity to focus on the movies and the people who make them in a new way, and we hope to create a show that really FEELS like the movies we all love.”

The Academy said, “The upcoming Oscars is the perfect occasion for innovation and for re-envisioning the possibilities for the awards show. This is a dream team who will respond directly to these times. The Academy is excited to work with them to deliver an event that reflects the worldwide love of movies and how they connect us and entertain us when we need them the most.”

Neither the Academy nor the producers disclosed how the show would navigate the problems of the ongoing Covid crisis or whether it would be held at its traditional home, the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood.

Whatever shape the event takes, it will differ from previous years in many ways, as a result of the pandemic. The Academy was quick to announce, as early as April, that films launching on streaming services could qualify for the first time. It later delayed the awards ceremony by two months and extended the qualifying period to films released up until the end of February; the deadline would usually be the end of the year.

With many studios holding back on releasing high profile films during the year, because cinemas aren’t open to screen them, there’ll be fewer big films up for contention, which could further dent the Academy’s falling Oscar audiences, although with more smaller films – that people might have seen at home – qualifying, interest could be revived.

The show has had no single host for the past two years, initially because of a row over comments by the comedian Kevin Hart, but having a star to front the event could be another way to draw back audiences who will have lost touch with an industry that’s seeing continuing turmoil as a result of the pandemic; most recently, the anger of cinema chains at the decision by Warner Bros to release all of next year’s films simultaneously on its partner streaming service HBO Max has been matched by bitter criticism from film-makers and actors themselves, who’d stand to lose out financially from fewer people seeing their productions on the big screen.