Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Boy Scout Strategy for Oscar Speeches

By Wendy Shanker

My favorite award acceptance speech of all time came from Holland Taylor, the statuesque TV actress who has played a million grand dames and tight-ass WASP matrons, currently starring in “Two and a Half Men.” In 1999, when she won the Supporting Actress Emmy for “The Practice” at the age of 56, she strode up to the podium, tossed her hand in the air and pronounced, “Overnight!” Classic.

I met Holland once and asked her where that perfect opener came from, imaging her riffing with David Kelley. She revealed, “Actually, me and a friend came up with it on the limo ride to the show.” There you have it. No team of writers offered her the perfect wordplay. A great off the cuff idea said it all.

But that’s a rarity. Tonight, as Hollywood’s hoi polloi take the stage at the Kodak Theater, I’d offer the same two rules I give to anyone about to deliver a speech, whether it’s a Bar Mitzvah mom or a sobbing actress:

Be prepared.  I will never understand winners who get up there completely flustered, mumbling, “Um, I didn’t think of anything to say…Oh gosh, I didn’t think this would happen…” False modesty doesn’t cut it. You campaigned for the nomination. You went to all the luncheons. You’re wearing the rent-a-gown and the Lorraine Schwartz diamond drops. So know your lines. Practice. Prepare as you would when the camera rolls. Also, there’s no shame in needing a written cheat sheet of thank yous. But please, use a nice piece of paper or cardstock. Don’t scrawl them down on the back of a Koo Koo Roo receipt you found in the back of your Prius, and definitely no Sarah Palin palm notes.

Be genuine. You don’t have to say the most witty, memorable thing in the world. We know you’re a performer, and usually the reason you got nominated is because some schmo like me sat home in my underwear and wrote you great lines. Some actors and actresses have the gift of gab (George Clooney, Tom Hanks) but most don’t. So you simply can’t go wrong if you speak from the heart. Thank your family, your teachers, your cast and crew. When all else fails, hire someone like me to come up with something brilliant for you. The show hosts have teams of people writing material for them. Why shouldn’t you?

The weird thing about this year’s Oscars is that there are double the nominees but half the interest. It’s been a long time since I felt invested in a movie. The real action is on TV – if you’re not watching scripted shows like “Men of a Certain Age,” “Community,” “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” or “Being Erica” you’re missing out.

My guess is the big winner tonight will be “The Hurt Locker,” and they’ll give “Avatar” all the A/V junk. Mo’Nique deserves the shelf full of awards she’s scooped for “Precious,” and she’ll add one more tonight. I hope she’ll give props to big girls like herself and Gabourey Sidibe who give big performances. Yes to Jeff Bridges, yes to the Nazi guy, and I really hope Meryl takes it for Best Actress. She always gives good speech, nailing the fine line between humility about her job and pride in her accomplishments. And she’s generous with credit to writers. Meryl  Streep. Always prepared, always genuine. How did she develop this skill?


Wendy Shanker is the scriptwriter for major events like Glamour’s Woman of the Year Awards, The National Magazine Awards, and GLAAD’s Media Awards. Her new book, Are You My Guru?: How Medicine, Meditation & Madonna Saved My Life, will be published by NAL/Penguin in fall 2010. Go to for more info.

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