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HomeAwardsEMMY WATCH 2020: Jason Sherwood on Designing the 2020 Oscars

EMMY WATCH 2020: Jason Sherwood on Designing the 2020 Oscars



Jason Sherwood
Oscars 2020 – Final Sketch

Jason Sherwood, a young production designer with credits in touring entertainment, theater, and television, is quickly reaching the pinnacle of acclaim for his craft after receiving an Emmy nomination for his work on the 2020 Oscars. “It was a really wonderful and exciting reminder of the work we were able to be a part of,” said Sherwood of the unexpected recognition, “how a team of people has to come together to make a project and reach a particular level of success. We watched the Oscars as a family growing up. To be able to be a part of the celebration is a top three job.”

Jason Sherwood
Jason Sherwood

Though he is only 30 years old, Sherwood’s multimedia journey began in theater, followed by designing a musical performance on Saturday Night Live, then world tours by Sam Smith and the Spice Girls. Last year, Sherwood designed Rent: Live, a televised, real-time musical, broadcast by Fox. “A 360˚ musical, meets rock concert, meets theater, meets art installation,” Sherwood described of the adaptation of Jonathan Larson’s famed Broadway show. “I walked onto the stage at Fox for a site visit: ‘Let’s put the stage everywhere and the audience everywhere.’ It was the first 360˚ live musical that had been on television.”
Regarding the Oscars, Sherwood explained that he was brought aboard the key team in a quick and informal manner. “It was a pretty wild thing,” he recalled. “Producers Lynette Howell Taylor and Stephanie Allain and Director Glenn Weiss cold-called me—we had a short phone call. Two days later, they called back. We were all very excited about a visual departure of what the show had been, trying something new in that environment.”

Starting in the middle of October 2019 and working until the day of the show on February 9, Sherwood soon knew exactly what he wanted to bring to the world-renowned awards show. “I presented a bunch of design boards to the entire team, a version of what ended up on television,” he conveyed, adding that his initial approach communicated the overall shape of the show to the central creative group. “It’s a huge rush of adrenaline. It’s a gold standard at 30-years-old—don’t blow it!”

Jason SherwoodIn his further presentations, Sherwood created four rough concepts and chose the one which most excited him, then created eight illustrations delineating how that plan could be incorporated into the overall show. “A lot of functional necessary elements,” he explained of sets which would be erected in Hollywood’s Dolby Theater. “I showed the team how it might work—it consisted of a large sculptural spiral in the middle, similar to what ended up on stage. We rallied around what we were excited about. That original sketch and what ended up on stage are the same idea.”

Based in New Jersey, Sherwood flew to Los Angeles every week throughout the fall of 2019 and early winter of 2020 for an Oscars team meeting, staying for several days. Sherwood’s relatively small art department consisted of lead art director Alana Billingsley, plus art directors Margaux Lapresle and John Zuiker. “Our team expands when it comes to execution,” Sherwood detailed, relating that his crew included fabricators working in scene shops. “Many people build out a show like this—an incredible giant moving machine that happens almost magically. We get to keep the designs contained and focused on the details.”

Standing out amidst Sherwood’s conceptualizations, the giant fabricated spiral had a custom automation system constructed by Tait, an exclusive company specializing in the realization of automated machinery for live theatrical productions and concert tours. At 20,000 pounds, the spiral was capable of elevating and rotating. “That was a completely unique piece of technology,” Sherwood revealed.

Jason Sherwood
Oscars 2020 – Final Stage

Among the Oscars’ core principals, the decision was also made to highlight all five Best Song nominees in individual staged configurations. “With three weeks to show, we had to design five complete musical numbers,” Sherwood said, as 2020 nominations were not officially announced until January 13. “At every step of the process, there were new things to tackle; they had to all be conceived of and approved. It’s very rigorous.”

Still in the infancy of his career, Sherwood has lofty goals for the future. “I would love to design a Broadway show of my own one day,” he said. “The opening ceremony of the Olympics would be an incredible thing to be a part of. Each represents a different challenge—as long as I keep getting invited to a room, it is always going to feel fresh to me.”

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