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Oscar watchers expect to see certain things every year - fabulous dresses, kiss, kiss, maudlin speeches, kiss, kiss and montages, expertly edited clips that look back at who's died over the last year or that somehow sum up the best picture nominees in just a few seconds. For 20 years, Chuck Workman made most of the Oscar montages. And now, as NPR's Neda Ulaby reports, he's something of an Oscar legend himself.
NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: Chuck Workman likens making a montage to making a fruitcake.
CHUCK WORKMAN: You don't want to put in too many raisins, too many nuts, but you want to have plenty of raisins and plenty of nuts.
ULABY: Workman used plenty of raisins and plenty of nuts in, for example, his montage of the movie "Babel" when it was nominated for best picture back in 2007. "Babel" is 143 minutes long. Workman boiled it down to two.
What were the scenes you ended up using? Do you remember?
WORKMAN: Oh, I used 50 scenes.
ULABY: Fifty scenes in two minutes?
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BABEL")
BRAD PITT: (As Richard) You leave, I'll kill you. I'll kill you.
ULABY: Workman wanted to express the essence of "Babel's" interlocking stories - all very sad - set in Japan, Morocco and Southern California, and the cross-cultural chaos of movie's title.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BABEL")
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (Foreign language spoken).
WORKMAN: You're looking for a flow. What is pushing this thing forward? What is making it happen?
TOM PROVOST: In the film community, everyone knows Chuck Workman. As an editor, he's kind of a God.
ULABY: Tom Provost is a writer, director, film professor and self-styled Chuck Workman fanboy. He's posted his own montages in the manner of Chuck Workman on YouTube.
PROVOST: His transitions are incredible.
ULABY: That might be partly because Chuck Workman was for years one of the go-to guys for trailers. He made trailers for movies such as "Star Wars" and "The Terminator." And he won an Oscar himself in 1987 for a short that tells the history of Hollywood film using montage in under seven minutes.
(SOUNDBITE OF SHORT FILM, "PRECIOUS")
KELLY: (Singing) Come on with the rain...
ULABY: Workman unleashes a torrent of clips - early film, slapstick comedies, historical epics. Tom Provost says he turns a sharp corner from musicals to horror movies.
PROVOST: We see this great, famous shot of Esther Williams in the pool, and then we get almost an identical shot from "Jaws."
ULABY: Provost loves Chuck Workman's In Memoriam montages for The Oscars, like this one from 2010, paying tribute to, among many others, Dom DeLuise and a clip from "The Muppet Movie."
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE MUPPET MOVIE")
DOM DELUISE: (As Bernie the agent) Hollywood, the dream factory, the magic store. Hey...
PROVOST: Not only could he isolate a movie in one image, but with the In Memoriam segments, he could really isolate a performer.
ULABY: But montage making was not always easy for Chuck Workman, particularly best picture montages of movies he disliked.
WORKMAN: (Laughter) "The Cider House Rules," I mean - you know, "Precious," I didn't know - what am I going to do? I have to - not only do I have to cut something, I have to watch the damn thing.
ULABY: In 20 years of making montages for The Oscars, Workman's favorite might be a salute to the people behind the scenes - gaffers, grips, dancers, dressers, even the accountants. The Academy got Stephen Sondheim to rewrite a song for the show. They staged an over-the-top number - part live, part montage - starring Bernadette Peters in a glamorous golden gown.
WORKMAN: We did a lot of her working with the crew, getting ready, pre-recording the song...
(SOUNDBITE OF 1994 ACADEMY AWARDS)
BERNADETTE PETERS: (Singing) Bit by bit, putting it together. I don't hear myself at all.
WORKMAN: ...Trying on her outfit. It was a lot of fun.
ULABY: Those kinds of theatrical, heavy montages are becoming Oscar relics. In Memoriam is not going anywhere, but Workman says his style of elaborately edited celebrations of old and increasingly obscure movies has given way to newer media.
WORKMAN: They'd rather have Ellen DeGeneres taking a selfie. What does that have to do with movies?
ULABY: Chuck Workman has not produced any montages for this year's Oscars. It was fun, he says, but he does not miss it. He recently made a documentary instead about Orson Welles. Neda Ulaby, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE")
TREY PARKER: (Singing) We're going to need a montage. Oh, it takes a montage.
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