Q&A: The Gregory Brothers on Auto-Tuning the Oscars

The Gregory Brothers at the Village Voice Web Awards in December 2010
The Gregory Brothers at the Village Voice Web Awards in December 2010
photo by Nate "Igor" Smith

Among the rusty Web 2.0 jokes, Anne Hathaway's cornball hooting, and all the precious air Oprah breathed, there were a few redeeming aspects to last night's Oscars. Coincidentally (or not?), they tended to have local ties. Staten Island's PS22 Chorus, "the only remotely competent performers at the Oscars." Pom-pom-headed Luke Matheny, who gave a resolutely human acceptance speech and shouted out NYU. And "The Year's Unintentional Musicals," a minute-and-a-half digital montage of AutoTuned scenes from Harry Potter, Toy Story 3, The Social Network, and Twilight--the latter, a deeply amusing riff on Taylor Lautner's perpetual toplessness called "He Doesn't Own a Shirt." Behind this spot were Brooklyn's very own Auto-Tune the News Guys, the Gregory Brothers (Andrew, Michael, Evan, and Sarah), who all watched the show last night at home, drinking champagne, and snapping pictures of the TV screen with their phones--you would too.

We caught up with three of them this afternoon, amid the telephonic chaos of moving offices, to talk about working with the Oscar producers, Ron Weasley as a booty-jam balladeer, and what should have won Best Picture of the Year.

How many e-mails, phonecalls, and Facebook postings have you gotten in the last 16 hours?

Michael: I stopped trying to keep track.

When did the producers reach out to you?

Michael: Early January. They reached out to us through our management.

Evan: Maybe 4th or 5th?

What was the original concept? What were they looking for?

Michael: They were really looking for to what we ended up with--just a look at the world if every movie had also been an accidental musical. It's really a better world that we're looking at--or a dystopian world, whatever you prefer to see it as.

Andrew: They were just really in touch and really hip. It wasn't like they got in touch and were like, 'What do you guys do?' They were like, 'We've seen your videos, we really like them, do you think you could do something like that.'

At the time it was broadcast, there was a Twitter outcry about whether or not they'd ripped you guys off.

Evan: We're proud of the piece, so we want our names to be associated with it, and for people to know that it was us. We're also proud that they wanted to go right to the source, rather than imitating the concept. So I think it turned out well.

Q&A: The Gregory Brothers on Auto-Tuning the Oscars
Screenshot courtesy the Gregory Brothers' Facebook

How did you decide what films would be included in the piece?

Michael: We watched a lot of movies. We also had to think about the context. Like what other movies were going to be used throughout the broadcast. That's one of the reasons we thought it would be fun to give Harry Potter and Twilight some love. I just thought they had some great musical moments. When I watched Harry Potter and I saw the monologue from Ron Weasley, I just thought "This needs to become a booty jam as soon as possible--the sooner the better."

You guys have talked about what makes public figures good unintentional singers. Who wouldn't work from the nominated films?

Michael: From the beginning, we've done this enough that we didn't have to watch everything to know who would be malleable. Jeff Bridges in True Grit--he has a really gravelly voice. So he wouldn't be a good unintentional singer. Maybe he'd be a gangster rapper, but we decided not to go that route. I knew that Justin Timberlake would have a great singing voice because his voice is always supported on the breath.

What about The Fighter? And those Boston accents? Would they be good or bad unintentional singers?

Evan: Singers can have accents. For example, Shakira is a singer who is just hobbled by a heavy accent. Yet she turns out hit-after-hit. So I think somebody with a regional accent, say, from Boston or New England could find success with the right song.

When you were working on it, were you ever doubtful it would air?

Michael: You never know with a live broadcast. Somebody's speech could go over 10 minutes, and something's gonna get cut somewhere, but we were pretty confident.

Andrew: Imagine, theoretically, a world in which nonagenarian actors are invited onstage and allowed to improvise for long periods of time. If something like that ever happened, then your piece might be cut. But we were very excited that it aired.

What was the most surprising thing about working with the producers?

Michael: Maybe the most surprising thing was that they called us in the first place--that pros like them would be willing to work with jerks like us. They were really pro in every aspect, just working with us and getting us the footage.

There's a longer version posted on the ABC site that has The King's Speech in it. Were there other films you had to cut?

Michael: I think The King's Speech is the main one we didn't get to broadcast. We're not hiding any aces up our sleeves. But I'm proud to say that I don't think the House of Windsor has ever sounded so gangsta.

What were you pulling for to win Best Movie?

Andrew: Personally I was pulling for The Fighter. And I wanted Winter's Bone to win at least one award, I didn't care which one.

Michael: I loved them all. But there's a soft place in my heart for Toy Story 3. Any movie that can make a man cry can move a nation.

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