Specials Are Her Specialty

by | Oct 19, 2023 | Alumni Achievers, Culture, Fall/Winter 2023-24

Sarah Levine Hall ’03 is a veteran producer of live and variety television specials, but 2023 marked her first time producing the Oscars.

She said the show had for a long time been run by film producers, but this year saw a switch under new leadership. She joined a team that she has worked with on other productions.

“It was fun to do a show that was new to me,” she said. “But I also got to work with familiar faces, people I genuinely like working with. It was a very uniquely collaborative experience on every side of the prism.”

After a few difficult years of Oscars — marred by the pandemic and a certain onstage slap — reviews of the March telecast were largely positive. Variety called the show was tasteful and reassuring, and The Hollywood Reporter said it was “movingly high on emotion.”

“The day after when you read that it landed — that’s great and doesn’t always happen,” she said. “It was a very positive first outing, and there’s part of me that never wants to do it again to leave it there, but we’ll see. For a first Oscars, it was pretty cool.”

Starting out

Hall originally came to UC Davis as an animal science major with the intention of becoming a veterinarian. But she said she was ultimately drawn to dramatic art and changed her major.

At UC Davis, she tried out acting, stage management and costume design. “I came to this conclusion that I can have animals and work in theater instead,” she said.

After graduation, she took a job as a camp counselor through the Sacramento Theatre Company. Friends she met there convinced her to move to New York.

Not long after, she had a conversation with a cousin about what she’d like to do next. Her cousin connected her with someone working on the Tony Awards in the script department. For a live show, the script department not only manages scripts, but also the rundown, which organizes every moment of the production.

“Starting in that department laid an amazing foundation for me to understand how all the moving parts of these shows come together,” Hall said. “I learned what pieces of information are important to specific departments.”

These days, Hall manages every aspect of a show. And she said she’s also able to be creative, consulting on ideas from the very beginning, including performance concepts and sequencing.

“This is where I think a theater background comes in handy,” she noted. “I have been able to bring an understanding of how a story needs to be constructed to make sense and have an emotional response from an audience. That’s what I’ve been able to bring into live television so that even these shows that don’t have a story arc, there is still a moment you build to. When people ask if I use my college degree, I say, ‘yes, actually. I do!’”

Creativity and work

Now Hall splits her time between Los Angeles and New York. Her credits include multiple awards shows, five different Kennedy Center Honors, a Democratic National Convention and more.

This year, she helped produce her 18th Tony Awards, which aired in June. The production was unscripted, due to the Writer’s Guild of America strike, and received some acclaim for the decision to go on — and smoothly — as planned.

She has been nominated for an Emmy five times now — including twice this year in the Best Variety Special (Live) category for the 75th Tony Awards and this year’s Oscars. (The show was postponed due to the strikes and will now air in January.)

“I produced the Emmys before I was ever nominated for an Emmy, and I remember thinking, ‘If I get that, I’ve made it; I’m good.’ But then when it happens, it’s nerve wracking and you care but you don’t care,” she said. “It’s an incredible honor, and I’m so grateful, and also the bigger successes come from working with people you love and respect. That’s the goal we should all keep in mind.”