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Treating the Olympics ceremony like a big film production

A spectator wrapped in a Brazilian flag prepares to watch the Aug. 5 opening ceremony of the 2016 Olympic Games at Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro.
A spectator wrapped in a Brazilian flag prepares to watch the Aug. 5 opening ceremony of the 2016 Olympic Games at Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro.

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The Rio 2016 Olympic Opening Ceremony airs Aug. 5 on NBC, and with all the negative press surrounding the games, many in Brazil are looking for the country to be presented in a positive light.

At the helm for the event is Brazilian filmmaker Fernando Meirelles, best known for the gritty drama about the drug-trade in Rio de Janeiro's slums, "City of God." This will be the third Summer Olympics opening ceremony with a film director at the helm. The first was Zhang Yimou, who directed the 2008 ceremonies in Beijing, followed by Danny Boyle, who directed the London ceremonies in 2012.

With all the problems facing Brazil — including a Zika outbreak, pollution at some outdoor water venues, and moves to impeach the country's president — how will Rio's ceremony stack up against the spectacle of Beijing and London? Gregory Ellwood is an entertainment reporter and author of the article, "Why Olympic Ceremonies Keep Getting Better." He joined the show by Skype to talk about what might transpire at Maracanã Stadium.

Interview Highlights:

What can we expect from Brazil's opening ceremony?

I feel like if Brazil is doing the smart thing, they're going to look at what happened with Athens [in 2004]. For years before Athens, no one thought those games were going to happen. The venues weren't being built, roads weren't being constructed, there were news reports every four or five months about how the games possibly couldn't happen. We've heard a lot of the same things with Rio. So if they're smart and if this filmmaker is smart, he will try to make the most upbeat and positive experience he can — something that will make the audience on television, politicians, and the governments in other countries realize that they've got their stuff together. 

When people watch the opening ceremonies — and they've only been broadcast since 1984 — they watch for a variety of reasons. What do you think audiences want to see?

I think many Americans just want to see the American team come through in the parade of nations. They want that patriotic feeling of catching that. But, increasingly — and this is where I think a lot of the pressure comes on each [host] nation — is they want to be wowed. I think that really started with the [Muhammad] Ali moment in 1996.

One of the most amazing things over the past couple of Olympics is the amount of money that's been spent. Zhang Yimou, who did the Beijing ceremonies, had hundreds of millions of dollars. Danny Boyle in London had a little less than that. Fernando Meirelles in Brazil had even less than that. 

What Danny Boyle was able to pull off with his budget was amazing because it looks as though they spent as much money as they did in Beijing. Brazil has a great tradition of Carnaval and they pull of amazing things, often not spending as much money as people would expect. For tonight, I think that's what people want to see. For most people who watch, if they get a taste of that, I think they'll be happy. 


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