There is a wealth of spectacular productions on offer to Academy crafts committees and voters this year, from fantasy spectacles such as Spider-Man 3, Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World’s End, Harry Potter And TheOrder Of The Phoenix, Transformers and The Golden Compassto exquisitely designed period pieces Lust,Caution, Atonement and Elizabeth: The Golden Age.
Awards bodies tend to favour these large-scale films in production and costume design, cinematography and effects categories. After all, it wasn’t too hard to guess Milena Cananero would be an Oscar front runner for her Marie Antoinette costumes last year (she won). And effects, of course, are the domain of the blockbusters.
Foreign-language films have fallen seamlessly into the crafts mix since the Academy committees know good work when they see it, regardless of language barriers. Hence last year, Pan’s Labyrinth won in both cinematography and production design categories. This year should similarly see recognition for the likes of Lust, Caution and La Vie En Rose.
Contemporary stories inevitably suffer against the epics. Even though Martin Ruhe’s black-and-white camerawork on Controlmay be the most evocative of the year, he is unlikely to gain Academy favour in the face of bigger names or budgets.
In this crafts special, Screen speaks to some of the biggest names below the line, highlighting the talented men and women that should be in the running for awards recognition.
- MIKE GOODRIDGE
Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Even though designer Alexandra Byrne received an Oscar nomination for her costuming of Shekhar Kapur’s 1998 period drama Elizabeth, she had to reinvent the wheel for Elizabeth: The Golden Age.
‘First off, Kapur told me he instinctively saw her wearing blue, which completely threw me,’ remembers Byrne. ‘Blue is not an English royal colour, so I had to rethink completely all my references.’
Indeed, working with the same period and characters proved more difficult in many ways. While Cate Blanchett reprised her role as the great English monarch, the fact Elizabeth was no longer a young woman, but a Queen in full possession of her power and cunning, forced Byrne to throw out all her assumptions and rethink the title character’s demeanour and fashion sense.
For Byrne and director Kapur, period accuracy was much less important than emotional consistency. So while Byrne had studied thoroughly the complex sartorial rules governing Elizabethan fashion, she felt no compunction to adhere to them: ‘From my point of view, I need to do the research and know the period in order to know what I am not using.’
What she needed instead was inspiration. And she found it in a series of early 1940s theatrical costumes that Cristobal Balenciaga had made from a portrait of the 16th century Spanish royal Elisabeth de Valois.
‘Those designs gave me a key to thinking about this character, I realised it was going to be Elizabeth-meets-couture. It was clear from my research that Elizabeth was not only aware of her appearance, but used it strategically.’
Byrne explains: ‘I read contemporary letters from ambassadors and courtiers, describing her extraordinary appearance. I wanted to create a feeling in an audience today that would have matched that, so we would be salivating over her appearance in a way similar to the courtiers of her time.’
- PETER BOWEN
- Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh, Becoming Jane
- Colleen Atwood, Sweeney Todd …
- John A Dunn, I’m Not There
- Milena Canonero, The Darjeeling Limited
- Patricia Norris, The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward …
- Jany Temime, Harry Potter … Phoenix
- Michael Wilkinson, 300
- Penny Rose, Pirates … At World’s End
- Pan Lai and Lui Fung Shan, Lust, Caution
- Jacqueline Durran, Atonement
- Mark Bridges, There Will Be Blood
- Ruth Myers, The Golden Compass
- Rita Ryack, Hairspray
- Gloria Papura, Youth Without Youth
- Arianne Phillips, 3:10 To Yuma
- Sammy Sheldon, Stardust
- Marit Allen, La Vie En Rose
- Janty Yates, American Gangster
- Albert Wolsky, Across The Universe
- Albert Wolsky, Charlie Wilson’s War
- Sharen Davis, The Great Debaters
PRODUCTION DESIGN/ART DIRECTION
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street
Legendary production designer Dante Ferretti worked with Tim Burton for five months on the Paramount film of Ripley’s Believe It Or Not before it was postponed by the studio in late 2006.
When Burton moved on to film Stephen Sondheim’s classic Broadway musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street, he asked Ferretti to work with him on recreating Victorian London for the film.
‘At the beginning, he thought it was going to be 70% green screen and 30% sets, a little like 300. But as we discussed the project, he decided that maybe it would be better to build the sets,’ explains Ferretti. ‘So it ended up 70% sets and 30% CG work. They blended together perfectly.’
In the 18-week preparation period, Ferretti oversaw the design and construction of the sets in seven soundstages at Pinewood Studios, outside London.
‘I had worked in this period - the film is set around 1860 - in The Age Of Innocence but that was in America, so this was the first time I had done London. It was a challenge, of course, and I did a lot of research, but that is my work - it’s always hard work.’
Ferretti, who won an Oscar for The Aviator in 2004 alongside his longtime set decorator Francesca Lo Schiavo (he had been nominated seven times previously), said the sets were meant to be realistic, not hyper-stylised as in previous Burton films such as Sleepy Hollow. ‘You believe you are in the right period,’ he says. ‘Everything is for real, if a little bit dark. There are a couple of dream sequences and a flashback, which are different, but the rest is set in the present day of the story.’
He adds that it made no difference to him in his work that the film was a musical.
Ferretti, who is now starting work with another longtime collaborator, Martin Scorsese, on Shutter Island, says his relationship with Burton was ‘fantastic’.
‘He didn’t change anything in the beginning, and for a designer, if you are thinking the same way as the director, that’s the best thing that can happen.’
- MIKE GOODRIDGE
- Andrew Menzies (production designer), Greg Berry (set decorator), 3:10 To Yuma
- Mark Friedberg (production designer), Ellen Christiansen (set decorator), Across The Universe
- Arthur Max (production designer), Beth A Rubino and Leslie Rollins (set decorators), American Gangster
- Patricia Norris and Richard Hoover (production designers), Janice Blackie-Goodine (set decorator), The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford
- Sarah Greenwood (production designer), Katie Spencer (set decorator), Atonement
- Victor Kempster (production designer), Nancy Haigh and Alessandra Querzola (set decorators), Charlie Wilson’s War
- Guy Hendrix Dyas (production designer), Christian Huband, Jason Knox-Johnston, Phil Simms and Andy Thomson (set decorators), Elizabeth: The Golden Age
- Dennis Gassner (production designer), Anna Pinnock (set decorator), The Golden Compass
- David Gropman (production designer), Gordon Sim (set decorator), Hairspray
- Pan Lai (production designer), Lau Sai Wan (set decorator), Lust, Caution
- Therese de Prez (production designer), Brandt Gordon (set decorator), Mr Magorium’s Wonder Emporium
- Rick Heinrichs (production designer), Cheryl A Carasik (set decorator), Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World’s End
- Gavin Bocquet (production designer), Peter Young (set decorator), Stardust
- Jack Fisk (production designer), Jim Erickson (set decorator), There Will Be Blood
- Olivier Raoux (production designer), Stephane Cressend, Petra Kobedova and Cecile Vatelot, La Vie En Rose
- Calin Papura (production designer), Adi Popa (set decorator), Youth Without Youth
Visual-effects supervisor, Transformers
Scott Farrar may be a visual-effects supervisor with the industry’s leading effects brain trust, Industrial Light & Magic, but he says he relishes the human connection of his work. ‘What I try to do is take the inanimate and make it concrete,’ he says.
Farrar’s work as visual-effects supervisor on Michael Bay’s Transformers is that of a general who commands an expert team of imagists, compositors and artists numbering as many as 300 personnel.
The analogy is given added resonance in the blockbuster fable about the clash of two warring machine races, adapted from the popular Hasbro toy line.
‘The way I see my work is that I function as a kind of referee,’ he says, working with Bay to solidify the movement of the robots.
The effort to make them as photorealistic as possible was painstakingly elaborate. The leader of the Autobots, Optimus Prime, for instance, was constructed from 10,180 parts. Farrar says Bay was adamant about creating a realistic texture. In a sequence where a helicopter transforms into a hostile robot that lays siege to a US military base, not all the imagery was computer generated. ‘We had all manner of sand, debris and dirt that were blended in shot in tandem with the camera,’ he says.
During a scene aboard Air Force One, a portable stereo (‘boom box’) transmogrifies into a killing machine that duels with humans. ‘We shot it several times with plates, with the boom box and without the boom box, and you have to be so careful to match the movement of the frame,’ he says. Farrar says he works largely on imagination, guided by an almost abstract sense of how his work will appear in finished form. His greatest thrill comes in seeing the result. ‘On everything I’ve ever worked, I’ll say, ‘We really got that shot.”
- PATRICK Z McGAVIN
- Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer
- The Golden Compass
- Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix
- I Am Legend
- Die Hard 4.0
- Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World’s End
- Spider-Man 3
MAKE-UP AND HAIR
Special effects make-up designer, Love In The Time Of Cholera
The challenges for the make-up team on Love In The Time Of Cholera were numerous, explains special effects make-up designer Matthew Mungle. Since the story spans 53 years, the actors - principally Javier Bardem, Giovanna Mezzogiorno and Benjamin Bratt - had to age convincingly. And as the movie was to shoot in Latin America in intense humidity, there were concerns about the prosthetic make-up in the heat.
‘I was apprehensive,’ says Mungle, who teamed with his Frida collaborator John Jackson on the project. ‘We decided to make sure the prosthetics were kept to a minimum, to make it easy on ourselves. The problem is with the actors perspiring in hot and humid weather. They were wearing wool costumes, so we used silicon appliances and bondo prosthetics, which is a thickened adhesive not too affected by sweat.’
‘I designed the make-up four months before the shoot, and just as they were about to start, the producers called me to ask if it was going to work in the heat,’ he laughs. ‘I just told them to keep the actors as cool as possible.’
Mungle is a specialist with ageing make-up, with credits including Ghosts Of Mississippi and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. He says he looks at the actor’s face to see how it will age. ‘Everything - your jowls, your nose, your earlobes - pulls down,’ he says. ‘Your eyes get wrinkled and your eyebrows start to weaken. We didn’t want these people to look too old and grotesque because then it wouldn’t work, especially if they are making love in their seventies. So we decided not to use contact lenses and keep the youth in their eyes.’
As for the shot where the 70-plus Fermina Daza, played by Mezzogiorno, disrobes to reveal her sagging body, Mungle says CGI was used. ‘They used a lot of digital imaging to touch up the make-up. Not that we thought they could fix anything in post, just that when an actor has been working for 14 hours and the film-maker wants a close-up, those prosthetics start coming off and you’ve got to be prepared to touch it up with digital imaging.’
Mungle recalls visiting Bardem on the set of No Country For Old Men to take a cast of his face, ‘He was concerned about how it was going to translate,’ he says. ‘Actors don’t like this process necessarily, so I hope it transferred as he wanted.’
- MIKE GOODRIDGE
- Across The Universe
- The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford
- Eastern Promises
- Elizabeth: The Golden Age
- The Golden Compass
- Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix
- I’m Not There
- Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World’s End
- Sweeney Todd …
- La Vie En Rose
- Youth Without Youth
The Diving Bell And The Butterfly
On Julian’s Schnabel’s The Diving Bell And The Butterfly, it was cinematographer Janusz Kaminski’s job to find a visual equivalent for screenwriter Ronald Harwood’s conceptual strategy of using the first-person subjective camera to portray the interior world of Jean-Dominique Bauby, a man who has suffered a paralysing stroke.
‘Ron began with a great idea of using the camera as a stand in for Jean-Dominique, and the written word becomes a visual guideline for the film-makers,’ says Kaminski, the Polish-born cinematographer who has photographed every Steven Spielberg film since Schindler’s List, for which he won the first of his two Academy Awards.
‘A screenwriter writes, ‘The Russian army crosses the bridge,’ and it could take up to two weeks to film. As film-makers, it is up to us to interpret what he means.’ From the opening, disorienting imagery of Bauby emerging from a coma to learn he has ‘locked-in syndrome’, Kaminski and Schnabel sought to use the camera to illustrate that frenzied, unsettling experience. ‘Everything is a question. How much does he see out of the corner of his eye’ How does he look at the world’ How does everything appear to him with the one eye closed” Kaminski says.
Communicating by blinking one letter at a time, Bauby liberated his body and mind. In turn, the unorthodox storytelling allowed Schnabel and Kaminski great freedom in letting free the imagery, a sharp evocation of Bauby’s stream of consciousness. ‘We have the material that allows for it and a director who’s really encouraging it to not be conventional,’ he says. ‘You’re always trying to be organic and instinctual when you make movies, even when you make a movie like Jurassic Park or Indiana Jones 4.’
- PATRICK Z McGAVIN
- Phedon Papamichael, 3:10 To Yuma
- Bruno Delbonnel, Across The Universe
- Harris Savides, American Gangster
- Roger Deakins, The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford
- Seamus McGarvey, Atonement
- Stephen Goldblatt, Charlie Wilson’s War
- Martin Ruhe, Control
- Robert Yeoman, The Darjeeling Limited
- Peter Suschitzky, Eastern Promises
- Remi Adefarasin, Elizabeth: The Golden Age
- Henry Braham, The Golden Compass
- John Toll, Gone Baby Gone
- Philippe Rousselot, The Great Debaters
- Roger Deakins, In The Valley Of Elah
- Eric Gautier, Into The Wild
- Roberto Schaefer, The Kite Runner
- Rodrigo Prieto, Lust, Caution
- Robert Elswit, Michael Clayton
- Frederick Elmes, The Namesake
- Roger Deakins, No Country For Old Men
- Dion Beebe, Rendition
- Peter Zeitlinger, Rescue Dawn
- Dariusz Wolski, Sweeney Todd …
- Robert Elswit, There Will Be Blood
- Mihai Malaimare Jr, Youth Without Youth
- Harris Savides, Zodiac
ORIGINAL MUSIC SCORE
The composer of more than 70 feature scores, including The Beat That My Heart Skipped, Syriana and The Queen - for which he was Oscar-nominated last year - Alexandre Desplat’s musical gifts are prodigious. But the classically trained French musician also credits his success to his ‘ability to listen’.
‘You must listen to what the director’s dreams are and then think about how to combine them with yours,’ he explains. ‘That’s what I like about movies - bonding with the director in an artistic way to find a common voice.’
His latest collaboration is with Taiwanese director Ang Lee for his Shanghai-set 1940s love-story Lust, Caution. ‘(Producer and screenwriter James) Schamus and Ang knew my work for Jacques Audiard,’ Desplat says.
Having joined projects at every conceivable stage - from pre-production to late into post - Desplat says he is ‘trained to react to and be inspired by’ any point in the process. But he admits advantages to visiting the set, as he did with Ang’s project. ‘I saw the Shanghai set build,’ he explains. ‘When you see the scope of something like that, you know your music has to match the size of what’s visually on offer.’
Although pointing out the Asian playing styles of some of his key players - an attention to detail that betrays Desplat’s astute knowledge of orchestration - he says that he and Ang did not ‘want Chinese sounds’.
He continues: ‘Our influence was ’40s film noir composers like Roy Webb, who scored a lot of Hitchcock’s movies. That was the mood we were after, although I wanted to avoid the big, lush period sound. I wanted to keep it as contained as the characters. Chinese films from the ’40s had scores that were very occidental.’
Discussing the differences between working in Europe and for Hollywood studios, Desplat says the latter are more generous with resources. ‘There’s never any question if, for instance, I need four harps,’ he says, but adds: ‘Having a lower budget doesn’t mean you can’t do good music.’
The Oscar nomination certainly raised Desplat’s profile in the US. ‘The nomination gave me validation, you become someone the studios can trust.’
The Academy recognition is a point of clear pride with Desplat. ‘It’s my dream to have an Oscar one day, so I was very happy,’ he says, adding the French often struggle to succeed at the Academy. But he takes heart from the winning record of fellow composer and countryman Maurice Jarre. ‘He had three,’ he says, laughingly admitting he would like to equal or better his tally: ‘The ideal would be four!’
- EDWARD LAWRENSON
- Elliot Goldenthal, Across The Universe
- Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford
- Dario Marianelli, Atonement
- James Newton Howard, Charlie Wilson’s War
- Howard Shore, Eastern Promises
- Alexandre Desplat, The Golden Compass
- Clint Eastwood, Grace Is Gone
- Mark Isham, In The Valley Of Elah
- Alberto Iglesias, The Kite Runner
- Antonio Pinto, Love In The Time Of Cholera
- James Newton Howard, Michael Clayton
- Alexandre Desplat and Aaron Zigman, Mr Magorium’s Wonder Emporium
- Michael Giacchino, Ratatouille
- Jonny Greenwood, There Will Be Blood
- Christopher Gunning, La Vie En Rose
An epic chronicle of organised crime in Vietnam-era New York City, Ridley Scott’s American Gangster required a delicate balancing act from editor Pietro Scalia. ‘Basically, I had two movies,’ he says. ‘I had two main characters and that was the challenge.’
The 158-minute film tells two concurrent stories: the rise of drug lord Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) and the dogged cop (Russell Crowe) leading the investigation to bring him down.
The parallels between two characters on opposing sides of the law interested Scalia greatly. ‘These two parallels really stood out and the thing was how does that dramatic work’ How can you break away from the traditional one-character story and split it in two’ Will that actually work”
Balancing the two character arcs, says Scalia, meant ‘playing around with structural changes to see what the proper flow is. It’s not so much A happens and B happens. You get gradually involved with the characters.’
The film, produced by Imagine Entertainment, shot at more than 150 locations. ‘There was a lot of material but Ridley shoots very economically,’ Scalia explains. ‘He shot with multiple cameras - he was well covered.’
Scalia has a long relationship with Scott, having edited GI Jane, Gladiator, Hannibal and Black Hawk Down, for which he won an Oscar (he also picked up an Academy Award for Oliver Stone’s JFK).
The editor, now working with Scott on Body Of Lies, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Crowe, says their relationship is based on trust.
‘I’m given the freedom to build it how I want. I think that’s essential for any relationship between a director and an editor, because you have to be open for things to happen.’
- LEON FORDE
- Francoise Bonnot, Across The Universe
- Dylan Tichenor, Curtiss Clayton, The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford
- Paul Tothill, Atonement
- Tom Swartwout, Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead
- Christopher Rouse, The Bourne Ultimatum
- John Bloom, Charlie Wilson’s War
- Juliette Welfling, The Diving Bell And The Butterfly
- Ronald Sanders, Eastern Promises
- Anne V Coates, The Golden Compass
- Jay Rabinowitz, I’m Not There
- Jo Francis, In The Valley Of Elah
- Jay Cassidy, Into The Wild
- Matt Chesse, The Kite Runner
- Tim Squyres, Lust, Caution
- John Gilroy, Michael Clayton
- Chris Lebenzon, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street
- Dylan Tichenor, There Will Be Blood
- Walter Murch, Youth Without Youth
- Angus Wall, Zodiac