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Awards: Academy Awards Coverage

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By Bruce ShutanBehind-the-scenes talent proved to be the true heroes and heroines of the cinematic dogfight between Million Dollar Baby and The Aviator at the 77th annual Academy Awards presentation.Although the Howard Hughes biopic swooped in for most honors with five awards, it was the heart-wrenching tale of an inspiring female pugilist that technically knocked out the competition by nabbing four of the most coveted statuettes (best picture, director, lead actress and supporting actor). Still, The Aviator reigned supreme below-the-line, winning for art direction, cinematography, costume design and film editing.But Clint Eastwood, the clear king of the evening, made a point of first thanking his “well-oiled” crew for making the picture in just 37 days, 48 hours ahead of schedule. He singled out “fantastic” cinematographer Tom Stern, and “great” production designer Henry Bumstead, as well as art director Jack Taylor and set decorator Dick Goddard.A humbled Hilary Swank paid tribute to crew collaboration in response to a question backstage from Below the Line with members of the Hollywood press corps assembled. She lauded makeup artist Tania McComas, deeming it “strange that there are only three nominations for makeup when there is five in every other category. It looked like maybe I was really getting black eyes and maybe I was really getting my neck broken, but to make a movie it is such a collaboration and in the end you’re only as strong as your weak link, and we didn’t have a weak link. It is a phenomenal crew and each and every one of them stepped up and hit it out of the park.”Famed production designer Dante Ferretti tipped his hat to Martin Scorsese—now 0-for-5 in the best director category—mentioning how the charismatic director provided more than enough material to guide him through the difficulty of recreating Hollywood’s golden age. Standing alongside Francesca Lo Schiavo, whose set decoration kudos complemented her husband’s art direction, he said: “What can I say? We did, I think, pretty good.” Minutes earlier in the ornate Kodak Theater, he thanked his entire art department, without whom it would have been “impossible for me to do this for us.”Long-time Scorsese collaborator Thelma Schoonmaker, who won for film editing, thanked her assistants, Scott Brock, Tom Foligno and Erin Crackel. She praised Scorsese for brilliantly capturing Hughes’ disturbing descent into a life of anguish and isolation. “We experimented a lot with the scenes in the screening room, and finally just started breaking the structure and just going for the emotion,” she said.The film’s costume designer, Sandy Powell, thanked colleagues Debbie Scott, Annie Hadley, John Cowell, Lisa Padovani and David Davenport in her acceptance speech. Cinematographer Robert Richardson, ASC was laconic about his work on The Aviator, paying tribute to his ill mother. In response to a question on how Academy voters are receiving the digital intermediate process, he said he hopes they’re not even aware of it.Winning in the sound-editing category for his work on The Incredibles, Randy Thom wasn’t bashful about correcting the public perception of the crew. “Certain Academy Awards like sound, visual effects and editing are sometimes referred to as technical awards. They’re not technical awards. They’re given for artistic decisions,” he said onstage to wide applause. “And sometimes we make them better than others, and I guess we made a couple of good ones on this one.”While standing backstage next to Michael Silvers, who shared in the honor, Thom told Below the Line the differences between animation and live action are fewer than ever before. “The films we work on that are predominantly live action tend to have a lot of computer graphics and animated elements in them,” he explained. “Our goal was to make it sound like a live-action film.”Scott Millan, Greg Orloff, Bob Beemer and Steve Cantamessa, winners in sound mixing for their work on Ray, took turns commenting on what it was like to trace the life of someone for whom sound was not only a musical passion but also an essential guidepost in dealing with blindness. “The way the picture was shot and edited lent itself to expressing his sound experiences for us, so it laid it out for us pretty well,” Beemer observed. “It was all about Ray Charles learning the world around him through the things he heard.”John Dykstra, who was recognized for achievement in visual effects on Spider-Man 2 alongside his team of Scott Stokdyk, Anthony LaMolinara and John Frazier, proudly proclaimed the film’s seamless look. “The technology has gotten to the point where basically we don’t get asked if we can do something anymore,” he told Below the Line, noting the need to “keep the effects from driving the story” amid growing pressure to generate dazzling CGI work.Bill Corso, who shared the achievement in makeup honor with Valli O’Reilly for Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, credited rubber-faced comedian Jim Carrey for “playing around with different ideas and different looks.” Said O’Reilly in her acceptance speech from the aisle: “This is an extremely fortunate event, and I’d like to formally apologize to all the actors for making them look so unfortunate.” She also thanked costume designer Colleen Atwood “for being such a good friend and always hiring me and inspiring me.”For weeks leading up to the ceremony, Hollywood was buzzing about a change in format for some categories to speed up the ceremony’s infamously glacial pace. Critics afterward noted the awkwardness of inviting all nominees on stage before announcing the winner, as well as handing out honors to others in the aisles close to where they were seated. These methods appeared maddening to many, bringing to mind a beauty contest or town hall-style Q&A session.

Written by Bruce Shutan

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