It’s been a long road for the nominees in the race toward Oscar gold. There have been speed bumps in productivity and newly formed outlooks on creativity. Here are some valuable lessons to learn from just a few of this year’s Academy Award nominees.
Mike Mills, writer/director of 20th Century Women
“Music, like that Frank Ocean record right now [Blonde]. Like his music doesn’t rely on beats, it’s kind of like how my films don’t rely on plot. It’s this ambient structure that’s so beautiful. Walking around with that in my headphones makes me cinematically hungry. It’s like, how can I do something like this? It opens the door for you to feel your way into a film. That exchange, that relationship is a key thing to me.”
Donna Gigliotti, producer of Hidden Figures
“In many ways it is producers willing to take risks on material but also at the same time understanding that the risks that they take should be with [films] that have all the possibility of being commercial. It’s this balancing act because I think that producers do themselves a disservice by making movies that star women, star people of color and [it doesn’t] do any business. Then it’s like, ‘Oh, look that, picture starring women didn’t work!’ It didn’t work because the story was too narrow or it wasn’t engaging enough for an audience so it felt like homework. Movies have power. Movies can tell important stories. But you also have to make sure that those stories are entertaining–you’re hiding the broccoli under some melted cheese is really what you’re doing. So if more producers did that I think that we’d have movies that were more diverse.”
Steve Emerson, VFX supervisor of Kubo and the Two Strings
“I’d love to see the recent resurgence of practical, in-camera special effects continue to blossom and expand. And that’s not to say that I don’t enjoy computer-driven effects. They’re amazing, oftentimes awe-inspiring and, with the advances in rendering technology, it’s certainly becoming more and more difficult to discern what is digital and what is in-camera. But there’s an art to in-camera special effects that deserves to be preserved and innovated upon. It reminds me of going to the movies as a child and wandering out of the theater wide-eyed wondering ‘how did they do that?’ For me, that was movie magic. I don’t see that sense of awe in my children when I take them to see films with extraordinary effects. Instead, there’s a dismissal of the work. There’s an assumption that it was simply created on a computer.
I love Michel Gondry‘s films because, as a viewer, I go into them knowing that he’ll be using creative problem-solving to get a particular visual in-camera. I find myself trying to figure out how he pulled off certain shots. That was one of the things that I fell in love with when I was fortunate enough to join LAIKA during the production of Coraline. There was a lot of creative problem-solving going on to figure out how to achieve things in-camera. It’s truly an art and the foundation of the entire visual effects industry. I remember hearing a colleague of mine once explain why we choose stop-motion instead of less time-intensive, computer-driven animation. He said, ‘why choose to paint on canvas when it’s faster to use photoshop?”‘
Patrick Osborne, director of Pearl
“Every film comes with limits and structure that butts up against and challenges its creators. It’s the box that you have to work within and how you create within it that makes things interesting. In our case, this was a film without a frame–it was meant to happen all around you. As a film director, handing the camera to the audience is a scary prospect. They would control the frame. So I wrestled the frame back from them by setting the film in a car. The windows become frames within frames and I get my control of composition back. As far as brand is concerned, this challenges the idea that I make films alone. I guess I can now call myself a VR creator.”
Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj, directors of Borrowed Time
HAMOU-LHADJ: This is perhaps not something specific only to Borrowed Time, but in general in my career I’ve learned that the people you surround yourself with are more important than the project you’re working on. However cool a project may be, if you’re surrounded by people who undercut each other, compete for attention, or make it about themselves, it’s just terrible! Conversely, working on a lesser appealing project with a supportive, inclusive team, can be the time of your life. You’ve struck gold if you’re lucky enough to work on a cool project with awesome people, and for that reason, I’m super grateful for the friendships we’ve made and strengthened over the course of working on Borrowed Time. I just want to continue to surround myself with people who will make life an enjoyable ride.
COATS: Directing Borrowed Time has made me more aware of the value of listening to people. So many great ideas came from unexpected people as we were making Borrowed Time, that made the final piece stronger. Making the effort to understand people’s points of view can not only help broaden your mind, but also lends directly back into your goal of connecting with characters you create in the films you make and the audience that will end up watching the film. If you can empathize with even the villain of your film, it can add honesty to your storytelling and complexity of your characters.