IBC365 takes a close-up at the editing, cinematography and VFX nominees in the running for this year’s Academy Awards.
The Oscars 2024 Nominations: Best Cinematography
At the Oscars, members of different craft guilds vote for the nominees and winners of their particular category and everyone gets a vote on Best Picture. Since directors of photography love nothing more than being able to imprint their vision on a story by showing their mastery of old school filmmaking techniques it is perhaps no surprise that black and white and 35mm film dominates this year’s cinematography line up.
In Maestro, his second collaboration with Bradley Cooper following A Star Is Born, cinematographer Matthew Libatique transports the audience to the 1950s by shooting in BW for the burgeoning romance and careers of composer Leonard Bernstein and actress Felicia Montealegre. When the timeline shifts to the ‘70s he switched to colour, in both instances using Kodak stock.
Christopher Nolan divided Oppenheimer into the atomically named ‘Fission’ which was shot in colour to show the world from Oppenheimer’s point of view; and ‘Fusion’ which plays out in black and white and tells Oppenheimer’s story from more of an objective perspective.
The challenge for DP Hoyte van Hoytema was to render this intimate portrait using Nolan’s preferred IMAX format, using a variety of negative, some of which was developed especially by Kodak for the movie.
“This was a three-hour-long movie about faces,” Hoyte van Hoytema told IndieWire. “Our challenge was to be able to get closer with the camera to make those faces become our landscape, and to make those faces interesting enough for the audience to become captivated by them.”
Poor Things is also told in a heady mix of BW and colour with DP Robbie Ryan going to extraordinary lengths to test and marry different 35mm film stocks and aspect ratios with vintage extreme wide angle lenses and resuscitated filmmaking techniques. He also persuaded Kodak to create a special version of an outmoded colour neg just for this picture.
Read more Behind the Scenes: Poor Things
The wildcard in this category is that of Ed Lachman for El Conde, a Chilean satire that depicts dictator Augusto Pinochet and Britain’s Margaret Thatcher as two-hundred-year-old vampires sucking life from the living. It is not subtle. Lachman is no stranger to awards recognition having caught the Academy’s attention with previous nods for Todd Haynes’ Far From Heaven and Carol. For Pablo Larrain’s fable Lachman tasked ARRI with building a smaller but still large format monochrome sensor into an Alexa Mini LF. He also had lenses retrofitted with vintage glass from the 1930s and used his own patented EL Zone System, which employs concepts designed by famed stills photographer Ansel Adams to control different exposure values.
Given it is entirely colour, Killers of the Flower Moon, could be considered the outlier but once again it is majority shot on 35mm film with Sony Venice used for dusk and night exterior scenes. DoP Rodrigo Prieto (who also shot Barbie) devised three LUTs for different stages of the drama. The film starts out with a look for the scenes involving white people, based on colour photography of the 1920s and emulating a technique invented by the Lumière Brothers. Two-thirds into the film, he switched to a higher contrast and reduced colour saturation mode to “evolve the story to a harsher, look that mirrors the deepening conflict the characters are experiencing,” he told IndieWire. For the epilogue, which happens in the 1930s, another LUT simulates the Three Strip Technicolor that audiences would have seen in cinemas at the time.
The Oscars 2024 Nominations: Best Editing
For a film which largely depicts men talking in rooms, Oppenheimer fairly ticks along and credit for that goes as much to Jennifer Lame as writer-director Christopher Nolan. The 180-minute atomic biopic is driven by dialogue in a story complicated by two timelines, themselves split with flashbacks.
Fortunately Lame, who started her career editing Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha and Marriage Story, before gaining further recognition on Manchester by the Sea, is at home with dialogue driven films. “It just fits my personality,” she told CinemaEditor. “I can watch hours and hours of footage of actors performing dialogue and then dissect each take, analyse and cut different versions of it.”
She particularly enjoyed cutting scenes set in room 2022 where Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) is being interrogated about his supposed communist sympathies.
“Even though it was the same room over and over again each scene could be cut in so many different ways. Similarly to a car chase you’ve got to pay attention to the geography. Figuring out how to make [table scenes] exciting is as incredibly fun for me as I guess other editors find when cutting a car chase.”
Martin Scorsese reteamed with Thelma Schoonmaker for their 22nd feature continuing one of filmmaking’s most enduring and creative relationships which has yielded the 84-year old editor a record extending nine Oscar nominations and three wins (for Raging Bull, The Aviator and The Departed).
Scorsese’s true crime focuses on the marriage between Ernest (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Mollie (Lily Gladstone), a member of Osage who owns oil rich land.
“Ernest is a very complex character, similar in some way to the serial killer in Peeping Tom [the1960 classic directed by Schoonmaker’s late husband Michael Powell), albeit that Peeping Tom was doing much worse things than Ernest - Or maybe not?” she told CinemaEditor.
Schoonmaker is one of the few editors to cut on Lightworks, a system she learned when making Casino. Yet KOTFM has none of the rapid cuts of Casino, nor the virtuoso ‘oners’ of Goodfellas or the digital effects of The Irishman and is arguably the more powerful for it.
“Marty deliberately wanted to seep in the evil of [Robert De Niro’s ringleader William] Hale] and also to give space to how the Osage are portrayed in the film so that you gradually become aware of what is going on. You are able to study the characters in a different way than with flashy camera movement. You know, Marty is more interested in quiet and silence now.”
Editor Kevin Tent has worked on all director Alexander Payne’s features since 1996 in a collaboration that includes high points Nebraska, Sideways, The Descendants and now The Holdovers. This is a bittersweet drama about a crusty teacher (Paul Giamatti) at a New England boarding school who forms an unlikely bond with one of his students (Dominic Sessa) during the Christmas break when neither is allowed home.
“AP’s super disciplined about performances on set and then both of us together in the cutting room make sure things don’t get too sappy or weepy or cloying,” Tent described to CinemaEditor. “We’re both really sensitive to that and resist that when cutting.”
They are themselves of the school of thought where less is more but doing nothing that takes an audience’s attention away from the story and characters is harder than it appears.
“We try not to cut very much,” Tent said. “We like to keep things simple. We try to be elegant in our transitions and in our overall pace. Sometimes we cut things down to the bone then put it back. It’s better to get it tight and then loosen it up than to keep it loose. I’m always consciously thinking about not losing the audience and having things too slow so they disengage. They have far less patience than we do.”
This trio competes with Laurent Sénéchal’s work with regular collaborator Justine Triet on psychological thriller Anatomy of a Fall and with Greek editor Yorgos Mavropsaridis for helping shape director Yorgos Lanthimos’ fairy tale Poor Things which is adapted by Tony McNamara from Alasdair Gray’s novel and photographed by Irish DP Robbie Ryan. All four are nominated just as they were for The Favourite in 2018.
The Oscars 2024 Nominations: Best visual effects
Less is more when it comes to VFX this year with two of the nominees lauded for punching far above their weight and two for playing down CG involvements in favour of in-camera effects.
The Creator, Gareth Edwards’ science fiction, stands out for the relative paucity of its $80m budget compared to the $250m budgets of fellow nominee Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 and Mission: Impossible, yet exhibits screen world building on par with anything Marvel can offer. One of the most challenging aspects was incorporating the ”flesh and bone” elements of the actors into the visual effects, requiring the development of special tools to anchor and blend the soft and rigid parts together. Edwards may have designed the shots for a very defined vision but the crew at ILM take credit for the technical achievement in bringing it to life.
Read more Behind The Scenes: The Creator
Yet in terms of budget, it can’t hold a candle to Godzilla Minus One, the latest incarnation of the giant lizard. Director Takashi Yamazaki also created the VFX on a rumoured budget of $15m for Japanese studio Toho, taking ten times that at the box office. While impressive, it may come at the expense of the livelihoods of the artists involved with suggestions that the low production budget is largely due to lower labour costs in Japan.
Much like Top Gun: Maverick, Tom Cruise’s latest Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One was heavily marketed on the physical prowess of its actors in putting authentically jaw dropping stunts on screen. No-one denies that Cruise jumped off a cliff on a motorbike, but the ramp from which he did so has been masked with mountain scenery, in one of 1,100 VFX shots. The climactic train carriage collapse, filmed in a studio, had the jeopardy of its sheer drop added while preserving the actor’s physical performance. ILM led the work alongside a dozen other facilities including the UK’s BlueBolt.
Likewise, environment extensions was a core job for MPC, lead vendor on Ridley Scott’s epic Napoleon. For the Battle of Waterloo around 500 stunts persons were filmed with MPC expanding the soldiers and cavalry to 50,000 on screen while maintaining the sense of realism and drama. “The idea was always, let’s get as much real in front of the camera for every shot possible,” said Production VFX Supervisor Charley Henley.
Read more Behind the Scenes: Napoleon