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Andre Correa on Making a 30 Minute Film for $4k

Actor, producer, writer and director (…and more!) Andre Correa recently got in touch to tell me about the making of his short film, “Help Wanted” (trailer below). Andre has a strong philosophy of filmmaking that allowed him to make an almost 30-minute film for $4000! He responded via e-mail — his responses have been lightly edited. I was blown away by how he was able to pull this off!

Making the Movie: Tell me a bit about yourself. How did you get interested in filmmaking?

My background is in acting, and I also owned my own business before moving to California. I moved here to study acting, but I really hated how little control I had over my new line of work — that’s when I started to study screenwriting. The ability to create my own scripts gave me more freedom. I always wanted to produce my own work too, or at least some of it, but ironically enough I never wanted to direct.

You can say that I was always into storytelling. Even as a child, I used to put up plays when we had visitors.

Where did the idea for “Help Wanted” come from?

“Help Wanted” stemmed from the fact that I had just finished writing a feature script that I couldn’t afford to shoot and from a friend at the time asking me to write a scene for a demo reel. I can’t write a scene without knowing what happens before it or after it… So that ultimately became “Help Wanted”.

How did you go about raising funds? IMDb lists $4000 as the budget. Is this correct — and, if so, how on earth did you manage to make a nearly 30-minute film for that small a budget?

I maxed out every credit card I had. I also reached out to past donors from other projects; family helped a lot. One of my cousins is a producer on the film due to his generous donation. I just didn’t want to be stuck in that state of looking for the money. I mean, there are so many filmmakers waiting for that.

Talk a bit about casting. Did you always know you would play the lead? How did you find the supporting cast?

I knew I was going to be Lenard and originally my friend was going to play my sister in the film: Miriam. But, during the course of pre-production and rehearsal, it became very clear that our visions for the project were very different. So, to make a long story short, I lost both my co-star/co-producer and location (her house was going to be Lenard’s house) all in one swoop. And that was the best thing that ever happened to the film!

Originally we were going to shoot on the iPhone — that had some serious limitations. But yes, the whole movie cost about $4,000. I was also keen on buying my gear vs. renting it. That was a huge benefit. Now I own gear that I will use multiple times in multiple projects.

I think people liked the script. That’s why we got so much free labor. This thing could easily cost ten times as much if I had to pay for everything. I’ll give you an example: Sound guys cost a lot. We ended up shooting for 20 days. I know I couldn’t afford to pay for a sound guy on set, so three months prior to the film I learned how to run production sound. Then I trained my staff on how to do it. That was only one way in which I saved money.

This is one of the things I’ve learned the hard way: Everyone on your team has to be replaceable. Someone else should be able to resume the work with no downtime. Otherwise, you become a hostage to that person, to their schedule, to their demands.

Here is an example. Tarun [Hansen] was not the original d.p. for “Help Wanted”. The original guy was going to bring his lights, his crew, and some fancy camera. So I automatically became dependent on him. It was now his movie because since it was mostly his gear, he was going to shoot it the way he wanted. This was a horrible experience that resulted in some horrible footage – none of which we used, and the loss of a full day of production. That’s why I bought all my gear, and now if someone doesn’t work well with the team, they are gone.

The main issue is that each team member can be a ‘point of failure’ in your organization. The more team members, the more possible points of failure. That’s why good people are so important to your team, and they should be cherished. My advice to other indie filmmakers is to keep your team as small as you can. That’s a lot easier to manage. Get people who can wear multiple hats and are not bringing their ego and agendas to your set.

The use of the camera is very controlled. How did you work with d.p. Tarun Hansen to come up with the style of shooting the film?

I’m the kind of director who frames his own shots and I have very specific vision of what I want. Tarun was great, we have an excellent working relationship. There is no ego, we both want to make the film be as visually compelling as it can be.

We had every shot pre-visualized using Star Wars figures. I also had all the camera movements I wanted and listed out so when I was on set he could execute the plans we made beforehand. I still needed to act in the film so figuring things out on set just was not an option.

Can you talk a bit more about how that visual vocabulary applies to a movie about a veteran with PTSD?

I wanted to convey the sense of someone being stuck. Not by him being defeated or moody but solely by circumstances outside his control. So, in the beginning, we show that his day-to-day life, the things most people take for granted, are huge obstacles for someone who suffers from PTSD. We show how lonely he is. There are many shots where the camera shows Lenard being trapped in the frame and I don’t reveal his face until the audience is given a good sense of his world and who he is. Only then have they ‘earned the right’ to see the fallen hero, only after they have entered in his world.

Tell me about the production. What were some challenges you faced to get the movie shot?

I think it was not knowing what I didn’t know. Originally we were going to shoot for five days. That became 20 days. I didn’t know how long things would take to set up. So for the first week, we were racing against the clock and that is a recipe for disaster.

I ended up throwing away at least two days of footage because it was garbage. We had to later come back and reshoot many scenes. Lesson learned.

In terms of post-production, how long did it take to edit the movie.
It took a very long time to edit the film because I was working with someone who was only working on it 1-2 times per week. I wasn’t familiar enough with Adobe Premiere to try to edit alone.

If I have to be honest, this was very frustrating because I really needed to be done and I was available to work on it 24/7. In a good week, we would put in 8 hours and there were weeks when we didn’t meet at all. But the good thing about spending time with your editor is that you learn. So now I feel much more comfortable with Premiere Pro. I actually cut the trailer that’s on Amazon now myself.

Is it difficult to be objective in the cutting room when you are the writer, director and star of a project?

I can be very objective. I always try to destroy my work. If it survives me, then maybe it has a chance out there. Having a second set of eyes in the editing room was very valuable, though. There were some issues that I didn’t have a solution for at the time, and Matt [Dushkes] did. Matt is a very talented editor who also worked very well with me. So, he deserves a ton of credit for his talent too.

Tell me about the festival run for the film and premiering it in Los Angeles.

I wanted to have our own premiere. That was very important to me because I rather control the venue. In a film festival, you don’t get any ticket sales. We did. Not a lot, but a bit to soften the cost of the film.

Your distribution strategy was to get the movie onto VOD and it is now available on Amazon Video. Tell us a bit about how you pulled that off and what you learned in the distribution process.

Amazon has a new service call Amazon Video Direct where filmmakers can sell their films on the Amazon store. This was very appealing to me because it cuts out all the middleman associated with distribution. iTunes and the others are a bit more complicated and costly. And, you have to go through an aggregator.

Who are some filmmakers that you admire and how did their work influence “Help Wanted”?

Believe it or not, I study lots of anime. Paprika, by Satoshi Kon comes to mind. I find it that ‘cartoons’ are easier to deconstruct. It’s easier to see where to cut and the composition of the shot.

I also looked at House of Cards and Black Mirror on Netflix. M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable and The Village were also huge influences.

What is your advice for someone who wants to make movies?

Go to law school.

But seriously, pre-pay for time on set. If you have the choice between shooting with the RED for three days or with the Canon 5D mk IV for six days. Go with the six-day option. I’m so happy with the shots we got when we were able to slow down. It made all the difference. The average viewer, the person who will likely buy your film doesn’t know the difference between the RED and the Canon. But, they know the difference between something that looks rushed and something that looks good.

Thanks to Andre for the interview. You should note that this film was really made for less than $4k considering some of the funds went to buy equipment that can be used on future films. Amazing!

You can find more about the making of “Help Wanted” on Andre’s YouTube channel. The film, as mentioned above, is available for rental or purchase on Amazon.

Your Wednesday Links: Gunn Fired

Most of these links come from the @makingthemovie Twitter stream. If you’d like to see them as they come, follow us on Twitter.

Hollywood Reporter: Kareem Abdul-Jabar on the firing of James Gunn – “If we start going back through Disney movies in the past, how much blatant sexism, racism and homophobia will we find? Disney would rightfully claim that, though those offenses may have occurred, the company has evolved since then.”

Business Insider: China’s box-office fraud could be affecting 9-40% of ticket sales – Hollywood is treating the Chinese market very seriously and vice versa. If China can nip this fraud problem, look for even more cross-investment.

Cinema Escapist: Martin Scorsese on the African Film Heritage Project

The Ringer: An Oral History of ‘Step Brothers’ – A real classic and proof that great movies can come out of sets where everyone is having fun.

YouTube: Best Comic Con 2018 Trailers

Deadline: Shinobu Hashimoto Dies: Screenwriter for ‘Rashomon’ And 70 Other Screenplays Was 100 – RIP One of the greats. Check out his short, excellent autobiography, translated into English.

Guardian: Stanley Kubrick’s “lost” 1956 screenplay discovered. – It is based on a Stefan Zweig novella. Apparently it is in a finished state. Here’s hoping a talented producer gets the rights!

YOUR WEEKLY WISDOM:

Your Wednesday Links: Avengers Infinity and Beyond

Most of these links come from the @makingthemovie Twitter stream. If you’d like to see them as they come, follow us on Twitter.

Vulture: Ally Sheedy on Hollywood Sexism

This isn’t about naming names. I don’t have enough for a lawsuit, but I do have enough for a broken heart/spirit. Nothing will change in Hollywood. Some men will get careful. Some men will pretend they never behaved like predators and wait this out. What’s so disheartening is knowing Harvey Weinstein’s sick actions will be addressed (finally) and yet the entire culture and context for his sick shit will remain in place.

I hope it changes.

I hope I’m wrong.

I’m not holding my breath.

Age of Robots: How Marvel Is Killing the Popcorn Movie – This essay from Avengers: Ultron has been making the rounds again. I enjoyed Infinity War, if enjoyed is the right word. However, it does suffer from the ‘so many characters’ problem by default.

Variety: ‘Tree of Life’ Gets 50 Minutes More in New Blu-Ray Version – Terrence Malick is a great example of an artist who can’t stop tinkering. It reminds me of Malcolm Gladwell’s take on Leonard Cohen.

UnFictional Podcast: Punk Jubilee – The making of the Derek Jarman film Jubilee, considered by many the origin of the punk aesthetic kcrw.com/news-culture/s…

Lieography Podcast: Apollo 13 – Don’t You Spacesplain To Me

Scott Simmons (@editblog) thread on affordable voice over

Futurism: Hollywood is Wrong: Netflix is the Future of Film – See also: How Netflix works: the (hugely simplified) complex stuff that happens every time you hit Play

Your Wednesday Links: Ready Player Done

Most of these links come from the @makingthemovie Twitter stream. If you’d like to see them as they come, follow us on Twitter.

SlashFilm: Let’s Talk About the Most Interesting Scene in ‘Ready Player One’ (Spoilers) – I’m hearing both good and bad things about the film. Anthony Lane on Ready Player One: “I saw the film in IMAX, and a week later I’m still waiting for the safe return of my optic nerves…”

The Infinity War Trailer but I just name characters as they appear

Having a sinking feeling the feature-length version will be a similar parade of characters…

Daily Wire: Dear People Who Won’t Shut Up In Movie Theaters: You’re The Worst. – Sitting next to a rude moviegoer is a dreadful experience. I haven’t personally noticed a difference in patron behavior post Movie Pass here in LA. What’s your experience?

The Poster Boys podcast tackles the greatest and worst Ingmar Bergman posters

Images on their Tumblr.

IndieWire: Al Pacino on Playing A 39-Year-Old Mobster in The Irishman – Older actors playing younger thanks to de-aging is going to be too expensive to be widespread — at least for a while. But it will be interesting to watch this trend. Already most major hollywood films have a VFX digital makeup pass. Let’s just say Captain America’s hairline is one of his super-powers.

Vulture: Solo: A Star Wars Story Actor Details Production Troubles – This is a really fascinating window into what has been going on with this film. I’m looking forward to hearing more in the press in the years to come about the way Disney saved — or failed to save — the production.

Forbes: Banning Netflix, Amazon From Festivals And Awards Is Wrong – The festivals and the streaming giants will both survive just fine without each other. However, I worry this will mean less spending by those giants on films with indie appeal. Amazon was doing a much better job of releasing their films theatrically first. It is weird to lump them in with Netflix, who have been pushing day-and-date so aggressively.

Justin Chang for LAT: Wes Anderson’s ‘Isle of Dogs’ is often captivating, but cultural sensitivity gets lost in translation

IndieWire: Our Film Critic and the Director of a Movie He Hated Sat Down and Tried to Work Out Their Differences

Screenlight: Eight Avid Media Composer Default Settings You Must Change Today – I always use Add Edit, Remove Effect and I change the A and S keys to FF / RR which doesn’t put you into trim mode automatically.

The Rewatchables Podcast: Get Out – Is it safe to call this film ‘classic’ already? The crew makes a strong argument.

Car and Driver: How the Original Bullitt-Movie Mustang Was Rediscovered

MargRev: Titus Levi with an alternative view on Black Panther

YOUR WEEKLY (PICTORIAL) WISDOM:

Your Wednesday Links: Oscars Preview

BoingBoing: An oral history of the La La Land / Moonlight Oscars goof

Buzzfeed: All 89 Best Picture Oscar Winners Ranked

The Onion: Tom Hanks Vows He Won’t Stop Until He Has Portrayed Every Last American

SlashFilm: 30-Minute ‘Annihilation’ Interview with Director Alex Garland

Slate: An interview with Black Panther’s dialect coach – Or, if you are into the economics of imaginary nations, check out: The Political Economy of Black Panther’s Wakanda by J. Robert Subrick

The Verge: Disney loses bid to stop Redbox from selling its digital download codes – A win for consumers and ultimately an encouragement to collect digital licenses the same as physical media.

Lieography podcast: I, Tonya – In Conclusion, Crime Doesn’t Pay

GQ: What Ever Happened To Brendan Fraser?

Little Gold Men: The Case for Dunkirk to Win Best Picture (podcast) – LGM has been all over this awards season. Highly recommend dipping back into their archive for some great interviews with some of the nominees.

FiveThirtyEight: Oscars 2018: Here Are Our Early Predictions

YOUR WEEKLY WISDOM: Make friends and make movies.

2018 Oscars Predictions

Making the Movie’s Complete Oscars Predictions and Analysis

When and What Channel

First things first. The show will air on Sunday, March 4, 5pm PST on ABC.

Gearing up for the big night? I know I am. Now that the nominees have been known for about a week, I thought I’d analyze the categories and make some predictions.

Qualifications

What are my qualifications for predicting? I’ve been working in the industry for more than a decade and I hear the scuttlebutt. Historically, I get a good sense of what films have momentum going into Oscar night. Also, I’ve had the good fortune to see most of the nominees this year. In addition, I have a track record of winning the office Oscar pool several times. So take that for what you will.

Now, let’s break it down…

Academy Awards 2018 Nominations

Best motion picture of the year

  • Call Me by Your Name Peter Spears, Luca Guadagnino, Emilie Georges and Marco Morabito, Producers
  • Darkest Hour Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Lisa Bruce, Anthony McCarten and Douglas Urbanski, Producers
  • Dunkirk Emma Thomas and Christopher Nolan, Producers
  • Get Out Sean McKittrick, Jason Blum, Edward H. Hamm Jr. and Jordan Peele, Producers
  • Lady Bird Scott Rudin, Eli Bush and Evelyn O’Neill, Producers
  • Phantom Thread JoAnne Sellar, Paul Thomas Anderson, Megan Ellison and Daniel Lupi, Producers
  • The Post Amy Pascal, Steven Spielberg and Kristie Macosko Krieger, Producers
  • The Shape of Water Guillermo del Toro and J. Miles Dale, Producers
  • Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri Graham Broadbent, Pete Czernin and Martin McDonagh, Producers

Analysis: This category has a ranked ballot. It is still new enough that Academy members haven’t figured out how to game it. A lot of people don’t understand ranked ballots. Essentially, what it means is that the big, expensive, prestige movies have not been winning. The films that everyone at least kinda likes are the winners. You can read at length about the reasons that Moonlight won last year. If anything, the trends that pushed that over La La Land should continue even stronger this year.

Many will say that hearkens well for Call Me By Your Name, another gay coming-of-age film. However, I think Call is more divisive than Moonlight. The main characters lead a life of privilege and there is little dramatic conflict in the story. Lady Bird has seemed to have a broader appeal and less backlash. It also has a strong female voice in the year of #metoo.

Three Billboards, with the dynamic central performance by Frances McDormand, could also get some momentum from the cultural moment. I doubt it, though, since it has been way more divisive. The marginalization of the black characters has lead many to dub it “problematic.” On a personal note, I actively disliked the film and the way it manipulates the audience. It has a terrible cop-out ending that leaves a bitter note. Although it has some other awards momentum, notably winning the highly-predictive SAG Ensemble Award, I do not think it has enough love to overcome a ranked ballot system. A sizable group will be ranking “this year’s Crash” last.

Dunkirk was headed into awards season strong but the momentum seems to have faded. That, Darkest Hour and The Post are the kind of big production-value, glossy films that used to win. The Post, in my opinion, is coasting on the reputation of Spielberg, Hanks and Streep. It is an okay movie, crafted with consummate skill, but dramatically confused and treacly.

Phantom Thread will be the choice of Academy voters who like auteur cinema. It is P.T. Anderson’s portrait of an artist as a costume designer. It’s too weird and dark, I think, to be a consensus ballot pick.

Get Out is the lowest-budget film, and has a very strong fan club. However, I have to think the older generation of Academy voters just will not get it. They won’t understand or appreciate the satirical aspects. And of course, horror is perhaps the Academy’s least favorite genre. The same group that will be putting Three Billboards at #1 on their ballots will probably be putting this last. Likewise, the groups that are voting for the big production value movies will also be ranking this film pretty low.

That leaves The Shape of Water. As the movie with the most nominations, it is the one to beat. It has also been pretty inoffensive — there are very few people who absolutely despise the film. Academy members will also appreciate the craft aspects of the film more than average filmgoers. Things like costume, lighting, production design etc. are all very skillfully blended in ways that help tell the story. That said, it is far from a lock, especially when there are movies like Lady Bird that may win the hearts of voters.

Performance by an actor in a leading role

  • Timothée Chalamet in Call Me by Your Name
  • Daniel Day-Lewis in Phantom Thread
  • Daniel Kaluuya in Get Out
  • Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour
  • Denzel Washington in Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Analysis: I loved all of these performances! Chalamet and Kaluuya are two strong ‘debuts’ and have a real chance here. While the best actress category has a history of wins by ingenues, this category has historically gone to mid- and late-career iconic roles. If that trend holds, that leaves the other three nominees. Day-Lewis won in 2012 for Lincoln, so many voters will probably feel he doesn’t need another award so soon. Denzel is fantastic, as usual, but the movie has gotten little love. My personal prediction is Gary Oldman, an actor with a long history of phenomenal performances, absolutely embodying Winston Churchill, much the way Day-Lewis did Abraham Lincoln.

Performance by an actor in a supporting role

  • Willem Dafoe in The Florida Project
  • Woody Harrelson in Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
  • Richard Jenkins in The Shape of Water
  • Christopher Plummer in All the Money in the World
  • Sam Rockwell in Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

Analysis: Even if Three Billboards ends up with a surprising amount of love, Woody and Sam will probably cancel each other out. Plummer’s nom is widely believed to be there simply as a pat on the back for replacing Kevin Spacey at the last minute. That leaves Dafoe and Jenkins. Jenkins was nominated in 2008 but did not win. The Academy likes him and it loves Water (judging by the amount of nominations). However, that character is nowhere near as memorable as Dafoe’s character in Florida Project. Dafoe has never been nominated, despite a long history of strong screen performances. It seems like he may be a big chilly as a person and unwilling to play the glad-handing game. I give the edge to Dafoe simply on performance, but I would not be surprised if Jenkins wins in a Shape of Water love-fest.

Performance by an actress in a leading role

  • Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water
  • Frances McDormand in Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
  • Margot Robbie in I, Tonya
  • Saoirse Ronan in Lady Bird
  • Meryl Streep in The Post

Analysis: This one is difficult to call. I never thought I’d rule out Meryl Streep first, but she was not helped by the approach of The Post, which requires her character to be so weak and milquetoasty. Margot and Saoirse are brilliant, especially when you consider they are non-Americans playing very American roles. However, Frances McDormand has the heat and Sally Hawkins is the lead in the film that got the most nominations. I give the edge to Frances, even though I have reservations about Three Billboards as a film. No one can deny her righteous fury, and a lot of voters will be looking to see that fury in an acceptance speech.

Performance by an actress in a supporting role

  • Mary J. Blige in Mudbound
  • Allison Janney in I, Tonya
  • Lesley Manville in Phantom Thread
  • Laurie Metcalf in Lady Bird
  • Octavia Spencer in The Shape of Water

Analysis: The favored performance here is Allison Janney’s. I can envision scenarios where any of the other nominees win, especially Laurie Metcalf, who really broke my heart in Lady Bird.

Best animated feature film of the year

  • The Boss Baby Tom McGrath and Ramsey Naito
  • The Breadwinner Nora Twomey and Anthony Leo
  • Coco Lee Unkrich and Darla K. Anderson
  • Ferdinand Carlos Saldanha
  • Loving Vincent Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman and Ivan Mactaggart

Analysis: This pretty much always goes to the PIXAR/Disney movie. So… Coco. My theory is that not enough Academy members are friends with the people who make the weird indie animated movies and the other Hollywood studios (say, DreamWorks with Boss Baby) don’t get enough respect from the non-animation wing voters.

Achievement in cinematography

  • Blade Runner 2049 Roger A. Deakins
  • Darkest Hour Bruno Delbonnel
  • Dunkirk Hoyte van Hoytema
  • Mudbound Rachel Morrison
  • The Shape of Water Dan Laustsen

Analysis: Roger Deakins is a legend and, amazingly, has never won. This might not be his year, however, since Rachel Morrison’s work in Mudbound is incredible and Bruno Delbonnel’s lensing of Darkest Hour is perhaps what elevated that film to a Best Picture level. Dunkirk, shot on film for IMAX release, is also an achievement. If Shape of Water is sweeping the technical categories, it could even win here, although that seems less likely. I’m still predicting Deakins, but people have been wrong with that prediction thirteen times before.

Achievement in costume design

  • Beauty and the Beast Jacqueline Durran
  • Darkest Hour Jacqueline Durran
  • Phantom Thread Mark Bridges
  • The Shape of Water Luis Sequeira
  • Victoria & Abdul Consolata Boyle

Analysis: If Phantom Thread doesn’t win this, I will be very surprised. It has the unfair advantage of the costumes telling a huge part of the story, many times being like another character on the screen.

Achievement in directing

  • Dunkirk Christopher Nolan
  • Get Out Jordan Peele
  • Lady Bird Greta Gerwig
  • Phantom Thread Paul Thomas Anderson
  • The Shape of Water Guillermo del Toro

Analysis: This is a tough cookie. Guillermo del Toro is the favorite. However, any of the other nominees is worthy. Peele and Gerwig might get marginalized since they are both coming in as first-time directors. Nolan and Anderson (similar to del Toro) are part of the 90’s indie wave that may now finally be getting some prestige recognition. The control and craft that are on display in their films are hard to deny. Still, I like del Toro since it would be great if the ‘Three Musketeers’ of Mexican cinema all had Best Director hardware.

Best documentary feature

  • Abacus: Small Enough to Jail Steve James, Mark Mitten and Julie Goldman
  • Faces Places Agnès Varda, JR and Rosalie Varda
  • Icarus Bryan Fogel and Dan Cogan
  • Last Men in Aleppo Feras Fayyad, Kareem Abeed and Søren Steen Jespersen
  • Strong Island Yance Ford and Joslyn Barnes

Analysis: The only one of these I’ve seen is Icarus, and it was very good. Academy voters will like that Vladimir Putin is one of the villains of the story. Faces Places has the prestige of Agnès Varda. Last Men in Aleppo seems to be doing well on Gold Derby.

Best documentary short subject

  • “Edith+Eddie” Laura Checkoway and Thomas Lee Wright
  • “Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405” Frank Stiefel
  • “Heroin(e)” Elaine McMillion Sheldon and Kerrin Sheldon
  • “Knife Skills” Thomas Lennon
  • “Traffic Stop” Kate Davis and David Heilbroner

Analysis: I have made the mistake in the past of trying to predict these short film categories from actually watching the films. The tack I am taking this year is to read a summary of what they are about and then think which one of those sounds like what an Academy voter would pick. HBO has good track record here, so I’m going for their “Traffic Stop”.

Achievement in film editing

  • Baby Driver Paul Machliss and Jonathan Amos
  • Dunkirk Lee Smith
  • I, Tonya Tatiana S. Riegel
  • The Shape of Water Sidney Wolinsky
  • Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri Jon Gregory

Analysis: This category would seem to belong to Dunkirk. Nevermind that there is way more to editing than just the cuts and the layering in ‘splosions, that’s what the Academy in general seems to award. Dunkirk is beautifully edited, but for more than that reason. If there is an upset here, I pick Baby Driver, which is, in many ways, an extended music video and thus very ‘edit forward’.

Best foreign language film of the year

  • A Fantastic Woman Chile
  • The Insult Lebanon
  • Loveless Russia
  • On Body and Soul Hungary
  • The Square Sweden

The Square is the best-known movie here. It also has a lot of English language in it, so WTF? A Fantastic Woman is the choice of the awards gurus, so I’m going with that for now.

Achievement in makeup and hairstyling

  • Darkest Hour Kazuhiro Tsuji, David Malinowski and Lucy Sibbick
  • Victoria & Abdul Daniel Phillips and Lou Sheppard
  • Wonder Arjen Tuiten

Analysis: This category has had some surprising picks. (Suicide Squad! Well-deserved, but still surprising.) Still, I’ll predict the safe choice of Darkest Hour, which had Gary Oldman’s brilliant Churchill makeup and is also a Best Picture nominee.

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original score)

  • Dunkirk Hans Zimmer
  • Phantom Thread Jonny Greenwood
  • The Shape of Water Alexandre Desplat
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi John Williams
  • Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri Carter Burwell

Analysis: Your best bets here are Dunkirk, with that incessant ticking clock beat, and The Shape of Water, with the lush, memorable theme. I give the edge to Desplat and Shape of Water.

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original song)

  • “Mighty River” from Mudbound
  • Music and Lyric by Mary J. Blige, Raphael Saadiq and Taura Stinson

  • “Mystery Of Love” from Call Me by Your Name
  • Music and Lyric by Sufjan Stevens

  • “Remember Me” from Coco
  • Music and Lyric by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez

  • “Stand Up For Something” from Marshall
  • Music by Diane Warren; Lyric by Lonnie R. Lynn and Diane Warren

  • “This Is Me” from The Greatest Showman
  • Music and Lyric by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul

Analysis: “This Is Me” seems to have the most heat going in. Coco is basically a movie-length ad for “Remember Me”. That said, it doesn’t take long for an Academy member to listen to the nominees and pick, you know, what is the song they like best. “Mystery of Love” or “Mighty River” might sneak in. (No one seems to be hyping the song from Marshall.)

Achievement in production design

  • Beauty and the Beast Production Design: Sarah Greenwood; Set Decoration: Katie Spencer
  • Blade Runner 2049 Production Design: Dennis Gassner; Set Decoration: Alessandra Querzola
  • Darkest Hour Production Design: Sarah Greenwood; Set Decoration: Katie Spencer
  • Dunkirk Production Design: Nathan Crowley; Set Decoration: Gary Fettis
  • The Shape of Water Production Design: Paul Denham Austerberry; Set Decoration: Shane Vieau and Jeff Melvin

Analysis: These are all outstanding examples of production design. If Shape of Water is sweeping the technical categories, as it is poised to do, then this is another good place for it to win. Dunkirk and Darkest Hour are also up for Best Picture, but they might cancel each other out a bit, seeing as they are from the same time period. I wouldn’t rule out either Beast or Blade Runner, as they are pinnacles of cinematic imagination. Both, however, are drafting on the previous design work of earlier films, so the Academy will probably choose to go with something “pure,” like Shape.

Best animated short film

  • Dear Basketball Glen Keane and Kobe Bryant
  • Garden Party Victor Caire and Gabriel Grapperon
  • Lou Dave Mullins and Dana Murray
  • Negative Space Max Porter and Ru Kuwahata
  • Revolting Rhymes Jakob Schuh and Jan Lachauer

Analysis: Always pick the PIXAR. That means “Lou”. However, Glen Keane is a legendary Disney Renaissance animator and should have a lot of friends in the Academy, so I give “Dear Basketball” an outside shot.

Best live action short film

  • DeKalb Elementary Reed Van Dyk
  • The Eleven O’Clock Derin Seale and Josh Lawson
  • My Nephew Emmett Kevin Wilson, Jr.
  • The Silent Child Chris Overton and Rachel Shenton
  • Watu Wote/All of Us Katja Benrath and Tobias Rosen

“DeKalb Elementary” seems to be leading among the online predictors as I write. “My Nephew Emmett” is about Emmett Till, which should attract some Academy voters looking to reward a story about racism.

Achievement in sound editing

  • Baby Driver Julian Slater
  • Blade Runner 2049 Mark Mangini and Theo Green
  • Dunkirk Richard King and Alex Gibson
  • The Shape of Water Nathan Robitaille and Nelson Ferreira
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi Matthew Wood and Ren Klyce

Analysis: Dunkirk. The others also have beautiful sound editing. I might give it to Blade Runner 2049, personally, because so many of the environments in that movie are really defined by the sounds.

Achievement in sound mixing

  • Baby Driver Julian Slater, Tim Cavagin and Mary H. Ellis
  • Blade Runner 2049 Ron Bartlett, Doug Hemphill and Mac Ruth
  • Dunkirk Mark Weingarten, Gregg Landaker and Gary A. Rizzo
  • The Shape of Water Christian Cooke, Brad Zoern and Glen Gauthier
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce and Stuart Wilson

Analysis: Dunkirk. Again, this often goes in tandem with Sound Editing. I actually disagree with Christopher Nolan’s philosophy of sound mixes, but there’s no denying that the Academy doesn’t. They nominated Interstellar, The Dark Knight and awarded Inception.

Achievement in visual effects

  • Blade Runner 2049 John Nelson, Gerd Nefzer, Paul Lambert and Richard R. Hoover
  • Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Jonathan Fawkner and Dan Sudick
  • Kong: Skull Island Stephen Rosenbaum, Jeff White, Scott Benza and Mike Meinardus
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi Ben Morris, Mike Mulholland, Neal Scanlan and Chris Corbould
  • War for the Planet of the Apes Joe Letteri, Daniel Barrett, Dan Lemmon and Joel Whist

Analysis: A lot of people are predicting Apes here, and it would be a well-deserved win. That team has advanced the performance animation techniques every film. However, Blade Runner is going to attract all the votes from the voters who prefer their visual effects to be more practical, less digital. It’s also a nominee for Best Cinematography, which means it has a style to the effects that is getting appreciated by the more visually-sophisticated Academy audiences.

Adapted screenplay

  • Call Me by Your Name Screenplay by James Ivory
  • The Disaster Artist Screenplay by Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber
  • Logan Screenplay by Scott Frank & James Mangold and Michael Green; Story by James Mangold
  • Molly’s Game Written for the screen by Aaron Sorkin
  • Mudbound Screenplay by Virgil Williams and Dee Rees

Analysis: Only one of these is also up for Best Picture, and that’s Call. Molly’s Game I love for all its Sorkin-ness, but it doesn’t seem to be getting wider support. Mudbound could sneak in here, doing such a nice job of adapting the poetic inner monologues of the underlying book.

Original screenplay

  • The Big Sick Written by Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani
  • Get Out Written by Jordan Peele
  • Lady Bird Written by Greta Gerwig
  • The Shape of Water Screenplay by Guillermo del Toro & Vanessa Taylor; Story by Guillermo del Toro
  • Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri Written by Martin McDonagh

Analysis: Lady Bird? Three Billboards? Shape of Water? My pick here is Get Out, which is a thoroughly brilliant script and which probably won’t be getting as much love in the other places it is nominated. It seems right for Jordan Peele to get an award somewhere!

Awards Chase: Hostiles

Director / screenwriter Scott Cooper doesn’t believe in off-camera rehearsals. He’ll block out a scene loosely with his d.p. and the actors, but he wants the first performance captured on film. And I do mean film. “I’ll shoot on film until they tell me I can’t,” Scott tells Backstory magazine interviewer Jeff Goldsmith after a screening of Hostiles I attended at LA Film School.

Cooper doesn’t even believe in table reads. It gives the producers a chance to second guess things. Whatever his method, it allows for some powerful performances. Cooper made a big splash directing Jeff Bridges to an Oscar in Crazy Heart. With Hostiles, the period story of a US Army captain ordered to escort a former Cheyenne enemy chief to his Montana homeland, there are again Cooper-directed performances in the conversation.

Christain Bale, as the captain, and Rosamund Pike, as a woman who witnessed her family killed by a renegade band of bandits both get big acting moments of the kind that have drawn awards. Bale, as the lead of the film, is all meaningful grunts. I wish his character’s arc from hatred of the chief (Wes Studi) to grudging respect had been a more carefully drawn. I also wish the movie was either from more of the Native American perspective or didn’t seem to absolve the atrocities committed by the US Army.

Cooper’s script adapts an unpublished manuscript from the late (great) Donald E. Stewart. Although it is set in the American West, it has unmistakeable resonance with the present moment’s wars, which Cooper said was quite intended. The story has too much both-sides-ism for the present cultural moment, which I’m guessing will keep it from the marquee awards categories. If the Native characters had been allowed more screen time and #bigactingmoments, it might be a different story.

Beyond acting, the guild categories are a better bet. The production design, by Donald Graham Burt, evokes the late 1800’s in an unflashy and lived-in way and the grand American landscapes are photographed beautifully by Masanobu Takayanagi. Perhaps the best aspect is the carefully attention to Cheyenne language and custom appropriate to the time. There is not an award for cultural recreation, sadly.

Awards Chase 2017: December Update

Here are some quick thoughts on awards movies I’ve seen lately, the ones I’m allowed to talk about any way:

Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

Possible nomination for Frances McDormand but I would be surprised if it gets anything beyond that. While writer/director Martin McDonagh has a cult following, I don’t think many of them are Academy members and, anyway, this isn’t his best work. The screenplay has a weak ending and some lazy coincidences that probably cancel out the clever flips of who the audience is rooting for.

Lady Bird

This is a great movie on many levels: writing, directing, acting. Many are saying it could be this year’s Moonlight. That’s possible, but I’d say it is still a major underdog. This is a very small and contained movie that will have difficulty against something as grand as Dunkirk. The editing is not flashy but it is excellent and I would love to see a nom there.

Darkest Hour

I really had my hair blown back by this. Strong for nominations in all the major categories, especially the tech ones. The screenplay couches Churchill as a writer hero, so look for the writer’s branch especially to champion this one. There is room for two movies about Dunkirk to

The Big Sick

This is a lovely rom-com which unfortunately is a category the Academy has historically snubbed. However, I can see the writer’s branch nominating the very personal script from Kumail Nanjani and Emily V. Gordon. If you have Amazon Prime, this is now available to watch for free.

Last Flag Flying

There is a contingent that really wanted to see writer/director Richard Linklater win for Boyhood. That might help this film which purports to be about the current Iraq War, but which is really about the Vietnam War. The acting is strong with all three main leads: Steve Carrell, Laurence Fishburne and Bryan Cranston getting their moments. I think Cranston has the best chance of getting nominated, since his character is the one that undergoes the most change. The politics of the film are pretty wishy-washy, which I think will hurt with Academy voters, even though it does have a strong Boomer appeal.

Murder on the Orient Express

Fun movie. It may have a shot in the Costume and Makeup categories.

Your Wednesday Links: How Shoot a Film for 10 Dollars

WNYC’s On the Media had the best take on Disney’s ill-advised attempt to bully the LATimesThor: Ragnarok is great, by the way. If not number one then very close in my personal ranking of Marvel movies.

D4Darious: How to shoot a film for 10 Bucks

CBC: First Haida language film offers rare, powerful glimpse of Haida people – I’m a big fan of films that preserve culture and language — and also entertain. Last year’s Tanna was a beautiful example.

Vulture: The Novice Screenwriter Whose Spec Script Launched an Oscar Campaign

Forbes: Gerard Who? ‘Geostorm’ Worked In China Because It Was Billed As A Daniel Wu Movie – Deadline offered a debriefing on how Geostorm happened.

Vanity Fair: NYPD detective investigating Weinstein says Paz de la Huerta has provided them with enough to arrest Harvey – I think most agree Harvey Weinstein should rot in jail if he is found guilty in a fair trial. The matter of Louis C.K. does not seem to have the same consensus. What is an appropriate punishment? Jail? Total loss of career? Or something less?

Deadline: Louis CK’s (former) manager has issued a public apology

Soundworks: The sound design of Blade Runner 2049 (video) – See also Co.Design’s piece on how movie spacesuits are made.

Mind-bending short film with trippy makeup effects: A Dimly Lit Room – The making of this film was previously reported here.

Flavorwire: The 30 Harshest Filmmaker-on-Filmmaker Insults in History

YOUR WEEKLY WISDOM:

Awards Chase: War for the Planet of the Apes

Last night I had the good fortune to see the last of the modern Apes trilogy at Arclight theaters, followed by a talkback with some of the crew. Writer/director Matt Reeves, actor Andy Serkis, VFX Supervisor Joe Letteri and editors William Hoy and Stan Salfas talked about the three year process of bringing the story to the big screen.

Reeves spoke about how he manages to preserve his vision, even on big-budget studio films. For him, this involves an attitude from the get-go of, “I only know how to make my vision of the movie, not 60% my vision and 40% someone else’s.” He internalizes studio notes as pointing to problems, not necessarily to solutions.

Every time Andy Serkis does an impressive mo-cap performance, there is a push to see him nominated in the acting category. Moderator Pete Hammond played some side-by-side footage showing Serkis performing in a mo-cap suit and the final result with the all-digital character, Caesar. (Letteri noted that, while all the apes are 100% digital, they did use Serkis’ real tears in one scene.) Reeves stressed that it was Serkis’ performance that let the editors do their cut, and it was Serkis’ performance that all of the digital animation was pushed to equal.

The editors spoke about how difficult it was to find the right balance in the VFX versions of Steve Zahn’s performance as Bad Ape where the character was believable instead of cartoonish. The important thing always was to honor the performance of the actor.

I, for one, am on the side of nominating motion capture acting performances alongside the analog ones. Filmmakers have always enhanced actor performances, from makeup prosthetics to a whole array of editing tricks. These days, an editor might use an actor’s body from take 3 and their head from take 6 and their voice from take 9 in a single shot. They might add digital makeup to the point where most of an actor’s face is digitally re-created. Where you draw the line in what should be recognized and awarded as screen acting is not clear. It may very well be that in the future the vast majority of screen performances are more like Serkis’ in the Apes movies.

Well, enough of my soapbox. War for the Planet of the Apes is an epic film — with a great assist from Michael Giacchino’s epic score. Add it to the other two recent Apes films and you have a yet more epic achievement in filmmaking. It’s hard to think of a film where the visual effects technology is so central to telling the story, yet disappears so completely. War for the Planet of the Apes may not reach the promised land of awards recognition, but it looks ahead to a future where such work gets the recognition it deserves.

War for the Planet of the Apes is available on Digital and arrives on 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray on October 24.

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