What All Those Obscure Awards Categories Actually Honor ~ Part 1

By | Begun 02/21/2009
Posted in Cross Cuts
Oscar® Statuettes | Credit: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

Even the most dedicated moviegoers can find themselves a bit bewildered by the awards categories ~ but knowing the distinctions as a viewer makes everything so much more exciting.

We all understand Makeup and Costume Design, of course, but what is the difference between Sound Editing and Sound Mixing?  Or between a Score and a Song?

Quite a bit, actually. And knowing the difference will enhance both the experience of the film, and the agony and the ecstasy of the awards cermonies.

So in appreciation of awards already bestowed and in preparation for those to come at what [newly-minted Spirit Award Best Actress!] Melissa Leo called “[the] big party tomorrow night,” let’s take a [somewhat sweeping] overview of those perhaps more obscure roles.

The Writer

A film starts with a screenplay (some might argue a film starts with a financial backer, but let’s not be jaded…), and this screenplay will be either Original or Adapted.  If Original, the writer brings forth something that never before existed.  If Adapted, the writer takes an existing work and transforms narrative into dialogue.

Neither poses an easy task ~ the former must be superbly realized from nothing, while the latter must remain true to an established story while perhaps eliminating or creating scenes (and even characters) or fundamentally changing the very underpinnings of the tale. (For example, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote Benjamin Button as aging backwards in both body and mind.)  A writer may also “adapt” the ending (Hannibal), which is a hot topic best saved for another day.  Because these approaches demand different skills, they receive distinct recognition.

The Executive Producer

One blissful day, the screenplay captures the attention of this elusive individual, who customarily puts up the money (becoming the “owner” of the picture, so to speak) and assigns a Producer, who gets. it. done.

The Producer

A project manager par excellence (think Stanley Motss),  the Producer chooses the Director and perhaps some of the performers, handles the myriad moving parts, and practices crisis intervention (think Marty “I made $11M last year” Rossen).  In recognition of the organizational prowess of this role, it is the Producer who takes the stage to accept the Best Picture award.

The Director

 The Director conceives the story’s very expression.  Managerial style may vary from highly… well, directive to more collaborative, but what ends up onscreen reflects what was in the Director’s mind.

Imagine a favorite event from your past; now imagine how you might actually transfer that onto a screen.  Congratulations, you’re the Director.  To accomplish this, you’ll assemble a team of artists who will grasp what you’re after and actually materialize it.

This team include the actors, makeup artists, costume designers ~ and the people in those obscure categories: Art Director, Cinematographer, Visual Effects Coordinator, Film Editor, Sound Editor, and Sound Mixer.

We’ll talk about them (and the difference between a score and a song) in Part 2 ~ pop back tomorrow afternoon, and you’ll be completely in command of your Oscar ballot in no time!

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