What All Those Obscure Awards Categories Actually Honor ~ Part 2

By | Begun 02/22/2009
Posted in Cross Cuts


In Part 1 we discussed the overall context within which a film is created. Now, let’s visit the team that bridges the gap between the Director’s mind and the Viewer’s eye ~ in other words, the people being honored in those obscure categories!

Alec Baldwin stated it beautifully at the Spirit Awards yesterday as he presented the Best Picture, saying (I paraphrase), “Anyone who’s ever made a movie knows how hard it is to get even one thing right.  A Best Picture nominee gets everything right, bringing together all the elements we’ve just celebrated.”

The Writer brings the screenplay into being, how the Executive Producer lines up the funding, how the Producer steers it to completion, and how the Director sees the entire story played out in his or her mind.  The actors are in place and the makeup team and costume designer have them perfectly realizing their characters.

But they can’t very well stand in the parking lot screaming that the ship is sinking.

Enter the Art Director, who creates the physical environments in which the characters exist.  Sometimes they create from scratch (starships spring immediately to mind), while other times they choose an existing location (the Sideways “wallet scene”).  In any case, from rooms to buildings to ships to space stations, we can thank the Art Director.

With perfect characters alive in a perfect environment, the Cinematographer steps in.  Also called the Director of Photography, this individual operates the camera in such a way that the film’s overall impression matches that inside the Director’s mind.  Capturing American Beauty presents a task very different from that of Dances with Wolves, and here we recognize the hand of the Cinematographer.

“Film-able” live action is only part of the story, however ~ and where Gollum pilots the Millennium Falcon or Babe takes on Agent Smith, we’re squarely in the purview of Visual Effects.  Forrest Gump couldn’t have shaken Kennedy’s hand without them, and one can begin to appreciate excellence when imagining the film were these elements absent or poorly handled.  Ouch…

Meanwhile, the sound crew gets to work to match the auditory with the visual.  A composer creates the Score (the music reflecting, supplementing, and intensifying the events occurring throughout), while a songwriter may create a self-contained Song that articulates a particular emotional element of the story (Fame, My Heart Will Go On).  The Sound Mixer creates all the non-musical impressions (snap of a piece of celery to hear a movie bone break) after which the Sound Editor matches them to the onscreen action (we mustn’t hear the bus explode before we see it ram the plane, after all).

And finally, with hours upon hours (upon hours!) of footage now in hand, the Film Editor rolls up the sleeves and gets to work splicing pieces together to create the finished work.  Editing merges live action with visual effects (creating scenes that exist nowhere else), keeps the pace moving, and keeps the viewer oriented in time and space.

Now we see why the person holding the statue has so many people to thank. And so do we.

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