OSCARS: Who Were The Unsung Heroes Of 2014′s Academy Award Pics?

Diane Haithman and Cari Lynn are contributing to Deadline’s Oscar coverage.

oscarsOn every film there’s someone who doesn’t get as much credit as they deserve. People in the background who fight for the movie, whose insight or work is crucial to the film, whose efforts start the ball rolling. For instance, for Gravity, it was Alfonso Cuaron‘s son (and writing partner, Jonas), who inspired him by saying, “Your films are all right, but you’ve got to get more entertaining,” Cuaron remembered backstage at the Beverly Hilton Hotel after the Golden Globes last Sunday. “It could be more fun. And that was the point of departure to do this film.” Also, if it weren’t for former Warner Bros. president of the Motion Picture Group Jeff Robinov, the film would not have gotten made. It got shoved aside by Universal after Angelina Jolie dropped out and Warner Bros. couldn’t get its co-financiers to step up to the plate. Enter Robinov who was the behind the scenes champion on the film which now has a worldwide gross of $675M. For 12 Years a Slave, it was Steve McQueen‘s wife Bianca Stigter who found the book and alerted her husband who had been wanting to make a film about slavery. Today, we asked some of the nominees who, if anyone, also deserved special recognition. These are some of the responses.

American Hustle: Amy AdamsAmy Adams, Best Actress nominee, American Hustle:
“The unsung hero? That’s our Steadicam operator Geoff [Haley] – I’m not even kidding. Because David [O. Russell] works in 360 and you can plan what the shot is but the shot is pretty much what David O. Russell is yelling at the moment. Geoff is running around all day with a Steadicam on and I would look at him and go I don’t know how you’re doing this if I’m barely standing at the end of the day. He was amazing. He’s our dance partner. Any place we moves he’s moving – and sometimes it’s without planning… It’s an amazing thing to watch.”

Jean-Marc Vallee & Matthew McConaugheyMatthew McConaughey, Best Actor nominee, Dallas Buyers Club:
The under the radar person that’s not really been brought up out in the light as much as I would have liked is Jean-Marc [Valée], the director. He came out, he’s only been on couple of panels. Mind you was off making another film, which is priority one. But this guy brought the right sensitivity to the anarchy of Ron Woodruff’s story. He saw what it was from the beginning. His ideas for how to approach different scenes were wild but always very human. We know when you read this script, this could be one movies that’s an independent, that’s very important – but is it going to be entertaining? We got away with importance and entertainment. That’s a big coup for a movie like this. Because you know you’re going to go, ‘I should probably see that.’ But you don’t know it’s going to be a movie that you go, ‘I want to see it, and I had a great ride.’ Especially for the limited time and budget we had. He directed it, he’s the one who made his cut.”

gravity btsSandra Bullock, Best Actress nominee, Gravity:
“I hate the word crew because it lumps everyone together. Here we are in this box, hanging by ourselves and attention’s on you, and the kindest people around you all the time – ‘Are you OK, can you get you anything, what does the movie need’ – creating a playspace in the middle of a cement wonderland… the unsung heroes are all the technicians and artists who worked behind the scenes on this film for over two years to create this suspension of disbelief. Those are the people that I think should be named by name, and there are over 250 people. And of course anyone whose voice you heard on film and never saw their faces. Every single element of this film had to be there in order for you to feel what you felt. There are over 250 unsung heroes on this film and I hope they know how grateful I am. I never say it enough. They sit in a black room themselves on their computer screens all day and they don’t get their names called out – but they should.”

June Squibb, Best Supporting Actress nominee, Nebraska:
“The crew. Most of them have worked on every film Alexander Payne has done. They are very faithful and loyal to him, and also do whatever they can to help the actor.”

Joe Letteri, Visual Effects Supervisor, nominated with Eric Saindon, David Clayton and Eric Reynolds for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug:
“We had 1,000 artists working on this show and we only get to pick four names to put up there (for nomination). The awards are geared toward live action categories. It’s hard to get group recognition for the whole team. We’ve been working together on these films ever since Lord of the Rings.”

Kirk De Micco, co-director of Best Animation nominee The Croods:
“I’d hope they’d all be sung… but Markus Manninen, our visual effects supervisor. He was on it for a long time. If The Croods were a company he’d be Employee #5. The fact is, he really brought helped us because this movie has such scope and we were asking so much of them to build this landscape. He liaised and worked between departments to get us the absolute most he could… since the art means so much to us, he should be sung.”

captain_phillipsBilly Ray, Best Adapted Screenplay nominee, Captain Phillips:
“Captain Richard Phillips. He survived what I know would have killed me, and he behaved honorably and courageously. And then he sat down and wrote this book! I would argue that Captain Phillips is the one who wrote this. I just wrote it [as a screenplay].”

Terence Winter, Best Adapted Screenplay nominee, The Wolf of Wall Street:
“(Producer) Alexandra Milchan brought me the book in the first place, found the material, and has been a champion of this thing from the beginning. You don’t hear her name a lot. For me certainly she was my hero, it started with her.”

David Heyman, producer of Gravity:
“Jonas Cuaron is the person who’s the unsung hero of Gravity. Without him none of us would be here. It was his idea, it was he who encouraged Alfonso [Cuaron] to tell this story. He wrote it with him, and as Alfonso says he taught him to look at cinema in a different way. I think Jonas Cuaron is the unsung hero.”

Steve Coogan, co-star and Best Adapted Screenplay nominee co-screenwriter, Philomena:
“China Chow. Four years ago, I had read her the story I’d just seen in the newspaper, and I was crying at the end. She introduced me to her godmother (who became my co-producer) and China said, ‘Tell her the story’. China pushed me. She give me the carpe diem. And, also, there’s Christine Langan of the BBC. When I said I didn’t know how to write drama, she said, ‘You just need a good co-writer’. She introduced me to Jeff Pope, she was our matchmaker.”

Philomena-starrying-Judi-Dench-and-Steve-Coogan-2670214Gaby Tana, producer of Philomena: “There were people who were very supportive: Michael’s boyfriend was very supportive of this as was Philomena herself and her daughter Jane Libberton was incredible. Jane spearheaded the whole thing and was really trying to find out what happened and helped her mother feel comfortable about telling this story. Both Tana and Philomena co-writer Jeff Pope, credited Christine Langan at BBC Films who was a mutual friend of Coogan’s and Pope’s and brought them together – a collaboration that is now continuing on other projects. Tana also said of Langan, “I went to her early on and pitched it to her she gave us the financing for development.” Pathe Communications also financed.

John Ridley, Best Adapted Screenplay nominee, 12 Years A Slave:
“If I wanted to talk about the hero of this film it’s Solomon, it’s Solomon Northup. People have been very gracious about the screenplay, but it’s Solomon’s work, it’s his life, it’s his true character. A film like this doesn’t happen by accident. And I am grateful to the financiers but I can’t say enough about (the studio) Plan B. With no money for development, no money for the script, they made this happen. In a city where people always decry they don’t’ make these kinds of films, they went out and made this kind of film.”

Dede Gardner, producer of 12 Years a Slave: “Unsung hero? It took a village. It was the combination of (director) Steve McQueen’s vision and drive with Brad (Pitt’s) unflagging commitment to seeing it happen. Brad had such admiration for Steve that he really threw down behind it and said we’re going to do what it takes to get it done.”

cutie-and-the-boxer1Zachary Heinzerling, director of Best Documentary nominee Cutie and the Boxer:
“Noriko. This film is about the fact she is an unsung hero, and spent her life in the service of her husband and has now come into her own. Also, my producer Lydia Pilcher, who took this project on completely on a whim, after seeing some footage. We had no money and she ushered us through to Sundance and has been the rock in this whole journey. I am indebted to her.”

Alexander Payne, Best Director nominee, Nebraska:
“The production designer Dennis Washington. It’s my first time working with him, I think his work on the film is so good, it’s invisible.”

Judy Becker, Production Designer, American Hustle:
“There are a lot of unsung heroes. I work with a huge crew, but three people should really be singled out: David Velasco, location manager, who came in and saved the day. Prop manager Daniel Fisher, and leadman David Weinman. It takes everybody working together with a vision.”

Emma Tillinger Koskoff, producer, The Wolf of Wall Street:
“Everybody from our grips to our teamsters to our ADs, everybody just gave 200 percent and we just knocked it out for these guys and made sure every day Marty and Leo were armed with the means they needed to make this incredible film.”

Glenn Freemantle, Sound Editing, Gravity:
“Nina Heartstone, Dialogue editor. She worked on creating the breathing and the heartbeat and the radio signals. And it’s all seamless, which is very hard to do.”

Emmanuel Lubezki, Best Cinematography nominee, Gravity:
“Many! One is Steve Scott, the colorist of the movie. He was part and parcel of making Gravity what it is.”

  1. This was a terrific angle on an Oscars story; asking the nominees about unsung heroes on their films. Would enjoy seeing more of these kinds of stories. Great work.

  2. This is a great article- sometimes it’s easy to forget all the people working hard who aren’t in the limelight.

  3. This is a great insight to the “unsung” heros who work so hard.

    However, you could never name all of them; from the top stars and directors, producers, etc. to the last but not least person on the totem pole; 99% of ALL the people working on a movie work their hearts off.

    When I had the opportunity to work on a movie a few years ago, working a regular day of 16 – 18 hours was not uncommon. I even had a few 22 hour days when things were busier than normal.

    It’s all a family, for the time, working together for a common and creative goal.

    I would also love to see an article about another “unsung hero” group; the movies made during the year that did not make “Best Picture” in the official nominees, but might be the next best 10 picture suggestions for the year.

    For me, and for those who go to more than 9 – 15 movies a year, a list like this would be very much appreciated. When I go to see a movie, I like an educated opinion of what movies are likely to be good.

  4. In answer to the question, Rush, and its moral underpinning, which is the hard-edged physical courage of its cheerful extrovert protagonist. Hustle and Wolf, and indeed Captain Philips, were inspired by nasty criminals.

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