La La Land
Marc Platt, producer of La La Land, which garnered 14 nominations to tie with the most ever for a film (the others are Titanic and All About Eve), said, “I was with my wife Julie in bed. We turned on the TV … I couldn’t get the website to work on my phone for the livestream because I am technologically challenged. I started texting my colleagues on the film. Then there was a Facetime call from China where (Best Director nominee) Damien Chazelle and (Best Actor nominee) Ryan Gosling were, drinking champagne … and Ryan had Emma on his Facetime so we all had a wonderful celebration.” The project was brought to Platt by Fred Berger and Jordan Horowitz and then Platt started group texting with them (the other two La La Land producers), “sharing our love and gratitude,” he said. “I said to them, ‘look what you two guys started!’ “
Notes On The Season: Golden Globes, AFI Fest, Scorsese Tribute To Kirk Douglas & J.J. Abrams Celebrates Late 'Star Trek' Actor
Hell or High Water
Carla Hacken and Julie Yorn, producers of Hell or High Water, which earned four Oscar nominations this morning including for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Original Screenplay and for Editing, were nominated for producing for the first time today in their careers. “Julie always thought that Jeff (Bridges) would be nominated. She said it from the first day of shooting,” said Hacken who noted that when the first nomination came through for Jake Roberts for editing, “I started crying … I just knew we were going to get nominated after that and I cried through the whole thing.”
Yorn was asleep and got up to a freezing house and grabbed her 16 year-old jean jacket when Hacken called her. “Yeah, when I saw Jeff on set, I really felt that this was a performance that was going to stand out in what really is an incredible body of work. I really felt it in my bones. He’s so tremendous.”
The film could have easily fallen through the cracks, but they both credit the marketing and distribution strength of CBS Films and Lionsgate for its hybrid release schedule and getting the film in front of the critics. “I felt like every week this one was out, the momentum grew. Literally our movie sustained itself on word of mouth,” said Hacken. Added Yorn, “Terry Press, Steven Friedlander (both of CBS Films) and David Spitz (Lionsgate) did a great job. There was some nervousness going into a summer release for it, but it was really well-timed.” This was CBS Films’ first-ever Best Picture nomination and second-ever film to be nominated after Inside Llewyn Davis, which received two noms in 2014.
Producer David Permut worked to get Hacksaw Ridge on the big screen for 16 years and was in Sundance when word came that his film garnered six nominations, including Best Picture, Director and Lead Actor. “Because of the altitude in Sundance, I haven’t sleep since I got here,” he said. “I was in bed when I heard, but really getting ready to see my first movie of the day.
I’m proud and honored that Desmond Doss will forever live on the big screen. It was a story that had to be told and no one could have told it better than Mel (Gibson). Working with him was one of the most inspiring things of this journey. I’m proud of all the nominees and especially Andrew Garfield who led a great cast. We had a responsibility to make sure Desmond Doss’ story was told right so others could understand the heroism of the man. It’s all surreal as I’m talking to you and walking through snow in Sundance on my way to another movie.” Permut is at the film festival with Jack Black premiering another true story – The Polka King, which screened Sunday night to rousing applause.
“I was just looking at the story of Desmond Doss and I watched ten minutes of footage from This Is Your Life and I thought, ‘What an unusual guy, an amazing kind of hero that believed in the war, but didn’t believe in killing,’” Hacksaw Ridge producer Bill Mechanic said, reflecting this morning on his first Oscar nomination and the long-ago genesis of the project. “It allows you not to make a political statement as much as a social statement: No matter how just the cause, killing is always wrong.”
“I thought it was going to be an easy path,” Mechanic continued. “But that was 16 years ago.”
The persistence paid off. For decades it seemed this story would never be told—heroic combat medic and conscientious objector Desmond Doss was reluctant, in fact, to accept any apparent glorifying of his own heroic acts. So many years later, the film, Hacksaw Ridge, has received six Oscar nominations, including those for Best Director (Mel Gibson), Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (Andrew Garfield), and Best Picture.
Nonetheless, in meditating on this achievement, Mechanic pointed to all the points at which the film fell apart along the way. “It went through all sorts of iterations. One was just getting the script right, which actually wasn’t the usual development hell. We had one early script that wasn’t good, but really once Robert Schenkkan gave us a foundation, we then sold it to Walden,” he remembers.”The Walden process got a little convoluted, in that the budget was really big, and then Clint Eastwood’s picture, Flags of Our Fathers, it didn’t work, and people said to me—this was everywhere—that nobody cared about World War Two stories, so that took us a few years.”
Ultimately, Mechanic not only fought against a PG 13 rating, but also went through the budget and cut it in half in order to get the film made, presenting Gibson with technical challenges as a director, while ensuring that an inspiring tale of American heroism would finally be brought to the silver screen.
Of Gibson’s contribution to the film, Mechanic said: “Braveheart’s a great film, but I think in the intervening time, he’s become one of the truly elite directors in our industry, as an artist and as a full-fledged director, both visually, performance-wise. There’s nothing he’s not good at. He took something that I thought was great and made it way better.”
“I think it’s just so incredible and lovely that both Dev (Patel) and Nicole (Kidman) were nominated in supporting actor because their characters were so close in the story and just as they were in the film as they are now in celebration together,” said Iain Canning, producer of Lion which got six nominations including Best Picture, Supporting Actor and Actress. Canning is no stranger to Oscar, having won four statuettes for The King’s Speech in 2011, including Best Picture (after being nominated for 12). He said the feeling is just as great the second time around. “Oh my God, it’s so exciting. We’ve become a slightly bigger company since the last time so it’s a real joy to share it with other people. It crosses two time zones for London and in Sydney office so there was celebration in both offices. One is having a late glass of champagne and they are having a very early glass of champagne,” he said.
“This actually happened to Saroo Brierley … as you know, it’s a true story. I feel very thankful that they trusted us with the story. Saroo was loved by two mothers.” Then he revealed: “At the end of the film where were the two mothers were meeting for the first time, that was shot in real time as the research was being done. It happened live.”
It was a great day at the Chris Moore, Jenno Topping household – with two Best Picture nominations. Moore is the producer of Manchester by the Sea while Topping – as President of Film and Television at Chernin Entertainment – was one of the producers on Hidden Figures. While Chernin Entertainment has been Oscar-nominated before on other films, this marks the first Best Picture nomination for the eight-year-old company.
So how did they celebrate? “I was outside with my eight-week-old puppy trying to house train her,” said Topping. “It was the middle of the morning chaos. My husband had several nominations for his movie … but this morning it was more about not being late for carpool – because we always seem to be late — and then being happy for one another.” Ted Melfi gave the company the script, and this was before the controversy of the diversity issue that erupted as last year’s Oscars. “And he said, kinda sheepishly, ‘You are going to think this is a weird call for me, but I want to do this movie.’ He is a humanist. He saw the big picture of this movie and what it meant. He saw that we can all do great things for a higher purpose if we can all come together.”
“I got a text from Joylette Hylick, Katherine Johnson’s daughter saying she was so proud of what we did her Mom’s life. I got teary-eyed. It means we did good by those who matter the most. They are standing a lot taller today,” said Ted Melfi who is enjoying nominations today for Best Picture, Supporting Actress for Octavia Spencer and Best Adapted Screenplay (of the book by Margo Lee Shetterly).
“What these women went through their whole life – their whole life — the racism and the sexism and how they had to fight and struggle with every wrung of the ladder that they climbed … it matters.” He said that the movie is getting multiple viewings. “People are going to see this movie two and three times. Teachers are taking kids out of school to go see this movie. We are getting money from people who want to pay for school kids in inner cities to take kids to go see this movie. This is the power of cinema at its fullest. I always remembered what Jack Warner (founder of Warner Bros.) said, ‘A movie should enlighten, educate and entertain’ and you have to check off all three boxes or what is the point of being in this business. I feel humbled by the award.”
Melfi and the film’s creative talent have gone around the country to buy a theater for kids in poor areas so that they can see the film. He and his wife, co-producer Kimberly Quinn, bought a theater in Ferguson, MO; Taraji P. Henson did the same on the Southside of Chicago; Octavia Spencer bought a theater in both South Central L.A. and Washington, D.C.; Janelle Monae bought a theater in a poor neighborhood in Atlanta, Jim Parsons did the same in Houston, and Pharrell Williams bought one for children in Virginia Beach and Norfolk, VA.
The movie about three African American mathematicians will end up well over $100M at the end of its box office run. Who knew?
“Writers spend their life trying to find the right words and when they do find the right words … well, they’re usually are rewritten,” Melfi laughed.
“So to get acknowledgement for the words is a tremendous honor on all levels, especially from your peers whom I admire and respect so much.”
This is the fourth time that a picture produced by Donna Gigliotti had gotten nominated for best picture. She was a producer of Shakespeare in Love, Silver Linings Playbook and The Reader. And now comes Hidden Figures. “It never gets old this feeling of being nominated. I didn’t know what was going to happen today and I was trying to tamp down my own expectations but there comes that moment where you know that it’s alphabetical when it comes to best pictures … and it came to the H’s and I was like what’s next? What’s next?!” she said. “And I had painters coming in this morning — it’s 8:30 in New York when the nominations are read — and they didn’t know why I was suddenly high-fiving them.”
Hidden Figures “had a kind of urgency from the moment I read the book proposal. I knew it had to be made. The order where it came was from her to Octavia Spencer, Pharrell Williams and then Ted Melfi, Chernin and then to Fox. “Everybody felt the fierce urgency of now to tell a story that no one knew about.” She gave credit to two people – Crest Investments “who let me follow my own instincts and without that, I don’t know how I would have gotten where we are today” and Fox distribution chief Chris Aronson, “who made a bold move to do 25 theaters in 21 markets to do that at Christmas time and yet, in the doing of that many markets, he was setting the table for the wide release.” And great success.
Moonlight filmmaker Barry Jenkins heard about the nominations for himself and his film in a very unique way. He was in Amsterdam where it was 2:30 PM (he’s been on an international promotional tour “carrying the voice of the film,” as he says.) “I told my publicist I didn’t want to watch, just tell me … so she would knock on the door and then slide a note underneath (as the nominations came in) and then I’d pick up the note and read it. So I have these handwritten keepsakes.” He would end up collecting two batches because the nominations were announced with a five minute break in between this year. What will he do with the three little notes on hotel stationary that show his film’s eight nominations? “I’m going to frame them!” he said. Jenkins also gave a shout-out this morning to Miami-based collaborative Borscht, a group of artists in Miami who were the first ones to connect him to the playwright of Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney.
Fences producer Todd Black said he “won the lottery” in term of his frequent collaborations with Hollywood heavyweight Denzel Washington. “He approaches, acting, directing and producing at the top of his game every time. He never does anything half way, he goes 100 percent,” Black told Deadline this morning. “Whatever position you’re working with him in, you have to be the same way.” Black continued, “He makes you really as good as you can be and you have to deliver … it’s been an awesome ride and I’m really grateful.” When asked about the unsung hero of this film, Black gave credit to production designer David Gropman saying he “understood that one of the main characters of the movie was the backyard of the house” and “a critical part of telling the story.” He also lauded film editor Hughes Windorne for “putting together a contained film” and “make it cinematic and make you really feel something.” Fences nabbed four nominations this morning including the marquee Best Picture.
“This was in-house homegrown development for us before there was a studio or financing or actor or director,” Arrival producer Shawn Levy said. “This was Eric Heisserer turning us on to a short story. We thought it could be something as emotional as it was cerebral. It is already a thrill that the movie found a commercial audience as it has, but being recognized as it is now by the Academy it is deeply gratifying. [Director] Denis [Villenueve] wanted to put onscreen something we hadn’t seen before, and that applied to specific design from the aliens to the set. It really was an attempt to make something singular. This is a new experience for me and one that I aspired to. This is the kind of diverse content that I was trying to build 21 Laps towards. We always knew that we could be more than Night at the Museum, and I think with Stranger Things and Arrival we’ve shown that.”
Manchester By The Sea
“I am so honored and grateful to the Academy for this recognition, said producer Kevin Walsh. But, none of it would be possible without the talent and genius of Kenny Lonergan — and the flawless performances of Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Lucas Hedges and our entire tremendous cast. I could not be more proud of this movie and my partners — Matt Damon, Kimberly Steward, Chris Moore and Lauren Beck, Amazon and Roadside — for all of their work to make this movie come to life. These are very difficult movies to get made. When they finally get there and are discovered and embraced by audiences it is all the more gratifying.”
Isabelle Huppert, Elle
Receiving her first Oscar nomination for the role of Michèle Leblanc in Paul Verhoeven’s controversial Elle, Isabelle Huppert reflected on the successful journey the film has taken throughout awards season, and the critics’ embrace of a controversial black sheep in this year’s crop of foreign films. “For me, it’s once in a lifetime, and it’s just amazing. I can’t tell you more,” she said. “Since we took the film to Cannes, and then the Golden Globes, and the awards from the critics, and now the Oscar nominations, it’s just incredible. And I’m so happy for me, but also for Paul Verhoeven, for the film — also, by the fact that it’s a French-speaking film. It’s not obvious to take a French-speaking film in the final race of the awards, as you know.”
With Verhoeven on board, Huppert had no doubt that “disturbing” material would be handled with the utmost respect and care and knew immediately that she wanted the film’s lead role. “It was very original, very true, very daring also. It shows a woman you’ve never seen on screen before,” Huppert said. “The fact that you get such amazing response to the film is the exact indication that people relate to the film in its integrity, in its depth. I think that, quite magically and miraculously, [Elle] manages to combine so many contrasts. It’s like a roller coaster.”
Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
Casey Affleck was in bed, having gotten into Vancouver at 3 AM to shoot a movie, when he was awakened by the call about his Best Actor nomination. Affleck was nominated for Supporting Actor on 2008’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, but he said he had a different feeling and a deeper appreciation of the nomination this time around. “This resonated in a different way,” Affleck told Deadline. “It feels like a really big moment, and I’m more aware of what it means to be around so many people that I’ve admired for so many years and then to be acknowledged for the work — and with Michelle [Williams] and Kenneth Lonergan, who is one of my oldest and closest friends. It’s overwhelming, and so it’s a combination of that and being accepted by people who you really admire. I genuinely feel such a deep gratitude toward Kenny for giving me this opportunity. It meant the world to him to do this work; I know how important it was to him, and I am thankful that he trusted me with it. And I would do it all again for him at the drop of a hat.”
Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge
Receiving his first Oscar nomination for his portrayal of WWII conscientious objector Desmond Doss in Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge, Andrew Garfield jokes that this nomination will also be his last. “I was overwhelmed, to be honest. It’s the kind of thing where, of course, no matter how hard you try, you can’t help but dream about as a young person, even before becoming an actor. It’s just a wonderful fantasy that lives inside of people, and definitely lived inside of me,” Garfield told Deadline this morning. “It’s a real honor to be a part of history in that way, and to be able to say, ‘Yeah, one time I did something that was considered good enough to be included in this short list.’ You can’t quite compute it, but I feel very, very proud of the film.”
“And also, I’m proud to be nominated in kind of a historic, record-breaking year for African American nominees and stories,” the actor continued, alluding to a slew of nominations for films such as Moonlight, Hidden Figures and Denzel Washington’s August Wilson adaptation, Fences. “It’s a very soulful year for movies, I think.”
Garfield spent his year meditating on faith in two films, Hacksaw and Martin Scorsese’s Silence, and according to the actor, there was no better time for such contemplation. “There’s a lot of uncertainty in our world right now. There’s a lot of obviously distressing things happening, especially in the United States, and in the UK, there’s a lot of decisions being made—ways of approaching life that are very unsettling,” he said. “It’s a very scary time, so what better time to create stories and films that ask questions about how do you live a life of faith, how do you discern what’s in your control, what’s out of your control, and how to live according to the natural order of things?”
BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Mahershala Ali has capped his banner year with his first Oscar nomination in the best supporting actor category for his role in Moonlight. He shared that when he first got the script for Moonlight, he was “blown away by it and was willing to sacrifice being in other projects if it meant that they interfered with the schedule of Moonlight.” He continued, “I let that be known. At the time I was in talks to do Luke Cage and after reading Moonlight I let my representatives know it was something that I was willing to let go of in order to do something much bigger. It’s something that resonated with me and spoke to my heart and I think that’s true for everyone that was involved. I knew it was special from the very first time I read it.” In terms of awards and recognition, “I really try not to have any expectation of anyone or any nominating bodies because it’s a subjective thing,” Ali said while speaking to Deadline about being a favorite in this slot. “You can’t expect for people to react to a project in the same way… I try to take it all as it comes. It’s the best way that I can stay sane throughout this whole process.”
Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water
On the morning of his seventh career Oscar nomination — for his sheriff role in the Taylor Sheridan-scripted Hell or High Water — Jeff Bridges is as excited and energized as he’s ever been. “It’s just wonderful. We have my compadres here; we have best film editing, Jake Roberts, and screenplay, and Best Picture! Oh, man! I’m over the moon,” he said.
“When I first read Taylor’s script, it just rang with authenticity,” Bridges said. “It really felt like this is a guy who knows what he’s talking about. It turned out Taylor’s from Texas, his cousin was a marshal, going through the retirement process, and just the dialogue. It was wonderful to say those words. I imagine something that had to do with that was, Taylor is an actor as well. He’s in the movie. So I can imagine him sitting there writing the thing, trying out the lines as if he was playing the part.”
While Hell or High Water plays well as a timely commentary on tragic economic disparity in modern America, Bridges believes the film succeeds in its storytelling, with or without the politics. “From my perspective, us human beings, we have a deep history of looking out for our own self-interest. I think that’s one of the themes of the film — the consequences of doing that, whether you’re a bank ripping people off for your own greed or you’re looking out for you and your family, robbing banks,” Bridges said. “I think that’s a theme that has run through our history as human beings.”
Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea
“It’s weird because I was always expecting my life to turn out in way that was disappointing. There is this story we tell about the world which is that life ends up being really boring in the end. It’s a version of the story that people tell and I thought that was going to happen and the next thing you know I’m nominate for an Oscar,”said Manchester By The Sea Best Supporting Actor nominee Lucas Hedges, who picked up his first nom this morning.
Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals
Previously nominated in 2008 for his supporting turn in Sam Mendes’ Revolutionary Road—in which he appeared opposite Leonardo DiCaprio—Michael Shannon has scored another supporting nomination for the role of Detective Bobby Andes in Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals.
“It’s pretty neat, you know? I gotta say, I really love this film, and I was so glad to be part of it. I really loved working with Tom, and any light that this nomination might shed on the film, steer people toward seeing the film, that makes me happy,” Shannon said. “I can’t imagine ever getting tired of [being nominated]. It’s kind of ingrained in our culture. I’ve been watching the Oscars since I was a little kid.”
Speaking to his attraction to the West Texas setting and the film’s true crime tone, and the joys of acting opposite co-star Jake Gyllenhaal, Shannon also expressed his great admiration for his director. “His process is very much like the man himself—it’s immaculate, it’s pristine, it’s expertly thought out. He has a huge respect for film, for cinema, and he’s not doing it just for shits and giggles, as a hobby. He really means it,” the actor told Deadline. “There’s a reason there was so much time between his last film and this one, because he doesn’t rush it. That’s what it takes to make something that’s truly worth peoples’ time.”
BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Michele Williams, Manchester by the Sea
Michelle Williams picked up her fourth Oscar nomination and told Deadline this morning that “the greatest thing about it” is that it is “more exciting for the people that you love and that love you.” Williams said she got the news from her mom “and to hear the happiness in her voice is better than anything so that’s the nice part, the opportunity for people that you love to be proud of you.”
She was nominated for best supporting actress for her role in Manchester By The Sea. Speaking to what attracted her to the project, Williams said “It’s the kind of love story that I can believe, which is that, it’s not a perfect marriage but combative marriage, a sexy marriage and a lived-in marriage.” She continued, neither of them are brittle, neither of them are repressed. They have a very exposed relationship.” She added, “The real heartbreak is that these two people can’t stop loving each other but they just couldn’t be together because it’s too painful.”
Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures
With little sleep the night before Octavia Spencer can rest easy after her name was announced this morning in best supporting actress slot. She avoided watching it online, instead opting to wait for the call. “When your phone rings, it’s exciting. Although Spencer was “over the moon” about the nom, she hoped to share the moment with her Hidden Figures co-stars.”But I’m really happy for the film. I happy that its resonating with audiences and that the Academy recognized it today.” Yes, the pic did land the big Best Picture nomination.
Expounding on the film’s impact, Spencer said: “Girls can know — black, white, Asian and Latin — that they can aspire to be in science, technology, engineering and math and that they can have a profound effect in our society by being enrolled in those fields. … I think sometimes in order to dream it you have to see it. If we had known about Katherine, Dorothy, and Mary when we were growing up, I think women would dominate in those fields and it wouldn’t be so biased in regards to women and how they perform.”
Spencer, who won in this category for 2011’s The Help, added: “I am humbled by this story and forever grateful that when I heard it I was smart enough to say yes. … This is the American Dream. It about having a dream for yourself, reaching goals. Sadly it’s set in one of the most tumultuous times in our nation’s history. But if these women could persevere in those circumstances, I feel like [women today] can change the world.”
Denis Villeneuve, Arrival
Denis Villeneuve said his nomination was bittersweet because Amy Adams, who is the soul, of the picture was not nominated as Best Actress. He also gave his crew props for pulling together the possible out of the seemingly impossible. “I think it’s a movie that when we received the screenplay it was really beautiful, poetic and strong, but with a lot of challenges,” he said. “We had to have a lot of creativity because we didn’t have a lot of money so our VFX (team) and production designer worked really hard to make it reality. They didn’t have a lot of resources to work with but they (succeeded).” He said the budget they had to work with was $45M “which was not a lot of money for what we had to do. It’s a bit of a miracle, and all of the credit goes to the creativity of my crew. I’m really proud and it’s a huge celebration but at the same time, if you asked me last night, what my expectations were for the picture, I would have said Amy. For me it’s a strange moment, because my heart is happy but I am also sad. It’s the biggest honor but at the same time, she worked so hard all the time. But, I’m deeply at peace for my crew.”
Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester By The Sea
Twice nominated in the 2000s—for his Gangs of New York and You Can Count on Me screenplays—Kenneth Lonergan has picked up two new Oscar nominations for Manchester by the Sea, including his first ever nomination for directing. Overall, the Sundance premiering film starring Casey Affleck took six nominations, including those for Actor, Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress, as well as Best Picture.
“It’s an incredible honor. If you look at all the great movies this year and all the great directors out there, to be noticed at all is a real thrill,” said the director, whose film made history today—the first film from a streaming platform (Amazon) to ever be nominated for Best Picture.
Producer Matt Damon may have missed out on the chance to go for a director’s trophy by passing the project on to his friend Lonergan, but at the moment, the director isn’t too concerned for him. “It’s very hard to get Matt Damon down. He’s a very up person. I don’t think it can be done,” Lonergan said.
Seeing his cast together for the first time, and screening the film both at Sundance and for friends and family, Lonergan had a sense that he had come upon something special. Speaking to Deadline, the director conjured up a stand-out moment from the film’s shoot, which was also a highlight of his overall career.
“One of the most remarkable moments I’ve ever had, professionally or creatively, was when Casey shot the scene in the morgue where he sees his brother’s body for the first time, and he just started crying,” Lonergan said. “I hadn’t expected it, but Casey stood up from that kiss with tears in his eyes, and I was really shaken.”
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
My Life as a Zucchini
Claude Barras, the director of Best Animated Feature nominee with My Life as a Zucchini called with producer Max Karli (who translated for Barras) from a train station to speak to Deadline: “We are so proud of our film, and very proud of every animated film and the choices that were made,” said Barras. “All of the films are all very, very different and very beautiful. We haven’t realized it yet that this is true.”
Added producer Karli, “When we saw the streaming for the nominations this morning, we first saw the trailer and all these other movies, and we thought, well, it’s over, so when when it was announced, we couldn’t believe that Zucchini was there!” Barras said the film about a little orphaned boy who finds the meaning of love took four years to bring to the screen — two years of preparation, one year of shooting and one year of post-production. “We love Los Angeles and are happy to come back,” added Karli.
Kubo and the Two Strings
Oscar-nominated for The Boxtrolls in 2014, Laika CEO Travis Knight today received another major vote of confidence in his feature directorial debut, as Kubo and the Two Strings received Oscar nominations in the categories of Best Visual Effects and Best Animated Feature. A stop-motion samurai film, Kubo was a longtime passion project of Knight’s, an experiment vindicated by all kinds of nominations from critics across the country.
“I don’t think it’s a feeling that will ever get old. It’s interesting—we work on our films in a bubble up here in the armpit of the Pacific Northwest, and we really just pour our hearts and souls into these films for years at a time. This particular project took us over five years to make, and our process is such that we never do any test screenings, or focus group testing or anything like that,” Knight explained. “So when we put the film out, what it represents on some level is a purity of filmmaking, but it also represents for us a complete roll of the dice. We have absolutely no idea how people are going to respond to what we do. We do something because we love it, but we really have no data to show that anyone’s going to like it other than us.”
Asked how he felt about receiving his second Oscar nomination, Zootopia director Byron Howard quipped, “Cold. My house is freezing!”
“It’s about as good as I could possibly feel at 5:30 in the morning,” said the film’s other director Rich Moore, a previous nominee for 2012’s Wreck-It Ralph.
“It’s just a remarkable experience, and honestly for Disney, we were so proud of Ron [Clements] and John [Musker] as well for getting Moana nominated. For a studio that ten years ago was really struggling, it’s amazing to see Disney at such a high point right now, and I got into animation because of Ron and John’s films,” Howard added, spreading the wealth. “I saw The Little Mermaid over 25 years ago and I said, ‘That’s what I want to do,’ so I’m just really honored to work next to those guys.”
The turning point for Howard and Moore in conceptualizing their story? “The moment that we figured out that we were telling a story about bias, racism, sexism, through the eyes of a character who didn’t realize that she herself had a kernel of those issues within herself. We had this main character who believed discrimination was a problem of her parents’ generation, that she didn’t think that this was ever something that would live in her, and that she needed to address it individually,” Moore shared. “To me as a filmmaker, it felt like we put our finger on something very true.”
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Roger Ross Williams, who directed the Best Documentary Feature film nominee Life, Animated, was in Sundance with his producers of the film when he heard the good news. Life, Animated tells the story of Owen Suskind, a young autistic man who as a boy was unable to speak until his family found a way to communicate through classic Disney movies. The film had its TV premiere on A&E Networks on January 7. It was produced by A&E IndieFilms and Motto Pictures and distributed by The Orchard. “Documentaries are a labor of love and take years and years to make so this is an incredible honor,” said Williams. “There are a million Owenses in the world and I wanted to tell his story. I’m speechless because this is going to mean so much for so many who have been left behind.”
O.J.: Made In America
Director/producer Ezra Edelman whose film O.J.: Made In America was nominated in the Best Feature Documentary category, was at his producer’s Caroline Waterlow’s apartment in New York with Libby Geist, the ESPN exec and executive producer of the film. “We watched it together and pooled our collective anxiety,” he told Deadline. “It’s amazing and it’s humbling and overwhelming and it’s hard to be truly aware of the greater meaning of it. I’m just so proud of so many people who worked so hard to make this movie are now being able to enjoy this recognition.” Edelman said he wanted to do this documentary “because it touches on so many themes in American life — race, celebrity, domestic abuse, the media, identity, criminal justice, masculinity, and policing. It is a story that touches upon every important theme. I am eternally grateful to have been given the opportunity to tackle so many subject matters in this way.”
WRITING (ADAPTED SCREENPLAY)
Allison Schroeder, Hidden Figures
Allison Schroeder, who was the only female nominated in either writer category this year and garnered a nom for best adapted screenplay with co-writer/director Ted Melfi for Hidden Figures said, “I was sound asleep and my sister ran into the room and started yelling ‘You did it! You did it’! Then my baby Emily, who is nine weeks old, woke up and started crying and joined in the fun.” Schroeder researched, came up with the story and then she and Melfi wrote the script in a year. The movie got made in under three years. “It just goes to show that this story and these women are so amazing and the story had to be told.” Her grandparents, Elmer and Ruth, both worked at NASA and Allison was an intern there when she was in high school for all four years.
Eric Heisserer, Arrival
Taking note of seemingly pat answers by Oscar nominees on the day of the nominations announcement, Arrival scribe Eric Heisserer now finds himself with a different perspective, receiving his first nomination for Denis Villeneuve’s brainy sci-fi picture. “It’s surreal, you know? I now get that,” he said. Heisserer recalled for Deadline the long road to getting the film made and the challenges of pitching a film involving complex linguistic and scientific detail. “I remember early on when I had written the script and we first tried to find a home for it, there were plenty of people that said that there’s no way you could make a movie that uses the words ‘nonlinear orthography,’ ” he said. “And so to find ourselves in a place where we have eight nominations is just pretty stellar.” Arrival is among a number of films this year with a strong political and social resonance, and it’s Heisserer’s hope that its thematic exploration will lead viewers to examine the way in which we communicate with one another. “We’re in a time when we’re so interconnected, and it’s so incredibly easy for us to communicate with one another, and we seem to be getting worse at it,” he said.
WRITING (ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY)
Taylor Sheridan, Hell or High Water
“It’s really humbling. I keep trying to figure out how to articulate it. It’s one of those things you feel foolish hoping for, and to have the work recognized is just a real humbling, kind of overwhelming sensation,” Hell or High Water scribe Taylor Sheridan said, taking a break from Wind River promotion on the Sundance circuit to reflect on his film’s four Oscar nominations. “But especially that the film is nominated for Best Picture means everything.”
“It’s an exploration of a region, and at the root of it, it’s about poverty, and it’s about trying to break out of that, and how does that one do that?” the scribe said, explaining the thematic concerns that drove the second film in his Western trilogy. “How does one break that cycle? And all of the things that come with poverty and the stress of that, from abuse to alcoholism to all these issues.”
For Sheridan, one of the defining moments in the life of the film was seeing scenes that director David Mackenzie had cut together. “Very early on, David sent me a few scenes that they’d assembled as they were shooting, and when I watched those, I knew,” he said. “Because before, you’re a little bit, ‘Am I kidding myself?’ But when I saw it, I was like, ‘Wow. I think this is going to work.’”
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
Michael Barker, Sony Pictures Classics
Michael Barker of Sony Pictures Classics, which garnered four nominations for its various films including a Foreign Language noms for Toni Erdmann and Land of Mine, said, “What’s so satisfying is when you start, you say to yourself, you have this low budget, animated film [in The Red Turtle] and how can that compete with the big studios and their marketing campaigns and cut through all of it? And then you have a French actress [Elle‘s Isabelle Huppert] with a Dutch director [Paul Verhoeven] and you think how can that get through? And it comes down to, you just have faith in the quality of the films. It’s a great morning when you have nominations in so many in categories that are not so easy [for smaller films]. I was talking to my business partner Tom Bernard this morning who said, ‘You know Isabelle Huppert has been in a masterpiece every decade since the 1970s, and the fact that she is winning these things now is so great.” We’ve just started expanding [the distribution[ on Elle so to have a nomination for an actress, it gives the lifeblood to the picture. … And for Tony Erdmann, it is important for the lives of these pictures. It’s important to get the public to notice these wonderful, quality films that are out there right now. Land of Mine opens in two weeks and this can make a difference between a picture opening or not.”
SHORT FILM (LIVE ACTION)
Spanish born producer and director Juanjo Giménez’s short film Timecode – nominated today for Documentary Short Film — has already won a multitude of film festival awards, including the Palme d’Or for the Best Short Film at the Cannes Film Festival. The film is about about a security guard who finds the other security guard on her shift is dancing in the parking lot they guard. So she leaves a timecode for the other guard to look at – and at the same timecode she also dances. They begin leaving each other timecodes after that, communicating with each other through dance.
“We were in a bar near our office in Barcelona and sitting with my family and almost half of the crew were there. The other half have jobs like teachers … ,” said Giménez. “And we sat there waiting for the last name to be called because we knew it was alphabetical. After that, it was an explosion, and I cannot tell you anything more that happened after that. I just don’t know,” he laughed.
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