Potato, potahto, craft, tech, let's call the whole thing off

Posted by · 8:49 pm · November 15th, 2011

I think our record at In Contention of highlighting the craft categories via the weekly Tech Support column for the last six years speaks for itself. In the wake of our centralized focus throughout said fields, outlets like Variety, The Hollywood Reporter and the Los Angeles Times have stepped up their game, featuring contenders and eventual nominees from those categories with more consistency, while other outlets like Movie City News have actually expanded their coverage to include these areas when they didn’t cover them before.

We’ve kind of prided ourselves, both Gerard Kennedy (who has written the column since its inception) and myself, on including below-the-line efforts in the same breath as higher profile elements like directing and acting because we believe they are vital and should share the attention. And speaking for myself, as someone who attended film school and knows very well what each and every one of these elements entails, it’s been kind of a passion.

So with that in mind, I think I’ll just give a certain sound mixer the benefit of the doubt regarding a few statements he made in the comments section of a recent edition of Tech Support.

Normally I’d keep this kind of thing to a corrective email, but since this person decided to get bent out of shape about this in public, I’ll step in and set the record straight in public. Because I frankly take it as a bit of an affront to our intent and dedication all these years.

He lashed out thusly:

“Would you please stop addressing us as ‘tech support’… It is CRAFT and nominated in the CRAFT catagories [sic]. As much as Cinematography is a craft…..and not tech! The tech awards are on a different night… We do not see ourselves as techs!”

And then he came back six hours later with this:

“I know this may seem petty but…. We like to be considered a Craft and not tech. The tech awards are on another night and the craft awards are on the main broadcast. Just like cinematography, what we do is creative…. and is appreciated by the filmmakers as such. The media must stop categorizing us as tech. Just because our paint brushes are knobs, does not make mixing any less creative…”

Notice the capital “C,” as well as the unfortunate ghettoization of the Scientific & Technical Awards, which, pardon me, often recognize achievements that are subjectively artful and come from some of the most important, unsung minds of our industry. I’m also well aware of when they’re handed out, being that this is my 11th year of specifically covering the film awards season.

But like I said, I kind of want to give him the benefit of the doubt here. I gather from comments like these that he is new to In Contention and/or Tech Support. After all, if he was a long-time reader or at least aware of what we do here — like some of his colleagues in the mixing field (Kevin O’Connell, Greg Russell, Gary Rizzo, Randy Thom, Jeff Haboush, Ren Klyce, Michael Semanick, etc., etc.) — then I can’t imagine he’d be so bold.

My honest guess is he found his way to us because one of his films (“Captain America: The First Avenger”) has a legitimate shot at awards attention for the first time since 2004 and “The Bourne Supremacy,” which was before In Contention’s time. At least I hope that’s the case. Because, again, if he IS aware of us and our mission statement regarding the craft categories, then what a shame.

But it brings up a whole conversation regarding the “c” word, so let’s get into that. We rarely refer to the craft categories as “tech” categories in actual copy. He’s right, though. The word “tech” pervades the media when it comes to them more than any other term, so when I first conceived of dedicating the first weekly Oscar season column to their consideration, I thought “Tech Support” was a catchy moniker and ran with it. Six years later, it’s kind of a brand, so I’m sorry, sir, but we won’t be changing the name of the column.

But do understand that we’re very aware that elements like art direction, cinematography, costume design, film editing, makeup, music, sound editing, sound mixing and visual effects are indeed crafts and creative and appreciated by the filmmakers as such and don’t deserve to be diminished by the perceived pejorative of the word “tech.” And to boot, we have frequently pointed to comments Randy Thom made about this very issue upon accepting the Best Sound Editing Oscar alongside Michael Silvers for his work on “The Incredibles”:

“Certain Academy Awards like Sound and Visual Effects and Editing are sometimes referred to as technical awards. They”re not technical awards. They”re given for artistic decisions. And sometimes we make them better than others, and I guess we made a couple of good ones on this one.”

But sometimes it’s kind of not worth it to get into a semantics battle with those who are willing, no, eager to give these achievements their due spotlight, thereby diminishing our intent, good will and overall appreciation.

I’m sorry if this comes across harsher than it probably should, but these comments kind of rubbed me the wrong way (obviously) and it seemed necessary to make some things clear since maybe new readers aren’t as aware of what we’ve tried to do via Tech Support for the last six years. Hopefully this leaves no doubt.

Meanwhile, Gerard’s next Tech Support column will single out the Best Art Direction category. Be sure to check back Thursday for that.

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