Tech Support: Kicking off 2012's crafts coverage

Posted by · 7:45 am · October 4th, 2012

Welcome back. Today marks the beginning of the seventh year of Tech Support here at In Contention. If I may compliment Kris, this blog has come a long way in seven years. And if I may toot my own horn for a moment, the “Tech Support” columns have become one of the regular staples of this outlet and I”d like to think that our analysis of the categories that award below-the-line achievements, as well as our interviews with many of the artists in contention in such categories, has resulted in a number of other outlets beefing up their coverage in that arena.

Over the next 10 weeks, each of the “technical” category races will be analyzed: Best Cinematography, Costume Design, Film Editing, Makeup & Hairstyling, Original Score, Original Song, Production Design, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing and Visual Effects. We’ll move between visual and audio categories to keep things fresh along the way.

I put the term “technical” is scare quotes and will use it sparingly in the columns in the weeks to come, usually opting for “crafts.”  “Technical,” despite its popular use, unfortunately has pejorative connotations surrounding it. But as Randy Thom pointed out in an Oscar acceptance speech eight seasons ago, decisions that are awarded by these categories are made for artistic reasons. The column name, nevertheless, has become something of a brand, in addition to being catchy in a pun-ish sort of way. That said, I will be concentrating on how the artistic decisions of the contenders in this category improve the quality of their films, and the manner in which the Academy chooses to award them.

And can such accomplishments ever improve the quality of the films. From the cinematography of “Citizen Kane” to the music of “The Godfather” to the costumes of “Cleopatra” to the editing of “JFK,” certain films are simply unimaginable without the work of their crafts artists. But this work need not be showy. Indeed, sometimes the best achievements in these areas are identified by restraint. This dichotomy is something I also plan on exploring over the next 10 weeks.

That said, certain characteristics find homes frequently in particular categories and, despite exceptions, showier jobs tend to lead to more nominations. Period pieces tend to dominate Costume Design, Production Direction and, to a lesser extent, Makeup & Hairstyling and Cinematography. Blockbusters do quite well in Visual Effects and the sound categories. Best Picture contenders excel in Film Editing and Original Score. And Original Song, well, that”s anyone”s guess. I certainly plan on exploring the different idiosyncrasies of each branch in the weeks ahead.

Like actors, directors and writers, Academy voters in the crafts categories are regularly persuaded by well-liked films that do well overall, so factoring in Best Picture potential and box office returns is always wise. Makeup & Hairstyling and Costume Design can be refreshing exceptions.

Here at Tech Support, I will also look at the individual career paths of many contenders who will end up with nominations. This is one of the best ways to handicap the races, and shines light on various approaches to particular crafts.

We”re starting a little later this year, with the benefit of the Cannes, Venice, Toronto and eventually, New York Film Festivals behind us. More and more films will open as I explore each of the categories. This will hopefully make the races clearer than they otherwise would be. At the same time, however, we are always continually surprised right up until December. We may assume now that titles such as “Django Unchained,” “Anna Karenina” and “Les Misérables” will dominate, but who knows? “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” and “Cloud Atlas” may seem the most obvious of the titles to come to do well in the crafts races but I”d keep my eye on “Skyfall” as well.

And while Globe, BFCA, BAFTA and guild nominations can provide some guidance, unpredictability continues right up to the nominations announcement in many categories. I embarrassingly failed to have a perfect prediction rate in any of the crafts categories last year.

There is also danger in looking ahead, of course, as many major contenders have opened already! “The Dark Knight Rises” and “The Avengers” seem most likely to garner multiple nominations. But I fully expect many other titles that have already been released to be in the race for multiple nominations. These titles range from “Beasts of the Southern Wild” and “Brave” to “The Amazing Spider-Man” and “Prometheus” to “Mirror Mirror” and “Snow White and the Huntsman.”

And then there are the films that are newly upon us and/or have got a head start at the festivals. “The Master” and “Life of Pi” seem the most obvious choices to shine in the crafts races, but I”d also look out for “Argo” and “Silver Linings Playbook” in particular categories.

Today, however, strikes me as primarily a day for anticipation of the race, and reflection on the achievements of our below-the-lines artists as a whole.

What about the crafts categories really excites you? What achievements and artists are you looking forward to and/or rooting for this year? And is there a moment where a crafts artist was cited that you”ll always remember? Mine is Thom, cited above. Though I also have a fondness for Mark Bridges”s Costume Design win from last year, and Michael Giacchino”s Original Score triumph for “Up.” And that”s just in recent years.

Drop a line in the comments section below! It”s good to be back – next week we begin with the always-stacked category of Best Cinematography.

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