Tech Support: Kicking off crafts coverage of the 2013-2014 Oscar season

Posted by · 6:27 am · October 3rd, 2013

Welcome back. It”s hard for me to truly appreciate that this is the eighth season of Tech Support here at In Contention (third in our association with HitFix). I”m pleased to say that this column has come a long way during this time, as has media coverage of below-the-line Oscar races as a whole.*

What is Tech Support? Well, over the next 10 weeks in this space, we will analyze each of the crafts category Oscar races: Best Cinematography, Costume Design, Film Editing, Makeup and Hairstyling, Original Score, Original Song, Production Design, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing and Visual Effects.

By the way, we’ve received some flak in the past for calling this column “Tech Support.” As Randy Thom famously noted when winning the sound editing Oscar for “The Incredibles,” these awards recognize artistic decisions. “Tech” has an unfortunately pejorative connotation in that regard (not that the work recognized annually by the Academy at the Scientific & Technical Awards should be somehow considered “lesser-than,” as taking such exception would unintentionally imply), but we all know why we’re here: to celebrate crafts, not to get hung up on catchy column titles.

It is undeniable that the individuals awarded in these 10 categories are artists in every sense of the word. There are certain films that are unimaginable without the accomplishments of their crafts artists. Imagine “2001: A Space Odyssey” without its breed of visual effects, “Cleopatra” without its landmark costumes, “JFK” without its immersive film editing, “Apocalypse Now” without its iconic cinematography and, well…the list is endless.

Exploring the characteristics of the Academy’s various branches – what they value, their independence from other branches” preferences and their openness to new nominees – is one of the great joys of writing this column. Hopefully we help people gain an appreciation of eight distinct groups of artists within the Academy, with the result being a better understanding of the Oscar race as a whole. That has been the stated goal from day one.

But equally important to us is looking at the individual contenders themselves, the artists who actually end up with the nominations. Several of them will take to the podium at the Dolby Theater in March as Oscar winners.

By starting in October, we have seen many of the contenders either in theaters or at any number of film festivals, from Sundance to Cannes to Venice to Toronto, Telluride and New York. Looking at the roll-out so far, one would suspect that films such as “12 Years a Slave” and “Gravity” have the makings of crafts category behemoths, both with release dates right around the corner. Other films that one would suspect might make an appearance range from “Rush” to “Pacific Rim” to “The Great Gatsby.”

Then there are the (mostly) unseen titles. “The Monuments Men,” “Saving Mr. Banks” and “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” immediately jump to mind as films with great below-the-line potential.

Today, however, strikes me as primarily a day for anticipation of the race, and reflection on the achievements of our crafts artists as a whole. So what about these categories really excites you? A particular race? Phenomenon? Artist you”re rooting for? Achievement you”re especially anxious to see? Something that”s already really impressed you?

And do you have any particularly fond memories of craft races gone by? “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’s” film editing win, and that whacky tie in Best Sound Editing last year, both jump to mind as events I”ll never forget – in a good way.

It”s good to be back. Next week we begin with the always-stacked category of Best Cinematography.

*This was perhaps best showcased by the International Cinematographers Guild recently recognizing Kris with a much-deserved award for shining light on cinematographers through journalism.

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