Santa Barbara to honor below-the-line talent at first-ever Variety Artisans showcase

Posted by · 10:50 am · February 3rd, 2015

One refreshing change of pace at the 30th annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival is the first-ever Variety Artisans Award showcase, honoring below-the-line talent from some of the year's most celebrated films. It's a nice extension of the trade's recent long-time-coming crafts initiative and, like the reading of nominees for all 24 Oscar categories on the air last month, keeps these men and women in a well-deserved spotlight.

Being honored for cinematography will be “Into the Woods” DP Dion Beebe. It's a fair choice getting away from some of the more frequently recognized names of the year. I thought the work was handsome but couldn't be helped by sets that never seemed to transcend the proscenium.

For costume design, there's Steven Noble for “The Theory of Everything.” An interesting note on that work is the subtlety of it, as Noble has talked about outfitting actor Eddie Redmayne in such a way as to emboss the visual of Stephen Hawking's physical deterioration, moving from tight-fitting, short-legged garments in the early scenes to over-sized clothes later in the story. It's a nice pick but I might have wandered a little further within Focus Features' own stable and made a statement for work like that in “The Boxtrolls,” just as deserving in a conversation like this as any other film.

Sandra Adair will be toasted for the editing of “Boyhood,” and she's pretty much the Oscar frontrunner so what else can you say there? It was a herculean feat, drawing that footage together over such a long period of time and wrangling it into such a beautiful story.

For hair and makeup, Bill Corso and Katherine Gordon got the call for “Foxcatcher.” Gordon, unfortunately, couldn't share in the Oscar nod with Corso and Dennis Liddiard (who we talked to recently) because it was apparently felt the prosthetics work was more to the point than her hair designs. At least she gets this moment to soak it in.

Suzie Davies is being recognized for the production design of “Mr. Turner,” and you won't get a lot of complaints from me on that. The world of Mike Leigh's film was absolutely crucial to servicing his process; as star Timothy Spall told us some months back, the art department begins working at pretty much the same time as the actors in sprouting the story from the seed Turner brings to the table.

“Everything is Awesome” from “The LEGO Movie” will be honored in the song arena with Shawn Patterson getting the love. That's the only honoree in the bunch from a film released before July, by the way.

In the sound department, it's Richard King (editing) and Mark Weingarten (mixing) getting some more notice for their work on “Interstellar.” And what else can be said about the sound work on “Interstellar” at this point? It was a hot topic around release as Christopher Nolan's unique vision for aural elements caught a lot of criticism.

Finally, the great Joe Letteri will be honored for Weta Digital's work on “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” and “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.” The latter was surprisingly passed over by the Academy's visual effects branch, while the former could put up a fight against “Interstellar” for the Oscar win.

I'm happy this kind of thing is going on, as we've championed below the line work here at In Contention for nearly a decade and watched others catch on to the importance of showcasing that work in the media. However, I would humbly suggest to the choosers that some outside-the-box thinking take place. Every year, the Oscar race boils down to the same handful of films, despite those of us who try to champion efforts like “Beyond the Lights” or “The Grey” or what have you. That's often just a steamroller that gets away from you, a big machine that's difficult to shake up. But at the beginning of an initiative like Artisans, there has to be a sense of responsibility for not clamoring to celebrate the same films that are hot in the race.

Like I said, a costume design notice for “The Boxtrolls,” or even sound design recognition for the film (Ren Klyce was the lead so you can still squeeze in Fincher discussion if you must), would have been novel. The film editing of “Wild” was truly wonderful, as was the photography and design elements of “Inherent Vice.”

Go back further into the year. The sound work on “Godzilla,” like most of its elements, seemed to be ignored in the “for your consideration” arena by Warner Bros., maybe as a result of the WB/Legendary divorce (“That's like taking out an ad for your ex-wife,” as someone eloquently put it to me). But that doesn't mean it wasn't probably the best work of the year and deserving of a little love with something like this, despite the lacking circuit presence.

How about the visual effects of “Under the Skin?” The cinematography of “The Rover” or “Calvary?” The film editing of “Edge of Tomorrow?” The sound of “Fury?” The music of “The Homesman?” The production design of “Snowpiercer?” I've written about what an amazing year for the craft of filmmaking 2014 was. So I guess what I'm saying is I'm a little disappointed to see something like this merely mirror the Oscar race. You don't have to do that. That's all I'm saying.

Nevertheless, truly, congratulations to the honorees for getting this time to shine. The panel will be moderated by Variety's Tim Gray at the Lobero Theatre tonight at 8pm.

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