There has been a lot of talk recently about film artisans, the talented craftspeople behind the camera who bring a film to life, without whom a director’s vision remains only in their imagination, and actors would be left reading a script in an empty, dark, quiet room, naked. Without the costume designers, the production designers, the cinematographers, the hair and makeup designers, the editors, the sound mixers, the visual effects artists and the composers, movies would not be movies.
Santa Barbara International Film Festival celebrates these artists every year with their annual Artisans Award, sponsored by Variety. While this annual gathering is always special, it felt even more urgent to toast these talented visionaries for their contributions to the art of cinema this year, in the wake of the curious and controversial decision by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to move the awarding of eight categories off the live Oscar show, including Best Production Design, Best Score, Best Film Editing, Best Hair/Makeup Design and Best Sound. It is inconceivable that these crucial parts of the films we loved last year will be sidelined at the Oscars, but, thankfully, SBIFF continued their tradition of toasting their talents.
This year, the eight recipients of the Variety Artisans Award represent the best in film last year and every single one of them are Oscar-nominated for their work. The evening, moderated by Variety Senior Artisans Editor Jazz Tangcay, featured individual conversations with each honoree, followed by a lively and informative group discussion, where the audience got some behind-the-scenes insight into the filmmaking process, as well as how each artists approaches their craft and the massive collaborative process that is cinema.
Here are some fun tidbits from last night’s festivities, including each honoree’s answer to what film was most influential to them as a child.
Bob Morgan and Jacqueline West, Costume Designers, Dune
-For creating the steel suits that the actors had to wear in the desert, Morgan and West’s team created a “micro-sandwich of all these wicking fabrics,” in order to keep the actors cool, which involved multiple layers that would pull the moisture away from the actors’ skin in the heat.
-They used the encyclopedia of Dune for inspiration for the costumes.
-West admits that she has an obsession with Marlon Brando, so, when she read the character description of Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (played by Stellan Skarsgård), she immediately thought of Brando’s character of Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now. When she mentioned this to director Denis Villeneuve, he said, “that’s exactly what I want!”
-Morgan says they often joked, about designing the look for Dune, “We had to go 1000 years in the past to go 1000 years in the future.”
-Roughly 2000 costumes were built for the film, including over 400 specialty costumes.
Bob Morgan’s most influential film: The Last Emperor. “It made me want to be a costumer.”
Jacqueline West’s most influential film: Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious
Frederic Aspiras and Göran Lundstrom, Makeup and Hair Designers, House of Gucci
-Aspiras is House of Gucci star Lady Gaga’s personal stylist, and he revealed that they prepped for nine months prior to production, to hone the look of Gaga’s character, Patrizia Reggiani.
-The producers originally told Aspiras that he could only have two wigs for the entire shoot and he told them that was impossible. He said there were a total of 52 different looks for Gaga in the film. Of those, the most difficult one was the ‘80s-style perm wig that was perfect for the film, but Gaga was so repulsed by how it looked, she literally told him, “Don’t touch me with that mop!” But once he finally convinced her to try it on, she realized how perfect it was for the character and the film. “She put it on and did ‘Father, son, House of Gucci.’”
-As for Lundstrom, he didn’t have the luxury of several months lead-in, as he was given just three weeks to plan for and create the prosthetics that would transform Jared Leto into the middle-aged, overweight and balding Paolo Gucci. Lundstrom said the challenge was creating prosthetics that would be realistic, since House of Gucci is a drama, not a science fiction or comedy film, which is normally the types of film that use prosthetics. If they didn’t look real, it would take the audience completely out of the film, so it was crucial that they be good.
-It turns out the prosthetics were so good that even Aspiras sometimes couldn’t find Leto on set. He would ask, “Where’s Jared?” and someone would point to “that old creepy guy in the corner.” The makeup was so effective, it literally creeped everyone out how transformed Leto became.
-Aspiras said he is extremely proud to be the second Asian American ever to be nominated for a hair and makeup Oscar.
Frederic Aspiras’s most influential film: “Showgirls, duh! No, seriously, Cleopatra. It’s the most legendary hair on film ever.”
Göran Lundstrom’s most influential film: Back to the Future as a child, but it was American Werewolf in London that made him want to be a makeup artist. “I wanted to be Rick Baker.”
Germaine Franco, Original Score Composer, Encanto
-Franco is Disney’s first female composer for an animated film, which she considers to be a great honor.
-Because of COVID, Franco couldn’t go to Colombia to do her research, so she said, “I brought Colombia to me,” by having a variety of Colombian instruments made in Colombia and shipped to her so she could use them in the score. “I did my best to imagine the sound of Colombia.”
-Franco recorded a choir of 12 Colombian singers, and they had a recording session over Zoom, which took eight hours to get right.
-She also used Colombian musicians here in the United States to work on the score.
-As for the now famous sequence that’s built around the popular song, “We Don’t Talk About Bruno,” Franco says, “we had multiple discussions about the Bruno sequence to not make it too scary, as we knew children would be watching it.”
Germaine Franco’s most influential film growing up: The Sound of Music as a child and Like Water for Chocolate as an adult.
Lin-Manual Miranda, Original Song Writer, Encanto
-As for Miranda, who wrote the song “We Don’t Talk About Bruno,” he said that came pretty easily, “It only took a week.”
-Regarding the song, “Dos Oruguitas,” for which he is nominated for Best Original Song, Miranda confessed it is the first song he’s written completely in Spanish. “In the Heights was in Spanglish, so that doesn’t count.”
-Miranda said he needed to write this song, especially during COVID, as it’s about getting through something difficult, because “there might be a miracle on the other side.”
-Miranda had to research Colombian flora and fauna to write some of the songs in the film and he discovered a whole bunch of new names and words. “The best thing you can give a lyricist is new words!”
Lin-Manual Miranda’s most influential movie when he was a child: “The Little Mermaid exploded my brain.”
Greig Fraser, Cinematographer, Dune
-When asked about shooting in the desert of Jordan, where much of Dune was shot, Fraser said, “You can’t fight the sand and sun, so you have to go with it.”
-Fraser shot most of the film using natural light and credits good equipment and a good crew for making it look as good as it does.
-Although it may seem as if shooting in the desert would be the bane of a cinematographer’s existence, Fraser instead embraced it, saying there was a powerful force in the desert that found its way into his shots, “visually, that spirituality of the desert presents itself. It gives you its riches.”
-For the interiors, there were different challenges. Fraser notes that he and production designer Patrice Vermette “tussled, in a good way” about the placement of his lights. Vermette wanted as large a space for his set as possible, saying, “it’s got to be big!” But, in taking the set all the way to the walls, it left Fraser no room to set up his lights. He pointed out to Vermette that no matter how big and beautiful the set is, nobody can see it if there aren’t lights.
Greig Fraser’s most influential movie as a child: Grease. He said he’d love to do a Grease re-boot, if anyone is interested.
Paul Massey, Sound Mixer, No Time To Die
–No Time to Die is Massy’s third James Bond film, having also worked on Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace previously.
-Massey says this Bond film was by far the most important, emotionally, because it was Daniel Craig’s last film as the famous spy and they wanted to get it absolutely right.
-Massey was asked in particular about the scene in the film where James and Madeleine are in the car, surrounded by assassins shooting at them. The moment has a heightened emotional element, as the script calls for Bond to have to make a decision either to trust Madeleine or not, but time is running out because the car windows, being constantly pummeled by bullets, will eventually give in. Massey said it was complicated, due to the various sounds of glass shattering, metal flying and bullets hitting the car, but it was the emotional component that took him by surprise, “It took longer that I thought it would, not because of the physical, but because of the emotion of it.”
-Shooting the car chase scenes were also challenging, not for the sounds of the engines and the machine guns, but finding the right way to bring the music into the scene, “somewhere, I had to fit Hans Zimmer’s score in there, or he would be mad at me.”
Paul Massey’s most influential film as a child: Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines and This is Spinal Tap.
Kelly Port, Visual Effects Supervisor, Spider Man: No Way Home
-Even though Spider Man: No Way Home is a visual effects masterpiece, director Jon Watts told Port, “We want this to look grounded.”
-Port noted that Visual Effects is an extremely collaborative process, noting that special effects, visual effects and production design all have to work seamlessly together.
-There were over 2500 visual effects shot in the film
-Port is somewhat used to working on big films with big reveals and surprises, but even he admits, “the day that all three Spideys were on set, that was pretty cool.”
-Port revealed that Alfred Molina, who plays Doc Oc in the film, named his four CGI arms Flo, Mo, Harry and Larry and when they needed him to move one of them, the crew would actually refer to them by name, “Can you move Flo a little to the left?”
Kelly Port’s most influential film as a child: “I’m a visual effects supervisor, so of course it’s Star Wars.”
Tamara Deverell, Production Designer, Nightmare Alley
-When asked about how she collaborates with Nightmare Alley director Guillermo del Toro, Deverell said, “Our words are limited.” For example, when he wants a certain color, he’ll say “pigeon blood red,” and she knows that’s the color he wants.
-A key to her work is research, lots of research. Since Nightmare Alley is set in a traveling carnival in the ‘40s, she consumed everything she could about the era, even getting a couple of books on carnival banners in order to make them look at realistic as possible.
-When production had to halt in the middle of shooting due to COVID, everything they had built was forced to just sit there, aging in the elements, which, as it turned out, worked for the overall look of the film.
-As for the art deco look of Lilith’s office (played by Cate Blanchett), Deverell said the key was the lacquered wood paneling, finding the perfect material and the right craftsmanship. Everything had to be smooth and work with the choreography of the character as she moves through the space. “I wanted to feel her walking through that office.”
-Asked if there were any Easter eggs in the film, she said the only one she can think of off-hand is a “Jesus Saves” neon cross in the Salvation Army scene that was also used in Mimic, another film she and del Toro worked on together.
-Deverell revealed that del Toro wanted the entrance to the carnival in the film to be a riff of Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train. “It wasn’t even a riff, he wanted me to copy it exactly!”
Tamara Deverell’s most influential film as a child: Mary Poppins and Sound of Music.
Peter Sciberras, Editor, Power of the Dog
-Sciberras revealed that Benedict Cumberbatch and Kirsten Dunst were not in the same location when they each filmed the key banjo/piano scene in the film. The magic of editing makes it seems like they are in the same place, but they weren’t.
-About working closely with director Jane Campion, Sciberras noted, “Jane has a very strong point of view, so it’s good when you align with her.”
-Because COVID shut down production in the middle, there were some scenes that were shot—and thusly edited—twice. Sciberras reveals that, for some of those scenes, the second edit was infinitely better, so the break actually helped make the film better.
-Sciberras praised Campion’s artistry and methods, “You slowly unearth the feeling—Jane always knows what she wants to find.”
Peter Sciberras’ most influential film: Chopper, from director Andrew Dominik.
While the festival is always a star-studded affair and a top stop as we head into awards season, its most important aspect is its year-round contribution to the Santa Barbara community, as well as its support for the film industry at large. The funds raised through the festival and affiliated events are vital to the community, providing direct support for SBIFF’s plethora of free programs that serve over 14,000 people annually and reach some of the most vulnerable members of society – including at-risk and underserved youth, low-income families and their children, cancer patients, and transit-dependent senior citizens. SBIFF screens Academy fare in the Arthouse theater throughout the year, even throughout the pandemic, to encourage people to come back to the theater in a safe way.
The festival joined with Direct Relief to deliver aid to Ukraine, which has already surpassed $86K just a few days into the festival! See the link to the fundraiser below.