38TH ANNUAL SBIFF’S VARIETY ARTISANS AWARDS
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 13
M.M. Keeravaani (RRR Composer Behind “Naatu Naatu”), Catherine Martin (Elvis Costume Designer), Claudio Miranda (Top Gun: Maverick – Cinematographer), Florencia Martin (Babylon – Production Designer), Son Lux (Everything Everywhere All At Once – Composer), Adrien Morot (The Whale – Makeup/Hairstyling), Paul Rogers (Everything Everywhere All At Once – Editor), Eric Saindon (Avatar: The Way of Water – VFX), Frank Kruse (All Quiet on the Western Front – Sound)
Highlights from the award presentation:
- Executive director of the film festival, Roger Durling, started off the event with an introduction, thanking Variety for sponsoring and introducing moderator Jazz Tangcay, Senior Artisans Editor at Variety.
- After a clip from RRR, M.M. Keeravaani, the composer behind the Oscar-nominated “Naatu Naatu,” took the stage. He said that of the 12 films he’s done with director S. S. Rajamouli, RRR was the biggest challenge, with “Naatu Naatu” serving as more than a scene than just a song. Speaking to the song itself, Keeravaani talked about capturing the high energy with a dynamic 6/8 time signature, also praising the other artisans behind its success. Keeravaani also talked about his hope that the success of “Naatu Naatu” exposes the world to all that Indian music has to offer. Finally, he shared a story of having a picture taken at the Golden Globes and completely missing Rihanna trying to talk to him.
- Next, after a harrowing clip from All Quiet on the Western Front, Markus Stemler came out. Looking to capture the sound of World War One, his team initially hunted for recordings from the era, unable to find much as sound technology was in its infancy. As such, they turned to letters from the front, looking at descriptions of sounds and the impacts they had on soldiers. To produce the sounds, a few different tactics were used. Contact microphones dragged through the dirt were used to create a rumbling sound. For the sounds of soldiers trekking through mud, the production sound mixer captured a lot of recordings of people stomping and falling in mud. Back at the studio, the foley team created their own mud pit. Additionally, medical silicone was squeezed to produce a slightly different sound. Finally, to create the sound of groaning metal tanks, wooden cars were driven across an air conditioning unit, allowing these children’s toys to take on the character of hulking monsters of war.
- Ryan Lott came up next, after a clip from Everything Everywhere All at Once. A part of the band Son Lux, Ryan and his bandmates were hit up by the Daniels in 2019, with a much longer script. While the other members of Son Lux loved it, Ryan wasn’t as sold, actually thinking his PDF was broken, with just how crazy the script seemed. Even when the process began, Ryan was a little unsure, as the seriousness of his band didn’t seem to match up with the first task they were given, writing a courtship song for a ceremony for two people with hot dog fingers. However, he soon jumped into the unique challenge, finding it a different experience to have to put down your own primary directives in favor of serving the story and vision of the directors. However, Ryan found working with the Daniels quite easy, in the sense that they knew exactly what emotion the audience needed to feel in each moment.
- Costume designer Catherine Martin was up next, sharing stories from her time on Elvis. To start the process, Catherine spoke with Baz, hearing his vision of the story and seeing some of his early sketches. After that, it was off to Graceland, where Catherine and team did some intensive study and research, working to capture the spirit of the American south. Speaking to Elvis himself, Catherine noted his quality as a natural stylist, able to perfectly express the character he wanted his audience to see through clothes. Something she learned through the process was the importance of not just reproducing Elvis’ wardrobe, but creating it specifically for actor Austin Butler. Finally, she shared a story of how the research materials really helped. When she couldn’t crack a simple black suit for Austin, not able to make it sexy, she went back and realized that Elvis never buttoned the top jacket button, allowing him to roll his shoulders and up the sexy factor, something she quickly tried and incorporated.
- Florencia Martin, production designer on Babylon, walked on after a short clip from the film. Talking about early meetings with director Damien Chazelle, Florencia shared his focus on creating something explosive and visceral. For the huge party scene, she had to keep the scale of the thing in mind, as well as accommodate big camera moves. Once the location was selected, the Theatre at Ace Hotel, Florencia was able to walk through while listening to the music for the film, really getting a sense of what to create. Finding other locations was a big process, requiring lots of scouting work to find wide open spaces. For the creation of a studio, the team had to build up a lot, wanting to capture the place’s origin as a farm. One sequence required the creation of miniature film sets from the era. Each had to include the set, the construct of the set, and its surroundings, a real challenge.
- Next up was Claudio Miranda, cinematographer on Top Gun: Maverick. Having worked as a gaffer for Tony Scott, director of the original film, making Maverick was an emotional exercise. Wanting to do his homework, Claudio spoke heavily with the Navy, seeing what they’d let them use. He found that they worked very differently, as he was a bit more adventurous and experimental than they were. Production was an interesting experience, with Claudio spending weeks living on an aircraft carrier, having a bunkmate, and having control of the movements of these massive pieces of military hardware. To film the actors up in the air, Claudio had to load up the jets with cameras, get the actors set with instruction, and send them up for a morning run. They’d then review the footage, looking at performances, lighting, and more, before giving feedback and going for an evening run. Claudio was big on getting things in camera, so he also had jets fly extremely low, beyond where the Navy usually would. For one shot in particular, a plane flew so low that it made the roof fly off a guard station, something Claudio thought would have to be cut, but actually stayed in.
- Adrien Morot, prosthetic makeup designer on The Whale, talked through his work on the film. Director Darren Aronofsky called up during the pandemic, telling Adrien that, as his usual team of collaborators was all free, they were going to try and make a small little movie during that time, not taking too long to get it all done. However, after realizing how important the prosthetics work would be, Adrien begged for more time. Creating the prosthetics was a challenge, as, due to Covid, Brendan couldn’t come into the shop for a mold. As such, Adrien was forced to break out a brand new digital scanning process, unsure if it would even work. After three months of prototyping, he was finally able to bring in Brendan, allowing the inert rubber he’d created to come alive. The makeup process initially took seven hours, but by the end of production, he and his team had gotten it down to less than three.
- Editor Paul Rogers took the stage after another clip from Everything Everywhere All at Once. He started off by sharing a story of cutting the fanny pack fight scene with Ke Huy Quan. Ke was extremely nervous and couldn’t watch the first cut, though Michelle Yeoh did, storming off after. Paul was worried he’d done a terrible job, but was relieved to discover she was just running to tell Ke that he had done great. Paul initially became aware of the project through his friendship with the Daniels. They talked him through the story, as they had been doing with many other friends, and he broke down crying throughout, begging the two to actually make it. Eventually, he received the script, desperately wanting to be a part of it after hearing Michelle Yeoh could get involved. Once Paul was deep in post-production, the film was screened every two weeks, helping him to get a sense of how everything was working. What he learned was how dependent the film’s last 15 minutes were on the first 15, with the characters needing to be positioned correctly from the start. He also learned to focus a lot on shots of the actresses listening to each other at the end, something their characters hadn’t been doing their whole lives.
- The final panelist was Eric Saindon, visual effects supervisor on Avatar: The Way of Water. Eric spoke about the difficulty of filming underwater, with ping pong balls thrown in to break up the surface reflections caused by having 70 cameras above and 70 below the water line. Actors were made to perform underwater as Jim wanted to ensure that all of the performances were right. Kate Winslet astounded everyone by performing for 8 minutes underwater. Another key challenge was capturing the deep emotions of the Tulkun with essentially just an eye, an eyebrow, and a big wall of whale. Another difficulty was the ending, as they had to capture the complex emotions of all the characters, needing to ensure the subtleties made it through the performance capture. However, for Eric, seeing audiences react in all the right places made it all worth it.
- After the individual discussions, Jazz brought out the entire panel for a few group questions, starting by asking the biggest misconception about each person’s work and craft.
- Eric noted that they don’t paint people blue for Avatar, also sharing that the long hours are actually enjoyable.
- Paul talked about the idea that editing is isolating, saying it’s actually a social experience, as you’re interacting with the director and engaging with characters.
- Adrien shot down the notion that they put straws up actors’ noses when doing molds for prosthetics.
- Claudio said that it’s not all about him, he’s not the solitary guy on the camera making it all happen.
- Catherine shared that some people thought she was using the actual clothing Elvis wore and also made fun of the idea some have that there’s just a sort of store where you can buy all the costumes you need for each film.
- Ryan explained that some people seemed to think that he was just blindly writing music for the film, when really he was carefully watching things back and scoring to fit each moment.
- Markus, reflecting back on his earlier comments, noted that toys (like the wooden cars used) aren’t just for kids, and in fact, some adults are having even more fun with them.
- M.M. said that the idea that only the person who takes home the award is the best is totally false.
- Finally, Jazz asked the panel for an underrated project they’ve worked on.
- M.M. took the moment to explain that there is great art happening around the world that we should all enjoy.
- Markus called out The Stranger, a film by Ameer Fakher Eldin.
- As this was Ryan’s first film, he didn’t share a movie, but rather three albums that were produced around the same time as Everything Everywhere All at Once, Tomorrows I, Tomorrows II, and Tomorrows III.
- Catherine talked about the Baz Luhrmann movie Australia, something she feels speaks to a lot of modern-day issues.
- Florencia called out another movie from this year, Blonde.
- Claudio went back to the first film he served as cinematographer for, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
- Adrien stuck with The Whale, noting that it was the perfect storm, with a great cast, script, and director.
- Eric wanted to say The Lord of the Rings films, but as they weren’t exactly underrated, he went for The Green Knight.
- The panel ended with David and Sandy Wasco coming out to present each of the panelists with an award.