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First Time Craft Nominees Take Home Oscar Gold At 89th Academy Awards

By: Marjorie Galas

Accountants shouldn’t tweet, at least, not when they are on the job at the Oscars. The effects of one social-media obsessed employee stole the spotlight from many deserving winners on February 24th during the final moments of the 89th Annual Oscar telecast.  Fortunately, we can reflect upon the amazing achievements of the evening’s artisans who found themselves taking home the gold.

The first award of the evening was presented to “Suicide Squad” for Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling. Its trio of winners, Alessandro Bertolazzi, Giorgio Gregorini and Christopher Nelson, were all celebrating both their first nomination and first win. Bertlazzi, a makeup artist for over 40 years, rummaged through trash, stopped at hardware stores and pulled inspiration from unusual sources.  Backstage with his Oscar in hand, he informed reporters this was his typical process, regardless of the film’s content.

“When you see something (that) attracts you, you don’t know why but this is the moment you can catch this stuff and put in the room,” said Bertlazzi. “When the room is full of rubbish, full of everything, you start to build something.”

Sylvain Bellemare was celebrating his first nomination and win for his sound editing on the film “Arrival.” In the press room, Bellemare deflected the attention away from his work, bestowing all credit to direct to Denis Villeneuve.

He’s a pure filmmaker like the old age,” said “Strong cinematic cultures kind of disappears sometimes today.  Denis did an art film, and even here in Hollywood he’s still in control of that, and I think we have to celebrate his talents.”

The evening presented another first for sound mixer Kevin O’Connell. After twenty-one nominations, O’Connell finally received the Oscar for his work on “Hacksaw Ridge.” He shared the award with his team, Andy Wright, Robert Mackenzie and Peter Grace – all of whom were first time nominees (wright and Mackenzie were also nominated for sound editing for “Hacksaw Ridge.”) O’Connell remained overwhelmed at hearing his name called off as the winner.

“I can’t even tell you the experience that it was for me.  As much as I thought I was going to know what it felt like, I didn’t,” said O’Connell.

The second Oscar win for “Hacksaw Ridge” went to editor John Gilbert. Gilbert bested “La La Land” editor Tom Cross, who was highly anticipated to receive his second consecutive win (he won last year for Damian Chazelle’s “Whiplash.”)  While Gilbert’s first Oscar nomination came from the effects heavy “Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings”, he received his first Oscar win from working on a film with a majority of practical effects, a style the editor indicated he enjoys.

“I prefer practical effects because they look real immediately,” said Gilbert. “It’s always a challenge with the visual effects, (between) time and making things look real.  If it looks real on camera, I’ll always go for that.”

Costume designer Colleen Atwood is no stranger to the Oscar stage. Her work on “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” resulted in her twelfth nomination and fourth Oscar win. (She previously won for “Alice in Wonderland”, “Memoirs of a Geisha” and “Chicago.”) Atwood hadn’t been attached to any “Harry Potter” film, and although the film was related to the same brand of magic, she found it easier to take inspiration from location and time period rather than the world of Hogwarts.

“I think maybe the fact that this movie, J.K. Rowling’s creation, is set in the 1920s, which kind of keyed off a different sort of visual sense,” said Atwood. “I was totally set free.  The rawness of America at that time was my starting point and my inspiration.”

As expected, the amazing visual effects in “The Jungle Book” took home the Oscar. Robert Legato, who has four nominations and two previously Oscars for his work on “Titanic” and “Hugo” was accompanied by his team Adam Valdez (first nomination), Andrew R. Jones (third nomination, and one previous Oscar for “Avatar”) and Dan Lemmon (third nomination.) Legato indicated the details in capturing life-like movement of the animals was painstaking work.

“It took like maybe 40 hours a frame to render some of the more beautiful scenes that we’ve done.  So it was pretty difficult,” said Legato.

“La La Land” was the big below-the-line winner of the evening, receiving “Original Song”, “Original Score”, “Cinematography” and “Production Design.” Interestingly, the artisans behind these “La La Land” victories were not only celebrating their first Oscar wins, but their first Oscar nominations as well. Justin Hurwitz actually was a three-time newbie, having received two Best Song nominations from the film as well. After receiving an Oscar for song “City of Stars” he also received the Best Original Score Oscar. He reflected on using jazz – a musical style he used in last year’s “Whiplash.” “One particularly fun part of that was I took all the songs in the movie and I kind of rearranged them as jazz.  And for the dramatic score, it’s not jazz per se, but there’s an upright bass and drums and vibes in some of it, and that sort of jazzy harmonic language.  So it was fun taking a little bit from the jazz world but also some from this classical world and some from the just traditional film scoring world and mixing it altogether for the actual score.”

Production designer David Wasco and his wife and set decorator Sandy Reynolds-Wasco have used Los Angeles as the back drop in many of their past films including “Collateral”, “Seven Psychopaths” and “Pulp Fiction.” While the Technicolor beauty of the city is prominent in viewer’s minds, the team equally embraced the authenticity of the run down areas of LA as lovingly.

“You know, there is also beauty in the decay here, and there are things like when we use the Rialto Theatre.  It’s a beautiful, romantic place, but it’s falling apart,” said Reynolds-Wasco. “We rented 12 streetlights and brought them everywhere, but they turned out to be a really beautiful addition and sort of a…”

Interjected Wasco,  “…a thread throughout the movie.”

Interestingly, first time nominee/winner cinematographer Linus Sandgren also had a soft spot for a scene that deviated from the film’s brighter colors. Sandgren reflected on a sequence that proved challenging due to its stylized use of shadow and lack of hues.

“I’m actually most proud of the scene that we did with Emma in the audition because it looks very simple; it’s just no colors,” said Sandgren.  “It was actually quite complicated to do.  I think it’s more interesting sometimes to do scenes simpler (in a film like this) that is so bold all the time.”

For a full list of nominees and winners, please visit: