Workflow Breakdown of Every 2022 Oscars Best Picture Nominee
Welcome to Frame.io’s annual Oscars Workflow Roundup!
If this is your first time, this deep dive gives you all the details about what it takes to create an award-worthy movie. And if you’ve read our coverage in previous years, we thank you for joining us again.
So much has happened over the past year, and there’s plenty to unpack. The return of the blockbusters! The resurgence of the theatrical releases! The rise and consolidation of the streaming services!
And, of course, there’s the controversial decision to not live broadcast eight important categories, including one that’s especially close to all our hearts. What’s up with that!?
The one thing that remains constant is we’re always excited to take that deep dive into the creative and logistical processes behind the Best Picture nominees. So we hope you enjoy reading our fifth-annual Oscars Workflow Roundup as much as we enjoy putting it together.
And the nominees are…
By the numbers
While the numbers don’t lie, they don’t always give you the whole picture. So after we go through the movies, there’s some additional information to help contextualize what might seem puzzling at first glance.
Although Dune and West Side story are two of the three films with $100+ million budgets, keep in mind that both were originally intended to premiere in 2020 and were delayed by COVID. With only one high-budget new release in 2021, Netflix’s Don’t Look Up, most of the 2021 releases fell somewhere between $30-$60 million.
Compared to 2020’s Oscar slate, in which The Trial of the Chicago 7 (also produced by Netflix) was the most expensive at $35 million, this year trended more toward the medium-budget films—many of which were available to stream either at the same time as their theatrical release, or shortly thereafter.
Days of principal photography
Again, when compared to last year, where the majority of films had lower budgets and shoot days ranging from 22 to 42 days—with only Mank standing alone at 84 days—this year saw more typical numbers. The majority fell into the 50-96 day range, with Dune and Nightmare Alley (both also nominated for Best Cinematography) as the two that needed the most extensive visual world-building were at the top of that range.
Last year only one movie, the very low-budget Sound of Metal, was shot on 35mm. Perhaps counterintuitively, director Darius Marder cited the economic guardrail of being able to capture a couple of takes for each shot as a way to keep him on track creatively and his actors’ performances fresh.
This year, Licorice Pizza, West Side Story, and Don’t Look Up opted to capture on film. But Don’t Look Up, with its large all-star cast and sprawling story, also had an equally sprawling workflow, capturing on everything from 35mm VistaVision to iPhones.
What a difference a year makes. In 2021, only the teams behind Mank, Judas and the Black Messiah, and The Trial of the Chicago 7 had relatively large crews (in the 300-400 person range) to deal with the “invisible” VFX necessary to create authentic-looking period pieces. The rest fell more into the 100-200 person range, with Nomadland getting by on a skeleton crew of only 62, some of whom were locals they met on location.
This Oscar year, the return of VFX spectaculars like Dune (1190) and Don’t Look Up (1073), the splashy West Side Story (699), and the extravagantly moody world of Nightmare Alley (513) saw a more typical year in terms of crew size. Or, more accurately, if Dune and West Side Story had kept to their original release dates, last year would not have been as atypical as it was.
Weeks in post-production
It almost goes without saying that COVID caused countless projects to shift schedules as they temporarily suspended production or switched to remote workflows. Most would say that the impact was detrimental financially or creatively—or both.
But one production made the most of the delayed release date. Dune’s Joe Walker says, “The pandemic was very kind to give us some time to really think without the great heat of schedule upon us for a few months. We were able to just dream a little bit and follow our instincts to develop things, which we did a great deal.”
Spending nearly two years from the beginning of principal photography to the final DCP check clearly paid off, with ten nominations and six wins for Best Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Sound, Best Score, Best Visual Effects, and Best Production Design.
On the other end of that spectrum, Drive My Car spent only about 8 weeks in post-production, and still garnered accolades and awards, including the Oscar for Best International Film. Another reason why the numbers don’t always correlate directly with quality.
Before we delve into the workflows, it’s interesting to examine this year’s slate of films in terms of common themes or trends.
Less weight, more laughs
Last year, many of them were intimate character studies that addressed larger issues like Sound of Metal, Judas and the Black Messiah, Nomadland, The Father, and Minari.
Similarly, this year CODA focuses on a deaf family, King Richard on a family making their place in a racially exclusive sport, and Belfast and West Side Story on societal rifts as a result of racism or belief systems.
But this year we also saw movies like Licorice Pizza that were more lighthearted and nostalgic, and Don’t Look Up which, despite its political satire and dystopian theme, made us actually laugh out loud. And then there was Dune, which transported us to fantasy worlds inhabited by floating despots and big, scary worms.
This year’s movies were also lengthier than last year’s by an average of 20 minutes! Last year, the longest was Mank, with a running time of 131 minutes. By comparison, the average length of this year’s ten films is 138 minutes, with Drive My Car weighing in at just one minute under three hours—and Dune at 155 minutes for what is basically half of a movie.
Perhaps this is the result of more robust budgets, although the longest movie had the lowest budget. Or maybe it’s indicative of the audience’s appetite for spending longer periods of time on diversionary activities.
Last year, the critical reception of the films was uniformly high, with Rotten Tomatoes scores running between 89 and 98 percent “fresh.” This year, although most fell into that range, there was one film with a mediocre rating from Rotten Tomatoes—55 percent for Don’t Look Up, territory that was only previously occupied in 2020 by Joker with 68 percent.
Can we interpret this as a hint toward some semblance of normalcy as we attempt to collectively return to our regularly scheduled lives?
More functional commonalities include the fact that this year all Best Picture-nominees were edited on Avid—unlike last year, in which Mank edited on Adobe Premiere Pro.
Of the films captured digitally, most used ARRI Alexas, with the exception of CODA using Sony CineAlta Venice cameras.
Of the three film-originated productions, both Licorice Pizza and West Side Story chose Panavision Panaflex Millennium XL2s, while Don’t Look Up used a variety of cameras including Aaton Penelopes and Arricam LT and STs, but also used iPhones to capture some of the “found” footage from the international locations. For those who want an even more detailed discussion of the cinematography techniques, check out our roundtable with this year’s top cinematographers.
As is often the case, a number of the films relied on longtime collaborations between directors and editors or cinematographers.
If last year saw a number of repeat pairings, some of the relationships this year are almost like professional families or marriages—perhaps none more so than legendary editor Michael Kahn, whose first project with Steven Spielberg was 1977’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. From there, he went on to earn three Oscars with the director on Raiders of the Lost Ark, Schindler’s List, and Saving Private Ryan. At age 90, Khan and editor Sarah Broshar, another Spielberg alum, teamed up to handle the film/digital editorial workflow on West Side Story.
Likewise, Speilberg’s DP of choice, Janusz Kaminski, began working with him 18 movies ago, earning Oscars for his work on Schindler’s List (their first movie together) and Saving Private Ryan, and garnering more nominations along the way with another for West Side Story.
Dune is Joe Walker’s fourth collaboration with Denis Villeneuve, after Sicario, Arrival, and Blade Runner 2049, and they’re already at work on Dune: Part Two scheduled for release in 2023.
Adam McKay and Hank Corwin, only three years out from their nominations on Vice, reteamed to earn more nominations for Don’t Look Up. Corwin has also worked previously with McKay on The Big Short and more recently on the new HBO series Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty.
Andy Jurgensen has risen through the ranks on Paul Thomas Anderson’s movies, going from first assistant on Inherent Vice to associate editor on Phantom Thread, before taking the editor’s chair on Licorice Pizza. Anderson, who often acts as his own DP, also worked with another of his frequent collaborators, Michael Bauman, who has likewise been a part of those projects as a lighting technician, lighting cameraman, and DP, respectively. It’s also Anderson’s fifth film with composer Jonny Greenwood, who had the busiest year with Licorice Pizza, Spencer, and The Power of the Dog (for which Greenwood was nominated for Best Original Score).
Another editor who has developed his career through repeat collaborations is Cam McLauchlin, who first met Guillermo del Toro during Pacific Rim where he served as an assistant editor. From there, he went on to Crimson Peak as first assistant, The Shape of Water as both associate and music editor, and now Nightmare Alley as editor. Also joining the team was four-time DP Dan Laustsen, who first worked with del Toro on Mimic (1997) and has received Oscar nominations for both The Shape of Water and Nightmare Alley.
Sir Kenneth Branagh worked with his longtime cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos along with editor Úna Ní Dhonghaíle on two films back-to-back—Belfast and Death on the Nile. And director Sian Heder and DP Paula Huidobro (CODA) go back as far as film school days.
If there’s a lesson here, it’s that skills and talent are necessary to becoming a great editor or cinematographer, but being a great collaborator is just as important. There are few creative relationships as close as that of the director to these key craft areas, and becoming someone directors trust with their vision is the not-so-secret ingredient to a lengthy and successful career.
And now, let’s go to the movies.
The Dark Dramas
The darkest of this year’s films both raise questions about what it means to be human—or, more to the point, what instincts do we possess that undermine our humanity?
If there’s any director who knows how to build a rich and moody world, it’s Guillermo del Toro.
Reimagining the 1946 novel (which was previously adapted for the screen in 1947), del Toro, along with editor Cam McLauchlin and cinematographer Dan Laustsen, created a new Nightmare Alley that takes the noir thriller to new depths.
For starters, they captured in color, using ARRI Alexa 65 and ARRI Alexa LFs with ARRI Signature prime lenses. But, they lit as if for a black and white release—which they subsequently did even while the color version was still playing in theaters. (Best Picture 2020’s Parasite was also released in color and black and white, although not concurrently.) Fans of the genre will appreciate both versions, which Laustsen has said feel like different films.
In fact, both versions were graded separately from the ARRIRAW files, which was done at Company 3 with lead colorist Stefan Sonnenfeld.
The 95 days of principal photography took place in Buffalo and Toronto (fun fact: the burning house at the beginning of the film was done practically). During filming, they had a cutting room set up in Toronto at the production office because del Toro liked to go through the previous day’s footage with Cam before starting his shoot day. According to first assistant Mary Juric, he would also sometimes come to the cutting room at lunch break and after wrap to work on scenes.
The DIT used Resolve to send the media and projects to Company 3 in Toronto for them to transcode overnight and send the files back, via Aspera, to the cutting room. Depending on the shooting schedule, dailies prep could be tricky for both the lab and for second assistant Harrison Perez, who often shifted his start times to as early as 3:30 a.m. in order to get the footage loaded in so Cam could start cutting with del Toro at 8 or 9 a.m.
During production, the editorial team did six-day weeks, because del Toro wanted to be able to see cuts of everything that had been shot during the week on Saturday mornings. Occasionally it fell to the DIT to give the editors dailies if they went late on a Friday, because there wasn’t enough time for Company 3 to turn them around—even though, Mary says, they “bent over backwards” to accommodate the production.
The editorial team used Avid Media Composer (v. 2018.12.10), and made the decision to work at DNx36 1920×1280 because sometimes Cam would go to the set to edit, so the smaller file size made the process more mobile. In the cutting room, they had three edit stations with Mac Pro “trash cans” working off NEXIS. They also had two iMac stations—one dedicated to receiving dailies and one to create faster outputs because del Toro likes to receive a copy of the entire show on a daily basis, which made it necessary to have the extra processing power when they reached the point where the show was three-plus hours running time.
Post-production lasted approximately a year with most of the work done in person in Toronto, Los Angeles, and New York—except when COVID restricted travel between Canada and the U.S. At that point, the small editorial team consisted of just Cam, Mary, and post-production supervisor Doug Wilkinson.
Cam did some rather extensive sound editing to help sound designer Nathan Robitaille and his team create the lush sonic background of the carnival world. They also did “meticulous” ADR to create authentic audio for the crowd scenes.
Mr. X in Toronto handled approximately 560 VFX shots in the final movie. Many were the usual invisible effects to remove modern details, but they also did more than 50 sky replacements, some set extensions, and environmental enhancements for snow, rain, lightning, and fire. More complex effects included Molly’s (played by Rooney Mara) electric show effects, and the blood and gore for the death scenes.
Cam also relied on Mary, with whom he’s worked since Crimson Peak, as a VFX editor. An “After Effects wiz,” she was able to previs how the footage could work to create some of the split-screen effects used to stitch together different performances or angles before giving them to the Mr. X artists—a task made more difficult because del Toro loves to move the camera.
Of course, COVID added to the already substantial challenge of making an elaborate Guillermo del Toro movie. According to Cam, they began shooting in mid-January 2020 and had to suspend production in mid-March. By the time they resumed in September, Rooney Mara had given birth, but del Toro picked up right where they’d left off without needing to reshoot scenes—such is the advantage of having a director who’s so intimately involved with the editor and the cut as it’s coming together. He was constantly able to see what was missing, what was needed, and to economically strategize his shoot to provide the necessary elements.
Cam says that despite the dark subject matter, the process of working with del Toro is incredibly fun and helps mitigate the impact on his own family life when he’s away. But it’s another reason why forming these creative families is so important and fulfilling.
The Power of the Dog
Speaking of dark subject matter and families, Jane Campion managed to imbue her film with a sense of foreboding even as the sun shone brightly in the New Zealand sky where they recreated the 1920s-era Montana cattle ranch.
Like Nightmare Alley, the source material is a novel, written in 1967 by Thomas Savage, which drew upon his own experiences as a young man in the American west.
Ari Wegner’s camera package consisted of two ARRI Alexa LFs and an ARRI Alexa Mini LF. The A-camera captured in ARRIRAW 4.5K (Open Gate) and B-camera in anamorphic ARRIRAW 4.5K (Open Gate). The C-camera (the Mini) captured in anamorphic ARRIRAW 4.5K (Open Gate).
They paired the larger-format camera with Panavision Ultra Panatar lenses. “We loved those lenses,” cinematographer Ari Wegner said. “They’re beautiful on faces and 1.25x anamorphic is a very gentle anamorphic.”
In a film where dialogue is sparse, capturing the subtleties of expression to convey the characters’ thoughts is essential. Benedict Cumberbatch, Kodi-Smit McPhee, and Kirsten Dunst’s faces speak volumes in their closeups. Using anamorphic lenses was also important to do justice to the sweeping landscapes of the New Zealand (South Island) wilderness where principal photography took place over 51 days, as well as in Auckland on the North Island for the studio interiors. Unfortunately, after the first day of filming in Auckland, the production shut down for three months due to COVID.
Each day, the DIT sent dailies in DNxHD 36 at 1920×1080 to dailies assistant editor John Erasmus via Aspera. He downloaded them straight to a password-protected transfer drive and transferred them to NEXIS.
This was editor Peter Sciberras’s first time working with Campion and he describes his interactions with her as “genuine and incredibly fun.” He and first assistant Kasra Rassoulzadegan had Avid setups on Apple Mac Pros both during production, where they were working at ARC Edit in Melbourne, and during the 8-month post-production period from September 2020 to April 2021 at Images and Sound in Auckland, where Peter and Jane were able to work together. He also cut at ARC in Sydney, where he often edits commercials.
Visual effects editor Stephen McHardy worked with the team at Alt.VFX. The approximately 200 shots included set extensions, CG animals and trains, and digital matte paintings. And yes, no real cows were harmed in the castration scene.
DI assistant editor Cara Harvey helped with the final mastering process, and colorist Trish Cahill graded the various deliverables at Soundfirm in Melbourne. Campion went for a somewhat desaturated look, which served to heighten the harshness of the wilderness.
Leading the pack with 12 nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, and Best Film Editing, Jonny Greenwood’s score was also nominated. According to Peter, Greenwood began composing the score at the script phase, so they were able to use the actual music to cut to.
It’s an atypical score as Westerns go, dark and moody, creeping into your consciousness rather than dictating how you should feel. Greenwood has said that he “wanted to avoid the trope of sweeping strings to accompanying sweeping landscapes.” Peter describes it as “more textural and more emotional in a thematic way than in a scene-specific or a moment-specific way.”
Peter says that aside from the disruptions caused by COVID, the biggest creative challenge was “managing and refining the bold structure of the film. The film changes points of view several times and keeping the story focused while shifting perspectives between characters was the biggest task.”
Because he and Campion so beautifully achieved that task, The Power of the Dog rewards repeat screenings, as the viewer becomes more aware of the nuances of the characters’ reactions, depending upon whose POV you’re in.
The Family Stories
You might wonder why Drive My Car is included in this category, while The Power of the Dog isn’t. What these particular films have in common is that the characters within them thrive against adversity on the strength of the bonds they have with each other—or seek to form—while The Power of the Dog focuses on the destruction of the family unit.
CODA is an acronym for Child of Deaf Adults which, coincidentally, is what last year’s Best Supporting Actor nominee, Paul Raci (Sound of Metal) is in real life. That film not only cast him for his fluency in ASL (American Sign Language), but also cast other members of the deaf community in many of the group scenes.
This year, Sian Heder cast three deaf actors in leading roles: the Oscar-winning Marlee Matlin as the mother, Troy Kotsur as the father, and Daniel Durant as the brother of Ruby (played by Emilia Jones), who is the only hearing member of the family and functions as their interpreter with the hearing world.
Much has been written about how CODA has advanced the issue of inclusion in Hollywood films. Matlin, who was the only deaf actor to receive an Oscar until Troy Kotsur won for this film, has been quoted as saying, “To have a hearing actor put on a deaf character as if it was a costume, I think we’ve moved beyond that point now. We’re talking about a new generation of viewers.” With its additional wins for Best Adapted Screenplay and surprise win for Best Picture, it seems to have achieved what the filmmakers set out to do.
According to editor Géraud Brisson and cinematographer Paula Huidobro, there were numerous challenges on the film. First, an indie budget always demands efficiency, which added an extra element of pressure to the extensive shooting on a small fishing boat. Second, Géraud had to cut dialogue in ASL (which he does not know), but his previous work on a project entitled This Close for Sundance Channel helmed by two deaf writers and actors helped prepare him for this job. (Fun fact: That show was also the first time Géraud used Frame.io, to share cuts with the directors and producers.)
Paula chose two Sony Venice 6K cameras for the 30-day shoot in Gloucester, Massachusetts, often hand-holding the cameras on the boat due to space limitations. The raw files, CDL, and sound files were sent everyday from the set to Boston via shuttle drives, where dailies colorist Rob Bessette at Boston Finish created two sets of dailies. One was the Avid dailies for editorial that were shipped to Géraud and assistant editor Michael LaFond, who were based at Light Iron in New York during production, via Aspera. The other set was uploaded to Frame.io so Sian, Paula, and the producers could review the footage on location.
The team edited on Avid Media Composer (v. 2018.12.7) at DNxHD 36 with media stored on NEXIS. Géraud had a cylinder Mac Pro, a couple of large computer monitors and a client monitor. Once production ended, he went back to LA and worked at Flash/Cuts in person with Sian, and the rest of post-production moved to Montreal. For the next 14 weeks of cutting, Mathieu Bérubé took over assistant duties for Michael. Assets were again stored on NEXIS, with Mathieu using local drives and passing new media and bins to each other through Dropbox. Luckily, they were able to lock picture just before the world shut down for COVID.
But by the time they did the final grading, they were under COVID lockdown and Canada, where the mix and the color timing was taking place, wasn’t open to travelers from the U.S. They ended up doing a remote grading session which, according to Géraud, was “tricky because Sian and Paula weren’t looking at the exact same image resolution in LA as the one that our colorist, Marc Lussier, had in front of him at Mel’s in Montreal.”
Because Géraud is not fluent in ASL, one important step in the dailies process was making sure all the audio tracks were included in his master clips. There was an interpreter on set in the video village recording a separate soundtrack along with the ASL scenes, which allowed Géraud to “learn” the dialogue when reviewing the dailies in Avid.
“Roughly half of the dialogue in CODA is in ASL,” he says. “Beyond making sure the dialogue was properly edited, I wanted to be able to integrate some of the improvised interaction by our actors with the parts that were scripted. Also, I was worried that as an outsider and a hearing person, I might impose my point of view or logic onto those scenes and not do justice to the language and the culture.”
The important school concert scene posed additional challenges, Géraud says. “We had over 12 hours of footage for the sequence as they shot with three cameras. We had to build a moment that felt memorable but keep ourselves in check because we couldn’t inadvertently suggest that we were reaching the end of the story yet. Also, all our worlds were converging at the same time: improvisation in ASL, comedy, drama, music performance, multiple storylines, and shifts in POVs.”
The visual effects load in CODA is minimal, reserved for invisible effects like removing boats in the fishing scenes or removing earpieces the cast used during the musical moments. But for one poignant scene in which Ruby sings to her deaf father, they added stars to the night sky to echo a line he says about the stars at sea.
Even more so than last year’s Sound of Metal, CODA has given voice to deaf actors and made new strides toward more inclusive casting.
Drive My Car
Some people have biological families, while others manage to create familial bonds with those to whom they have no blood relationship. At the center of Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car (based on a Haruki Murakami short story) is a widowed theater director who bonds with a young woman (who has suffered through her own family strife) hired to be his chauffeur while he’s working on a new staging of Chekov’s Uncle Vanya.
Minimalist is the best way to describe this production. Shot primarily with one ARRI Alexa Mini at 2.8K ARRIRAW (3.2K Open Gate) using Zeiss Ultra Prime and Angenieux Optimo Lenses, principal photography took place across 12 initial days in Tokyo before COVID shut the production down for eight months. They then resumed shooting for another 40 days in and around Hiroshima, Hokkaido, and in South Korea. (Fun fact: the car was shot neither in a studio nor on a towing rig. Instead, Hamaguchi rode in the trunk of the car with a sound recorder as they drove, listening to the actors throughout the very lengthy scenes.)
Editor Azusa Yamazaki did not edit during filming, but cut together the Tokyo footage for approximately two weeks during the COVID shutdown. Working with just one assistant on an iMac with an external drive, she cut on Avid in MXF DNxHD 80 from “a personal work space.”
During the remainder of principal photography Yamazaki watched rushes but cut nothing more until they wrapped. She and her assistant moved to a rented space at a post facility, where they spent approximately another six weeks on the cut with director Hamaguchi attending many of the sessions.
The film’s three-hour running time presented unique challenges. But, clearly, the director and editor (who had previously worked together) were in sync, finding the rhythm of the film in scenes that play out in what feels like real time, often containing (and embracing) long silences. Much has been made of the fact that the opening titles don’t appear until 40 minutes into the movie—but Hamaguchi felt that it was important to let the story unfold without relying on flashbacks in order to let the viewer experience the characters’ development over time.
Final grading was handled at IMAGICA Lab by Yumeto Kitayama and cinematographer Hidetoshi Shinomiya, whose approach to this movie was to have “a minimal presence because the cast was the primary focus.” Hamaguchi recognizes the precision of Shinomiya’s camera placement, which took hours to set up, allowing the actors to have the freedom to move while creating the effect of a “non-static, dynamic way of shooting.”
Visual effects were minimal, only approximately 60 shots, used in the car accident and for some additional invisible effects.
Like the family at the center of CODA, the Williams family is a tightly knit unit, deriving their power from their belief in each other.
But unlike them, the Williams family is real. In this biopic, director Reinaldo Marcus Green and producer Will Smith (who won the Best Actor Oscar for his role as Richard Williams) tell the triumphant story of tennis legends Venus and Serena Williams from their early days in Compton to the pinnacle of the sport.
Winning the ACE Eddie this year for her work, editor Pamela Martin was also nominated for the Oscar for Best Film Editing. King Richard isn’t her first tennis movie, however. She previously cut Battle of the Sexes, the true story of the 1973 tennis match between male chauvinist Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King—her third movie with the directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (she also cut Little Miss Sunshine and Ruby Sparks).
Pamela didn’t sign on for this movie because of the tennis, but rather because she loved the script, the family story, and the people involved. But her experience on Battle of the Sexes allowed her to clue in Oscar-winning cinematographer Robert Elswit about some of the pitfalls of capturing tennis footage. She says, “By the time they shot the tennis, we had already determined what types of angles worked and what kind of coverage did not work. So that was helpful prior to the principal photography.”
The team also did previs for the tennis matches, necessary to inform the VFX load which was divided among several studios, including Luma, Lola, Crafty Apes, and Static Chair Productions. The film has approximately 500 VFX shots, primarily doing face replacements and adding tennis balls to make it look like the non-tennis playing actresses were really hitting the ball. They also had to flesh out crowd shots because COVID restrictions meant they could only use a fraction of the extras it would take to fill a stadium.
Elswit used four ARRI Alexas over the course of 50 days around the Los Angeles area from Compton to country clubs, plus two days for pickups.
Company 3 prepped dailies for editorial, who cut on four Avids with NEXIS at DNxHD 115. The editorial team of five including Pamela, first assistant Staci Pontius, second assistant Jouven Exantus and the VFX editor, and editorial PA initially worked together out of Hula’s West LA location, but after the six-month COVID shutdown only Pamela worked at the cutting room with the director. The rest of the team worked remotely from their homes for the approximately nine months of post-production. Stefan Sonnenfeld did the final color grading at Company 3.
Obviously, a production shutdown is always problematic. But the team actually discovered some silver linings. Robert Elswit has said that the downtime allowed the actresses playing Venus and Serena to become good friends, which enhanced their on-screen dynamic. Because as much as this is a film about tennis, it’s more about the bond that allowed this extraordinary family to produce two great champions who are the greatest of friends.
The reluctant heroes
What do Don’t Look Up and Dune have in common?
In addition to big budgets and tons of VFX, they both feature central characters who neither initially intended (or expected) to try to save their respective worlds nor succeeded in doing so. Yet. (Dune: Part Two is due out in late 2023.)
In the case of Don’t Look Up, Jennifer Lawrence’s Kate Dibiasky is a character whose best intentions pave the road to her personal hell, as her quiet life as an astrophysicist is upended by her cataclysmic discovery.
Dune’s central character, Paul Atreides, is similarly thrust into the uncomfortable position of stepping into a role he’s too young and too unprepared to assume. And we, as viewers, get the chance to ride into dangerous territory with them as they battle enemies both familiar and foreign.
Don’t Look Up
Adam McKay’s Don’t Look Up has it all: a high-concept satire with the highest possible plot stakes; a cast that includes some of the biggest stars in the world; a complex shoot that took place during the height of the pandemic; footage captured on a vast array of film and digital formats. All of which resulted in record-breaking viewership for Netflix and four Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Film Editing for Hank Corwin.
The team shot primarily around the Boston area over 64 days of principal photography. Additionally, they did two VFX days for green screen elements, several days for people “looking up” and some VFX backgrounds in Peru and Hawaii, and four days in Washington D.C. for establishing shots and an additional scene.
The capture formats ranged from 35mm film (including widescreen format VistaVision), to various digital HD footage for some of the big media-focused sequences, to iPhones. There were also numerous stock footage elements of varying sizes, codecs, and formats. They even used the Red Hydrogen One both as a capture device and a prop!
Using an Aaton Penelope (which he also used on First Man) and Arricam LT and STs for film, DP Linus Sandgren very deliberately chose the cameras and formats in order to evoke different moods and achieve different responses from viewers. “We wanted to tell a story that’s happening now. For example, in the TV studio scenes, we will be with our film cameras behind the TV cameras or behind the actors shooting them in the studio lighting. We tried to make that a point as well, where some footage is obviously from 4K TV cameras that is super sharp, colorful, and artificial. We wanted to make the audience feel the difference between everything that comes at them.”
Among the footage they shot were lots of what Sandgren described as “small details,” like in the opening sequence of Jennifer Lawrence’s character making tea. As an editor, Corwin appreciated the ability to cut to the intimate moment of “the tiny shot of hot water being poured into a cup.”
Corwin also enlisted the help of Netflix staff located around the world, to capture what looked like personal footage of nature and people. “Netflix has a zillion employees, so I asked them to send me videos of them looking into the sky or watching television, being involved with the media or being in nature,” Corwin says. “We got stuff from all over the world, and it was beautiful because I wanted it to feel very human and not professionally shot. It was a gold mine.”
Because they shot on so many different formats, the dailies and editorial workflow was a little extra challenging. The film was sent to Fotokem in L.A. to be processed, which took a day. Then Fotokem sent the processed footage to Company 3, where they backed up to LTO and synced and transcoded the media to DNxHD 115. The editorial team was sent dailies files via Aspera each day, but were always two days behind production because of the processing time.
They worked on Avid 2018, on 2013 Mac Pros configured with 2.7 GHz 12-Core Intel Xeon E5 processors, 64 GB 1866 MHz DDR3, and AMD FirePro D700 6 GB. They stored everything on a NEXIS and also on G-Raids when they were working from home—which they did from the start of production. Shooting during COVID was, according to McKay “extra complicated” due to the lack of rapid testing at that point.
Corwin worked out of his home editorial suite, and the team used G-Raid hard drives working locally and uploading and downloading media back and forth. They kept the NEXIS up to date at their Pivotal Post facility and used JUMP to access it.
Some additional challenges presented themselves when they were processing in Avid because the film footage was shot at 24fps but most of the digital footage was shot at 29.97fps. Company 3 converted the 29.97 footage to 24, but a fair amount of hand syncing was needed on the converted digital footage.
Also, grouping the film and digital footage together when they shot multicam with both was complicated because over time they would drift out of sync from each other, so the team had to chop up long takes into smaller parts to keep everything in sync.
The core team of five—Corwin, additional editor Scott Morris, first assistant Sarah Russell, VFX editor Andrew Loschin, and apprentice editor Michael Shusterman (as well as short-term assistants Jon Thornhill and Meryl Goodwin) continued to work from home until February 2021. After wrapping principal photography, McKay also worked from home like the rest of the team, using PacPost to do live sessions.
They were able to move the cutting room to Sony Picture Studios in Culver City where they worked out of Cutter’s Alley beginning on February 20, 2021 to October 31, 2021—approximately 36 weeks. Colorist Matt Wallach handled the final grading at Company 3.
Obviously, a movie that deals with a giant comet that’s about to destroy the planet has a hefty VFX component. Approximately 750 VFX shots were completed primarily at Framestore and Scanline VFX. There was a computer-generated comet created for all comet shots, along with a heavily augmented CG background and CG ships and creatures at the end of the movie.
For the two launch scenes, a CG space shuttle, rockets, drones, and base were created. And beyond that they did set extensions, crowd additions, production fixes, and television and monitor composites. The editorial team also used Adobe Creative Cloud applications including After Effects, Photoshop, Illustrator, and Media Encoder.
Caption: Leonardo di Caprio and Adam McKay discuss the observatory scene in Don’t Look Up. Image © Netflix
According to the team, some of the bigger creative challenges centered around finding the correct tone and the balance of comedy, satire, and drama. Hank Corwin talks about the first Oval Office scene. “You had these great actors in a room for two days, and they’re running between four and six cameras. With these actors, there’s such a plethora and gamut of performances. You may choose a piece of improv and you’re not going to know that it’s not working until you’re into the film for another 35 minutes. So, you’re constantly refining and fine tuning the tone and the emotional colors of the film.”
In the end, the effort of bringing this film to life was only slightly less heroic than the movie’s characters’ attempts to save the world.
Denis Villeneuve’s Dune was one of the most eagerly awaited films of 2020, and its delayed release only ratcheted up the anticipation. Fans of the Frank Herbert novel hoped to see a version that hewed more closely to the book, while those loyal to the 1984 David Lynch version hoped it would take the story to new and different places.
What both can agree on is that the quality of the world building is first rate, and the story has the time to breathe and unfold in all its complexity and nuance.
Villeneuve’s longtime editor Joe Walker sat down with Steve Hullfish for a video interview in October 2021, and generously took us further into the mechanics of their workflow for this article.
The massive production took place over 96 days of principal photography in locations from California to Budapest, Jordan, Abu Dhabi, and Norway. Winning the Oscar for Best Cinematography, Greig Fraser (who also won both the BAFTA and ASC Award for Best Cinematography for Dune) used ARRI Alexa LF 4K cameras and ARRI Alexa Mini LFs with Panavision H-Series and Ultra Vista Lenses. They captured in Alexa RAW which was transcoded to DNxHD 115 for Avid. According to Joe, there was a “good amount” of single-camera capture, and also quite a lot of IMAX.
Having to keep both the wide-screen and IMAX presentations in mind, Joe explains, “We started cutting at 1:43, and once we’d felt that we were confident, we flipped over to cutting at 2:39. It felt like a more comfortable, less distracting viewing experience when we were showing cuts to the producers.”
During principal photography, Joe and his team were in Budapest with the production, moving back to LA to work from the Legendary office in LA afterwards. There, Joe and Denis were able to work together in person, which Denis strongly prefers to do, likening their collaboration to that of a band’s.
Which is why it took some adjustment for both of them after the COVID restrictions forced them to work remotely with Joe in LA and Denis in Montreal. As Joe says, “I had to get used to seeing the front of his face. I’ve sat to the left of him for so long that the right side of his face is like the dark side of the moon.” But, like others, Joe appreciated the flexibility of working from home. Being able to have a middle-of-the-night idea and execute it, then returning to bed and sleeping well was an unexpected perk.
The rest of the editorial team—first and second assistants, supervising VFX editor plus two VFX assistant editors, and an editorial PA, also worked remotely using Jump desktops to remote into the Avid Nitris DX at Legendary.
The VFX component was, as you’d imagine, epic. From animated sandworms to 3D spice harvesters to practical ornithopters, Dune’s visual effects incorporate a full range of techniques both practical and computer generated.
The extensive world building was supervised by Paul Lambert, who previously worked with Villeneuve on Blade Runner 2049, for which he earned an Oscar for Best Visual Effects. The bulk of the approximately 2000 effects shots were handled by DNEG, with Wylie VFX, Rodeo VFX, and Territory Studio also contributing.
Villeneuve and Fraser used a hybrid digital capture-film scan approach that Fraser had developed to give the final movie a look that’s not as sharp as digital or as soft as film. Fraser explains the process: “You basically shoot the movie digitally, give it a quick grade, output it to film and then grade the scan of that. This gives you the best out of digital and the best out of film, and we found it to be a really interesting process.” Final grading was handled by Dave Cole at FotoKem.
Joe, a classically trained musician, talks about how Dune was “a massive work of rhythm.” Working closely with composer Hans Zimmer (who is also Oscar-nominated this year), Joe has woven the many visual, musical, and sound elements together to create a rich and immersive viewing experience.
One of his biggest challenges? “Trying to make Paul’s inner world compelling, and rendering the telling of this story both strongly rhythmic and gripping,” he says.
From the first shoot day until the final delivery, two years elapsed. And, clearly, every minute and every dollar spent is evident on the screen, and by its 10 Oscar nominations.
The nostalgic period pieces
It’s no wonder that of the three period films, the two color movies were both shot on film to evoke the colorful looks the directors desired (Licorice Pizza and West Side Story), while Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast was shot digitally and desaturated to evoke his memories of 1960s Northern Ireland.
Period music also plays a huge role in each of the films. Although only West Side Story is an actual musical, Van Morrison’s songs organically act as the score for Belfast, as do the popular songs of the 1970s in Licorice Pizza. Even more so in period pieces, recalling the sights and sounds are equally vital to immersing the viewer in a specific time and place.
Sir Kenneth Branagh’s reflection on his early childhood in Belfast during “The Troubles” of the late 1960s is a poetic rendering of a tumultuous time in Irish history in all its beauty and turbulence.
Branagh’s longtime cinematographer, Haris Zambarloukos (with whom he’s made eight films) shot on Arri Alexa Mini LFs with Panavision System 65 Lenses for 35 days. Sadly, due to the pandemic, they were unable to shoot on location in Belfast and instead had to recreate the neighborhood on a set at Farnborough Airport, just outside of London. They captured at 4.5K Open Gate in ARRIRAW 24 fps at 1.85:1.
Digital Orchard handled the dailies duties using Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve 16, applying the show LUT along with the CDL values from the DIT, and delivering DNxHD 115 files for editorial along with H.264 QT 720p files for dailies distribution.
While Sir Ken was shooting in London, editor Úna Ní Dhonghaíle was working in Dublin. “I had an Avid with the drive in my house; he had an Avid with the drive at his house, my assistants had the same,” she says. “We had three second assistants because people stayed with us for two months at a time—which is the nature of independent film—and the same thing with the first assistants.
Carly Brown was a first assistant who stayed for the duration, but Simon Davis and Matthew Tucker both did two months each just to help with the sheer volume of turnover for sound and preparation for grade and everything. The other second assistants are Lydia Mannering and Tímea Kalderák, and they helped a lot with all of that turnover.”
During principal photography, Úna says that the schedule was very tight. “We had to hit the ground running. Let’s say he started shooting Monday morning; that meant I was editing Monday night so that we could show him the first assembly of that week by Friday night. He would wrap at 7:00 pm and be with me by 8:00 pm, and we watched everything until midnight just to make sure we got everything or if he needed anything extra.”
Because they weren’t physically together, they did a lot of their work over the phone, Úna says. But despite their distance, the fact that this is the third film they’ve done together meant that they had an established shorthand.
“Normally, if the director’s in the room with you, you can show them ideas and cuts quickly,” Úna says. “But because Ken wasn’t physically with me, I’d build a few options and have my assistant render it and send it over to his bin, and he could just press play and get on the phone with me. It was brilliant because it meant that Ken was actually very hands-on and could watch these different versions. It was a really great experience. It meant that both of us were crafting and exploring anything that could happen.”
Zambarloukos shot in color and they desaturated during the final grade, done at Goldcrest by colorist Rob Pizzey. But there are pops of color at crucial plot moments, including the opening and closing of the movie to highlight the vibrancy of Belfast in the present day.
Úna explains that aesthetically, “the black and white is a motif to represent the past, but when they went to the cinema that would be in color. Ken was trying to show the impact on the child, that cinema was an escape. It was very vivid and real in the midst of all the ordinariness of life.”
There’s nothing ordinary about Belfast, however. From concept to screen it’s an extraordinary realization of a passion project by a group of dedicated filmmakers.
A Paul Thomas Anderson film is always a joyous event for cinephiles, and Licorice Pizza is yet another of the auteur’s masterpieces. A departure from the dark and moody films he’s been recently known for, it’s a nostalgic look at a place beloved to the director—in this case the San Fernando Valley of the 1970s.
Anderson chose to shoot and finish on film for 65mm projection, which required an elaborate dual workflow. Shooting in 35mm on Panavision Millennium XL cameras with Panavision C-series Anamorphic lenses, the 65-day shoot took place exclusively on locations in the Valley and LA. They mostly used one camera, except for stunt or driving scenes, and shot some sequences in 16mm for Gary’s POV. (Fun fact: Anderson and co-cinematographer Michael Bauman shot with the same pair of Panavision Millennium XL2 35mm film cameras that were used on the J.J. Abrams-directed Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens.)
The original 35mm camera negative was developed by FotoKem in the early morning hours and then scanned in 4K. The film dailies were color timed by Don Capoferri, who would then make 35mm prints of all lab rolls. Using the scans, FotoKem synced up production audio for each lab roll and burned the audio files to DVD-R. Prints and discs were then sent to editorial for dailies screenings, where audio would be synced up to picture via Fostex DV40 decks.
Andy Jurgensen talks about the unique experience of watching film dailies with Anderson. “We get the film first, even before we’re getting it digitally because that’s just the way everything gets processed with the scanning. So the first time we’re seeing it is on print. We can judge so many things when watching it big on film. Not only the performance, but the lighting, and the lenses and focus.”
Digital dailies color timer Greg Curry set looks based on the print reference and sent digital frames to editorial for review. Once approved, FotoKem nextLAB rendered out Avid media at DNxHD 115.
Andy and Avid first assistant editor Jay Trautman worked on Mac Pros with Avid NITRIS DX. During production, Andy and Paul worked together in an office space. Jay had his Avid set up at his home and each worked off a 20TB external hard drive. Dailies were copied to each location using shuttle drives, and during post they shared media and render files via secure Dropbox folders.
Post-production lasted approximately a year, during which film first assistant Bill Fletcher worked out of Pivotal Post, where the dailies film prints were stored after the screening. (According to Andy, Bill also works with the other directors who shoot film, like Quentin Tarantino and Christopher Nolan.)
Once the cut was locked, Bill conformed the workprint using the Avid cut list and checked it on a KEM junior edit table with a chasing Fostex DV40 Master Recorder deck for audio sync.
Unlike many of the other films, Licorice Pizza contains minimal VFX. Anderson prefers to do everything practically and preserve the original 35mm negative as much as possible. The final photochemical version has about 40 digital negative shots for reflection removals, paintouts, stabilizations, speed changes, and titles.
Mo Henry cut the original camera negative and handed it off to FotoKem, who created A/B rolls for printing and doing the optical dissolves. Kristen Zimmermann was the photochemical color timer for the 35mm release prints and the 70mm release prints. Mike Sowa handled the DI color timing and mastering.
It’s a challenging workflow under the best of circumstances but the COVID remote factor upleveled the difficulty, and post-production supervisor Erica Frauman was key to keeping everything running smoothly. Between sharing Avid bins and media, tracking film dailies, and making sure the five members of the editorial team stayed in sync, she kept a lot of plates spinning.
As Andy puts it, “This movie is just so unique. You can’t really put a label on it. It is a coming of age story, a romance, and a meandering slice-of-life kind of thing with all these crazy characters.”
Which is to say, it’s another Paul Thomas Anderson film, perfect not just for its meticulous construction, but also for its authentically perfect imperfections.
West Side Story
If you’re Steven Spielberg and your dream project is to bring a new version of the iconic musical West Side Story—which won 10 Oscars in 1961—into the world, you’d best bring your A+ game.
Spielberg definitely brought his A+ team, as we’ve discussed, along with an attempt toward greater cultural authenticity, going so far as to not subtitle the Spanish lyrics in an effort to not “give power to English over Spanish.” Still, the outcome remains somewhat controversial.
Politics aside, by combining time-honored technology with modern-day ingenuity and tools, Spielberg and co. were able to imbue West Side Story 2021 with a fresh look and dynamic energy that makes seeing it on the screen as thrilling to audiences as it was 60 years ago.
Yes, they shot on celluloid (as they almost always do) in an effort to capture the technicolor vibrancy of the original. But, also, Spielberg and Kaminski were able to easily move their cameras to create a more actively immersive experience for the viewer by bringing new and previously unseen angles to the dance numbers. Kaminski has also said that he was able to bring in all the lights he needed to achieve a sharp depth of field, and enhance the “razzle dazzle of Broadway musicals,” whether shooting at night or in the streets of New York City in the summer.
Like Paul Thomas Anderson, Spielberg and Kaminski used a pair of Panavision Panaflex Millennium XL2s with C-series and T-series lenses and shot on Kodak stock in 2.39:1 widescreen. Steadicam operator John S. Moyer who, according to Kaminski, used to be a dancer, was able to maneuver through the production numbers to fluidly capture the action.
Shooting took place over 81 days in and around New York City and Patterson, NJ, from July through September of 2019. Kodak processed the film each night, and Technicolor graded and scanned the dailies the next day. That night, they created DNx115 files which they delivered to the editorial team the next morning. According to editor Sarah Broshar, the assistant editors synced the sound and organized the film into scene bins and dailies rolls.
During production, they had a NYC cutting room set up, and there was also an on-set editing trailer to work with Spielberg. Their machine configuration was Avid Media Composer 8.9.3 on Mac Pros with local NEXIS storage for the media. The team consisted of the two editors (Michael Kahn and Sarah Broshar); associate editor Pat Crane; assistant editors Kevin Birou, Andrey Ragozin, and Nicholas Lundgren; music Editor Joe E. Rand; and PAs Tim Quane (NY) and Molly Biscardi-Silver (LA).
After principal photography, they moved to Los Angeles for post-production in October 2019 where they worked until COVID shut them down in mid-March 2020. After that, they worked from home over the summer and completed the cut in September 2020. Fortunately, for the most part they were able to work together with Spielberg.
Shooting in New York in 2019 for New York in 1957 meant that there were a lot of modern window air-conditioner units and satellite dishes to remove, as well as some set extensions. The 667 VFX shots were handled by MPC, Lola VFX, and Mr. X.
Technicolor also handled the final mastering, with supervising colorist Michael Hatzer (formerly a photochemical timer) performing the final grading.
From predictions to trends
Now that you’ve read about the films, we’ll take a closer look at the industry. After the past two years of upheavals and adjustments, let’s see what patterns have emerged—and what trends seem to be taking hold.
Remember way back in early 2020 how we were excited about seeing movies like No Time To Die and Dune and West Side Story? And how we assumed they would be Oscar contenders for 2021?
Without the release of those tentpole blockbusters, a raft of low-budget, high-quality, under-the-radar films broke through, paving the way for future indies to garner wider recognition.
The proof-of-concept that was the 2021 Oscar slate bears out. This year, we have the low-budget and critically acclaimed darlings Belfast, CODA, and Drive My Car. Then there are the mid-budget offerings like King Richard, Licorice Pizza, Nightmare Alley, and The Power of the Dog.
But aside from Dune and West Side Story, the only $100+ million title produced in the 2020-21 time frame is Netflix’s Don’t Look Up. We’ll just put a pin in that for the moment.
So let’s have yet another look at how COVID has impacted the industry, turning some of last year’s predictions into this year’s trends.
The box office story
From the cautious reopening of the world last summer to the holiday season arrival of the Delta and Omicron variants, theaters have yet to get back to any kind of business-as-usual stability.
As recently as 2018, the U.S. box office hit an annual record of $11.8 billion, followed by 2019’s $11.3 billion—demonstrating only a 5% dip that is likely attributable to the rise of streaming services.
And then came 2020, the year when the U.S. box office dipped by a catastrophic 81% to take in only $2.1 billion.
The rebound in 2021 sounds like a lot over the previous year—113%—but that means that the annual take of $4.5 billion is still 60% below the last pre-COVID year.
With box office earnings currently standing at $765 million at nearly the end of the first quarter of 2022 (largely boosted by the success of Spider-Man: No Way Home), it’s probably fair to say that this year still won’t come close to the pre-COVID box office highs.
Movie theaters are dead—or are they?
Remember the first time a studio decided to release what would have been a theatrical blockbuster as a premium video on demand (PVoD)? It was in April 2020, when Universal released Trolls World Tour at a 48-hour rental price of $19.99. It was a smash, earning more in three weeks than the original did in five months at the U.S. box office. Warner Bros.’ Scoob! followed suit.
When Disney decided to release Mulan exclusively on PVoD for a rental price of $29.99 in September 2020, some industry experts predicted the demise of the theaters. During the first year of the pandemic it certainly seemed as though people—particularly those with children—were happy to pay premium prices for the at-home experience. This trend led former CEO of Paramount and 20th Century Fox, Barry Diller, to declare that the movie business as we knew it was dead.
Or was it? As the pandemic dragged on and cabin fever set in, the theaters were met with a resurgence in attendance. The performance of Spider-Man: No Way Home, which knocked Avatar out of its third-place all-time highest grossing movie slot with a North American box office take of $760 million—and $1.8 billion worldwide—provided the first hint that people were ready to head back to packed theaters.
And then came The Batman. Released on March 4, 2022, it reached $128.5 million in domestic ticket sales in just its first weekend. Despite its higher ticket prices ($1-$1.50 more than for other features screening in the same multiplexes) and nearly three-hour running time, people flocked to see it.
According to a survey conducted by Vox in December 2021, movie lovers missed more than just getting out of the house. Naturally, some missed seeing blockbuster movies as they were intended to be seen—on a giant screen with surround sound and a big bucket of popcorn.
Some described missing the communal experience of watching movies with others: the shared laughter or jump scares, or bonding with nearby attendees over plot twists or meanings.
But surprisingly, even older moviegoers have returned to theaters to watch “art-house” offerings. The theatrical success of Belfast, earning $34 million at the worldwide box office, is a sign that quality films can still draw audiences. And if they come with a glass of wine or a pint of craft beer, even better.
Streaming services and PVoD
So what does that mean for the streaming services? If movie theaters are rebounding, will the streamers see a dip in their subscriptions?
When you dig into who has financed and distributed this year’s movies, you may see the answer come into clearer focus.
Netflix financed two of this year’s films: The Power of the Dog and the sole big-budget offering produced in 2020-21, Adam McKay’s Don’t Look Up.
Even McKay himself was gobsmacked to learn that Don’t Look Up broke Netflix’s own viewing record, garnering more than 150 million viewer hours in just its first week.
Warner Bros. produced Dune and King Richard, both of which streamed on their subscription service, HBO Max, for 30 days while also opening theatrically—which had been the case with all their films from Wonder Woman 1984 in December 2020 until The Batman in March 2022.
Dune earned more than $100 million at the domestic box office and nearly $400 million worldwide because loyal fans wanted to see the spectacular effects on the big screen.
Would it have earned more with an exclusive theatrical run prior to streaming? Maybe. But even still, Dune enthusiasts are already eagerly anticipating the sequel.
Meanwhile, Disney Studios funded two films through their subsidiaries: Searchlight Picture’s Nightmare Alley and 20th Century Studios’ West Side Story.
After a strong premiere at Sundance 2021, Apple Studios purchased CODA for a record $25 million in a bidding war with Amazon who, after their acquisition of MGM, streamed Licorice Pizza as a $20 PVoD rental after its successful theatrical run, earning $27 million worldwide.
The takeaway? As the content-production giants consolidate, they continue to secure their dominance in the global marketplace by creating movies for screens both large and small.
Release strategies are changing, as the theatrical-run windows narrow to accommodate those viewers who prefer to stay home. At the end of 2021 Netflix had 203 million subscribers; Amazon Prime had 150 million; Disney had 94 million at Disney Plus (and as a majority owner of Hulu another 38 million); and HBO Max had 17 million.
It may be too early to predict how the day-and-date release model plays out in the long-term impact on box office earnings. But according to studio executives speaking at the 2021 Digital Entertainment Group (DEG) expo, giving movie lovers faster access to more content and more choices over how to consume it bodes well for continued engagement.
The good and bad news
As the DEG expo also cited, the pandemic has proven that people’s appetite for entertainment is virtually insatiable.
In 2021, they reported an annual expenditure in home entertainment of $32 billion dollars. That’s the good news.
But looking at the predictions for 2022, some casualties seem inevitable. For example, as the number of movie theaters shrinks, it will likely impact the ability of indie films to get theatrical releases.
As we began to see even pre-pandemic, the variety of films being produced has diminished as franchises, sequels, adaptations of properties with a built-in audience, and remakes have dominated theaters. (Of the ten Best Picture nominees, four this year are remakes, including Dune and West Side Story).
And then there’s the cost of producing movies while adhering to COVID safety regulations, which affects the lower-budget productions disproportionately and, for any film, can cause unexpected production delays.
Still, there’s reason to remain optimistic that our industry will evolve and adapt. Historically, even in dire times like the Spanish Flu, the Great Depression, and the Great Recession, people crave diversion, which means that creativity flourishes.
The annual off-screen dramas
Last, but hardly least, there’s invariably a controversy connected with the way the Oscars operate, and this year is no different.
In 2020, #OscarsSoWhite drew the industry’s attention to the lack of diversity among nominated movies. In 2021, the pendulum swung a little, when the first woman of color (and only the second woman, ever), Chloe Zhao, took home the award for Best Director for Nomadland. (Interestingly, the subject of the film itself was the main source of the controversy last year, in its depiction of the conditions in Amazon’s warehouses.)
This year, we have The Power of the Dog’s Jane Campion and her female cinematographer, Ari Wegner, nominated in their respective categories, with Campion taking home the Oscar for Best Director (the third woman to do so). But although Sian Heder’s CODA won Best Picture, she wasn’t nominated in the director category, instead taking the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Oscars are also fairly white this year. The only film nominated for Best Picture with a Black director and producer is King Richard. Guillermo Del Toro represents Mexico with Nightmare Alley. Then there’s West Side Story, which boasts a hugely diverse cast of non-white actors—but was directed by a white male.
All of which is to say, there’s still plenty of work to be done. Even with AMPAS’s continued efforts to diversify its membership and to encourage diversity both in front of and behind the camera, there are still some glaring gender inequities.
According to The Celluloid Ceiling report, of the top-grossing 250 movies of 2021 only 6% had women DPs, making Ari Wegner’s nomination that much more noteworthy as only the second woman in Oscar history. On the other hand, if you look at the fact that of the ten movies nominated for Best Picture, two had female cinematographers (CODA’s Paula Huidobro is the other), that’s an unprecedented 20%, so there are glimmers of hope.
This year’s controversy concerns the decision not to live-broadcast awards in eight important categories, including Best Editing and Best Sound.
A similar decision in 2019 was spurred by the previous year’s (then) all-time low viewership, resulting in limiting the broadcast to three hours by excising the presentations for Best Editing and Best Cinematography, among others. The backlash caused so much industry outrage that prior to the broadcast it was overturned and all awards were televised.
Last year, the 2021 broadcast broke the 2018 record for low viewership with its scaled-back COVID coverage and relatively “small” movies. Once again, ABC’s effort to boost (and retain) its audience ignited a firestorm of criticism from Guillermo Del Toro in a speech at the Hollywood Critics Association awards ceremony to luminaries including James Cameron, John Williams, and Kathleen Kennedy in a letter to Academy president David Rubin.
At this year’s ACE Eddie awards, whether in speeches or private interviews, most editors agreed that excluding craft categories is a slight to all involved and a disappointment to the many people who bring considerable talent, time, and skill to them.
That’s a wrap
None other than the great Walter Murch has expounded on the essential relationship between director and editor. And as Dana Glauberman, ACE reminded us during a recent interview, a movie is written three times: first on the page, then in production, and finally in the edit suite.
For those of our readers who are editors, or who appreciate the importance of their contributions, we see you. That’s why we’re once again running a separate article highlighting the creative editing process behind the Oscar-nominated films in our editors roundtable.
For now, that’s a wrap. As always, we welcome your comments, observations, and insights. Most of all, we thank you for your contributions to the art and craft of filmmaking.
Sincerest thanks to Stephen Hullfish and to the PR teams at Netflix, Impact24, Strategy PR, and Paula Woods Consultants for their outreach to the editorial teams behind the nominated films. We especially want to thank the respondents for their time and insights: Géraud Brisson, Sarah Broshar, Úna Ní Dhonghaíle, Morgan Heller, Paula Huidobro, Andy Jurgensen, Mary Juric, Andrew Loschin, Pamela Martin, Cam McLachlan, Staci Pontius, Sarah Russell, Peter Sciberras, Michael Shusterman, Kat Spiess, Chris Voutsinas, Joe Walker, Doug Wilkinson, and Azusa Yamazaki.