‘Saltburn,’ ‘Still,’ Creators Talk at Variety FYC Fest: The Shortlist



Variety rounded up some of our favorite creators behind several films recently shortlisted by the Academy to discuss the work that goes into making these now iconic cinematic moments.

From “American Fiction’s” score to the heartrending tunes of “Flora and Son,” the artisans went deep on their process and revealed the layers of thought and intent inside their work. Check out each interview for those recognized including Documentary film, song, score, hair & makeup, sound and more categories.

Read recaps of their conversations below:

“Saltburn” Original Score Conversation with Composer Anthony Willis

When it came to scoring that haunting opening scene of Oliver Quick (Barry Keoghan) in Emerald Fennell’s “Saltburn,” composer Anthony Willis stresses that the use of the choir was a strategic decision. “So much of the film is the preoccupation of vanity and then feeling like you need to behave a particular way and then actually how you want to behave after the fact. So that was the idea of these slurring arpeggios, that kind of broody and romantic [tune] and this beautiful footage of [Jacob Elordi’s character] Felix as he’s introduced in this very nostalgic way,” he said. Willis has also served as composer for Fennell’s Oscar-winning “Promising Young Woman” and for “How to Train Your Dragon: Homecoming.”

“Killers of the Flower Moon” Makeup & Hairstyling Conversation with Thomas Nellen, Makeup Department Head and Kay Georgiou, Hair Department Head 

“Killers of the Flower Moon” makeup department head Thomas Nellen and hair department head Kay Georgiou are familiar with the relationship between past and present. In the Martin Scorsese epic about the Reign of Terror, representation of that idea was especially necessary. “Some [of the Osage Nation] had one foot in the modern world and some had their foot in the traditional world, but even the ones in the modern world, they would cover themselves with a traditional blanket” Georgiou said. Beyond the visuals, there was still a cultural element to keep in mind. “Everybody at the end of the day, whether they were fashionable or traditional, they all would wear those blankets still in a traditional fashion to sit around the campfire or to follow traditions, to be together with the family, to celebrate traditions amongst them,” added Kellen.  

“American Fiction” Original Score Conversation With Composer Laura Karpman

“American Fiction” composer Laura Karpman was drawn to composing the film’s score because of the main character’s name: Thelonious “Monk” Ellison, one of the greatest composers and pianists. “When I think about Monk, I think a lot about the way that he would play the piano. The right hand and the left hand were really different,” she said. This is reflective of the distinctions between the two sides to him — Monk and Lee. The jazz theme was not only present in the score, but reflected in the dialogue as well: “We recorded everybody separately because the film is so delicate and dialogue driven that Jeffrey Wright and Erica Alexander and Sterling Brown and Issa Ray wind up being actual players in the jazz band.”

“Nǎi Nai and Wài Pó” Documentary Short Conversation with Director Sean Wang

First-generation Taiwanese American filmmaker Sean Wang wanted to pay homage to his two grandmothers with his documentary short “‘Nǎi Nai and Wài Pó.” Wang described the film, which incorporates dialogue in both Mandarin and English, as “a portrait of them, but also a portrait of me.”  In addition to directing, Wang also serves as producer. “‘Nǎi Nai and Wài Pó” won the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at the SXSW film festival and has since been acquired by Disney Branded Television. “I think my grandmas are just incredible. They’re the most pure form of joy in my life and I think I’m an adult, I don’t get to spend as much time as I get to spend with them as I did when I was a kid. And to me they’re just the most pure form of joy,” Wang said of his inspiration behind the film.  

“The ABCs of Book Banning” Documentary Short Film Conversation with Director Sheila Nevins 

When it comes to banning books, director Sheila Nevins is passionate about spreading awareness of its consequences for individual rights, as illustrated in her documentary short “The ABCs of Book Banning.” The head of MTV Films is especially drawn to the issue because of her firm belief that words are part of our freedom. “It’s part of our freedom to be able to read books, to be able to read about different people who look different, who act different, who are different,” Nevins said. “That’s what America was about.” 

“Last Song from Kabul” Documentary Short Film Conversation with Director Kevin Macdonald

Macdonald’s film follows a group of orphaned girls whose music school was shut down after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan; they escaped to Portugal where they restarted their lives and returned to music. “It’s a really optimistic and I think heartwarming story about how if people are left to their own devices, what they want is self-expression, freedom, all those things,” Macdonald said. He also spoke to a recurring musical motif in the film that the girls contributed to: “The theme tune of the documentary is actually a song, a traditional song, which is about freedom… It’s a derivation of the same piece that the girls play at the end. We ask them to play in different forms, this same melody, and it’s major and minor, and it’s used in many different forms throughout the film and even in the moments of greatest jeopardy and sorrow when they’re having to leave Afghanistan.”

“Napoleon” Visual Effects Conversation with VFX Supervisor Charley Henley, Special FX Supervisor Neil Corbould, MPC VFX Supervisor Luc-Ewen Martin-Fenouillet and ILM VFX Supervisor Simone Coco

The VFX team behind Ridley Scott’s “Napoleon” was inspired by Scott’s detailed storyboards when crafting the world of his historical epic. “Once you see his storyboards, you really understand where we’re going with it. There’s so much in them that’s not even in the script. [Scott’s] boards this time round were all in color on top of it. So was like you felt the mood through the board just by glancing at it.” The team shot entirely on location in Europe, where they recreated iconic late 18th and early 19th century battle sequences. Corbould shared how the team combined practical and visual effects to create realistic cannon explosions: “With the cannons, there was a lot of concern about, obviously, not live firing but firing black powder cannons. Ridley wanted people… in front of the cannons. So we had to come up with an air cannon, which basically fired out talcum powder. You got the recoil and everything, like a real cannon, but there was just no flame that came out. So it gave you everything apart from the flame, which Charley and his team did an amazing job putting all that stuff on.”

“Flora and Son” Original Song Conversation With Composer and Songwriter Gary Clark

Gary Clark, the composer and songwriter for “Flora and Son,” said collaborating with John Carney is like working in “a little band.” The duo previously teamed up for the musical feature “Sing Street” and Prime Video’s anthology series “Modern Love.” For their latest collaboration “Flora and Son,” Clark and Carney had several conversations about defining the musical palette to reflect the various characters: “It was a little bit of a journey to try and find all the individual sounds.” Speaking to the impact of the film’s music, he added, “I’ve had more people talking about the relationships, the musical relationships with their son or their daughter. And I think it really touches a nerve there with people.”

“Io Capitano” International Film Conversation With Matteo Garrone

Director, writer and producer Matteo Garrone created “Io Capitano” — which follows two young men who leave Dakar for Europe — to give a voice to “people that usually don’t have voice.” He was inspired to tell this story as the arrival is usually the only part that is televised — not the difficult journey. Because the main actors made that journey in real life, Garrone said he was able to learn from them both. “I wanted that be sure that we recreate something authentic for the respect of the people that made this journey, for the respect of the people that died on this journey. Because in the last 15 years, 27,000 people have died making this journey through Africa trying to reach Europe,” he said.

“Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie” Documentary Film Conversation with Director Davis Guggenheim

Davis Guggenheim was inspired to direct a documentary about Michael J. Fox after reading a New York Times interview with the film and TV icon, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1991. “The only thing he said to me was, ‘No violins,’” Guggenheim said. “I think what he means is ‘I don’t want a movie that’s pitying me. I’ve got too much work to do. I don’t want to be put in a box. I don’t like those movies that cloy and pander and pity people who have a disability.’” Guggenheim also discussed the casting of Danny Irizarry to play Fox in reenactment scenes: “We cast him because of how he moved. And Michael J. Fox was very, very focused on that… one thing that’s very consistent, even though his movies are sometimes very different, is how he moves. It seems like he’s always moving, sometimes moving in a way which he’s almost half gliding, half falling. And I think you see that in several moments in the movie.”

“Killers of the Flower Moon” Sound Conversation with Mark Ulano, Production Sound Mixer and Eugene Gearty, Re-recording Mixer

In distinguishing the two communities represented in “Killers of the Flower Moon,” re-recording mixer Eugene Gearty described his approach as one closely linked with both production and set design: “What I saw in backgrounds was faithfully developed visually. We supported completely with the vintage vehicles and wagons and everything you would imagine to build up this cacophony, this really busy sound.” Further adding, “It was a delineation, nature versus—not industrial, but modern—cars, steam engines.” Gearty worked with Mark Ulano, the film’s production sound mixer, to bring the unique sounds of a rampantly industrialized 1920s Oklahoma to life. Ulano described the process by which he created the sounds of the Osage Nation as one that allowed him to develop fluency in a language foreign to him: “When you enter another culture, and I say this from recent personal experience, the first line of acceptance is you’re developing fluency in the language of the culture that you’re a guest in.”

“To Kill A Tiger” Documentary Film Conversation with Director Nisha Pahuja

“To Kill A Tiger” follows an Indian farmer who relentlessly pursues justice for his 13-year-old daughter who was the victim of a gang rape. Director, writer and producer Nisha Pahuja spoke to why she believes the film tells a universal story: “Even though it is such a horrific, horrific tale — at the center of it is love. It’s this tremendous love that a father has for his child. It’s pretty amazing.” Pahuja continued to comment on patriarchal violence: “And then I think the other aspect is that although this… [geographically] is a very specific space and a very specific setting — it’s a small village in India — the truth is that this is something that all girls and all women around the world, no matter where we are, this is such a familiar story for us. There is this sense, it’s like we live in a way with this sort of perpetual fear and this kind of understanding in a way that we move through the world, not always safe. That our bodies are contested spaces and they don’t always belong to us. And people do feel that they can do what they want. There is male entitlement everywhere. So I think it’s something that we all understand.”


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