‘West Side Story’ craftsmen slam Oscars broadcast cuts
Among its seven Oscar nominations this year, Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” was recognized for the artistry behind the film’s production design, costume design, cinematography and sound design. But only two of those four categories — costume design and cinematography — will air during the live stream, a move that Spielberg himself criticized.
In conversation with Variety editor-in-chief of Tangcay Jazz Craftsmen for the Variety A streaming room presented by 20th Century Studios, the Best Picture nominee crafters discussed their reactions to the Academy dropping eight categories from the live stream.
“To be honest with you, I’m very sad about it,” said sound engineer Andy Aaron. “I think a lot of us have made it clear to the Academy that we think there are other ways to deal with this than trying to relegate eight categories to one pre-registration. I find that sad, to be honest. I wish there was another way to approach it. We certainly tried to be as vocal as possible with the Academy about this.
Aaron was joined by cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, costume designer Paul Tazewell, VFX editor Sean Kachenmeister, production designer Adam Stockhausen and set designer Rena DeAngelo for the chat, which covered the magic behind some of the footage. from the film, including fan-favorite “Dance at the Gym” and Tony and Maria’s “Tonight” duet. In response to Aaron’s comments, Kachenmeister also spoke about the relegation of two of the film’s nominations to the pre-show.
“I was on the same Zoom call as all the nominees in the sound branch,” Kachenmeister said. “I think we all found that quite disrespectful.”
While there is some hope the decision will be overturned, Stockhausen said he was also upset to hear the news, adding: “It’s very sad. … I think it affects all of us. I thought the whole idea of the Academy of Arts and Sciences celebrated every facet of filmmaking, and that was kind of the core. So, it’s a disappointing decision, and we’ll see.
Elsewhere, Oscar-nominated DP Kaminski broke down the gym dance scene and how he shot it. The scene went viral on the internet, including comments from Guillermo Del Toro who noted, “Extremely difficult to execute. Pure, masterful clockwork precision and far more complex than “welded” shots or crane-operated steadicam “relay” shots. Disconcerting, virtuoso, but one among many others, so many shots that make the camera “dance” with each musical number.
Kaminski explained: “Steven, [costume designer] Paul and [production designer] Adam Stockhausen and I had a long conversation about how to do this photo. It evolved from several plans to almost a single plan which was transmitted by Steven and executed by us. It’s a tough shot to make in all aspects. One of them is the choreography, clearly an amazing part of it, if not the most important part.
The sequence features the Jets and the Sharks, and as Kaminski explains, the key was that it needed a narrative aspect to the way it was shot. “This shot gives a very clear indication to the audience what this particular scene is going to be about. It’s about two teams competing to see which team has the best dancers, the best performers, the most charming and the most seductive. He continues, “The lighting was critical just because it’s a single shot and the camera goes through the crowd, pans 360 degrees and the action continues. And the action has to be spectacular just because just because we’re making a shot doesn’t mean the lighting or the visuals have to suffer and be compromised.
Kaminski said the plan was different in every aspect to execute especially for the lighting team, led by Steve Ramsey. Kaminski says, “We had our lights rigged on the dimmer, so as the camera rolled, some sections of the scene went dark, another section went dark with the lights. You dim the light so it’s in one direction, then when you turn around, you have to dim or turn on or dim the lights in the dimming board so you can dim the lights, or turn the lights off, so you can maintain the romance and beauty of the shot.
Tazewell further complimented the sequence with his Oscar-nominated costumes. He explains that this was the first clear view of what he was looking for in terms of setting up the two gangs having this dance showdown. “The Jets being in largely cold tones, then the Sharks being in warm tones. The cool tones reflected the city of. For me it was the steel, the concrete, the streets of New York like in the 1950s. And then, for the sharks to reflect more of where they’re from Puerto Rico, the island, having a feel tropical, lots of shark dresses, I reserved all the floral design in this group for the Puerto Rican community. So I was making rules for the clothes you see next.