Thankfully, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences failed in its attempt to exclude several award categories from this year’s Oscar Awards ceremony, and its efforts to do so were blocked. But, their intentions did shed some light on the true algorithms, logarithms, dollars and audience share figures that truly rule the roost while raising the alarm about a very serious issue. The so-called ‘Hollywood’s Biggest Night’ intended disrespecting, or at least relegating to the background all the professions that comprise an industry that does solely consist of directors, actors and producers. The fact is, there are many more tradesmen and women, standing side by side with them, sharing their thoughts and ideas, feelings and emotions, with their respective officiants giving the very best of themselves driven by their passion for their trade. That and in return for economic compensation of course. But all too often it seems, the only thing that matters is money. For those who haven’t been following the controversy, which was resolved and amended, the Academy proposed presenting several awards during the ad breaks. With Cinematography, they ran up against a powerful rival and enemy, Alfonso Cuarón, the author of those black and white, and several grey shots, in ‘Roma’). Other awards we wouldn’t have seen had they got their way were Film Editing, Short Film (Live Action), a category that included Rodrigo Sorogoyen and his anguished ‘Mother’, and Makeup and Hairstyling.
After the almost excruciatingly painful experience of seeing these categories disregarded, I’ll try to nutshell what I’m getting at here. And yes, it may be that I’m stating the obvious, or that somebody reading these lines might be offended and ask themselves, “What the hell is this blow-in going on about?” In other words, I realize I might be preaching to the converted. Maybe you work in cinema and find it superfluous that an outside observer explain what the day-to-day life of a film is or to list the components of the complex and sophisticated machine that, at the end of the day, delivers Hollywood’s most commercial cinema, as well as those modest European, Asian, African or Latin American films we go to see, and enjoy, in the Golem, Renoir or Verdi theatres, or Barcelona’s ever-restless Zumzeig.
Over the past 30 years, which, alas, have flown like an arrow, I’ve had the opportunity to visit plenty of film sets and report my findings in different media. But, in addition, I have had the immense fortune to get down and dirty with the crews of the feature films, shorts, video clips and series I’ve taken part in as an extra. Sometimes, I even got a line! This was an enormously uplifting experience that enabled me to truly comprehend that cinema is indeed a profession, in the strictest sense of the word, and categorically, it is a team profession. In other words, a filmmaker cannot do their job if the cables haven’t been properly laid. A director of photography won’t get that wonderful shot if the spotlights haven’t first been placed in the right spot and the camera lens cleaned. A shoot in the wee hours of the morning in freezing temperatures would be unbearable without a first-rate and varied catering service and thermos brimming with coffee. Even the most inspirational screenwriting can be misinterpreted or badly read or remembered unless the super-organized round-glasses-wearing, coloured notebook-carrying script supervisor is not watching everything like a hawk. A set decorator has an entourage in tow who place that vase in the right spot, who straighten the table against the wall and settle the chairs around the table. I’ve witnessed all these major or minor acts taking place either during filming or after they shout ‘Cut! Let’s take a break!” on the almost 80 shoots I’ve worked on as an extra, sometimes waiting around for hours.
When we consider movies like ‘Day for Night’, by François Truffaut, ‘The Girl of Your Dreams’, by Fernando Trueba, Fellini’s ‘8½’, ‘The Bad and the Beautiful’, by Vincente Minnelli, or Billy Wilder’s ‘Sunset Boulevard’, their storylines take place on a film set and I can easily identify all the professionals swarming around the stars. I’ve already put faces and names to the ones from my own shoots. And, I know they’re real people, often anonymous or even poorly paid, who respect and peddle their trades with as much passion and dedication as the most sought-after star or that zillionaire director. Here’s my advice. The next time you watch a movie, stay to see all the final credits, no matter how long and detailed they may be. You’ll find out the name of the assistant to the assistant to the assistant, the name of the rookie third intern assistant to the second intern, assistant to the first intern. Who was that super strict on-set security guard?, or that deluded casting director’s assistant…They’ll thank you. Because they also make movies.