On the eve of the British Academy Awards ceremony, HeyUGuys were fortunate enough to be present at this year’s BAFTA Sessions for a rare chance to hear from some of this year’s nominees and world leading filmmakers as they spoke passionately and honestly about their craft.
We first kicked off with Cinematography, a session chaired by daily Telegraph film critic Robbie Collin which featured an in-depth chat with Swedish cinematographer Linus Sandgren (La La Land, First Man). Sandgren talked about the process he and director Damien Chazelle went through in trying to replicate the director’s “Cinéma Vérité” vision to a narrative about space exploration, two things you wouldn’t naturally put together.
Perhaps the most informative aspect of this first session was hearing how the cinematographer was able to improvise new and innovative lighting techniques in order to achieve a realistic aesthetic of the Moon Landings, something which was as important to him as his now iconic “magic hour” sequence in La La Land for which he insisted on using natural lighting to achieve verisimilitude.
Sandgren also talked at length about how he managed to apply just the right balance between a minimalistic and cinematic approach by using a mixture of 35 mm film stock and IMAX film to accentuate the juxtaposition between the earlier domestic settings and the grandiose nature of space exploration. It was also interesting to hear him reveal that he had to work around Justin Hurwitz’s score and not the other way around.
For the second session (hosted critic and writer by Ian Hayden Smith), we were lucky enough to be in the presence of three of this year’s best music and score nominees, namely Terence Blanchard for BlacKkKlansman, Nicholas Britell for If Beale Street Could Talk and Marc Shaiman for Mary Poppins Returns.
Shaiman spoke enthusiastically about the nerve-racking challenges and the pressure of working on a sequel of a much-loved film. While long time Spike Lee collaborator Terence Blanchard was able to shed a light on the process he went through scoring a film like BlacKkKlansman.
Talking about his critically acclaimed If Beale Street Could Talk score, Nicholas Britell (Moonlight, The Big Short, Battle of the Sexes) spoke about the challenge of working from James Baldwin’s seminal novel from which the film was adapted, and the importance of keeping the rhythm of the writer’s words and tone, and what he called “the musicality of his writing” throughout the film. He also spoke openly of the painstaking hours he spent with Beale Street director Barry Jenkins thinking about how the score should interact with the film’s dialogue and how it should convey the dreamlike nature of the film musically. He also mentioned the difference of the musical texture depending on what sentiments is being conveyed in any given sequence.
The third session saw Legendary director Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman, Do The Right Thing, She’s Gotta Have It, Jungle Fever) in attendance alongside Cold War and Ida director Pawel Pawlikowski as well as Stan and Ollie helmer John S Baird. This session was a chance for established directors to share the secrets of their craft with younger filmmakers and talk candidly about the process of getting funded, working closely with a team you trust, and the challenges of keeping to a budget.
Lee spoke candidly about his experiences in Hollywood and how having the final say on everything gave him and great deal of artistic freedom to make some of the most important films of his career. He also gave some great advice to first time directors about the process of being green-lit and how to stick to your guns on things that matter.
Also part of the panel was director Nadine Labaki (Caramel, Where Do We Go Now) who recently made history by being the first female Lebanese director to be nominated for an Oscar with her new film Capernaum, a film about the refugee crisis in the Middle-East.
Talking of their experiences of being on set, first-time directors Leanne Welham (Pili), Daniel Kokotajlo (Apostacy), Michael Pearce (Beast) were able to share their hopes, fears and expectations. There was also talk of budgets and how to keep to them, with director Pawel Pawlikowski admitting to always asking for more money than he thinks he might need, because this allows to relax into the production and not worry about things that might derail his production.
Other sessions taking place on the same day were Hair and Makeup, Documentary, Costume Design, Special Visual Effects and many more.
The EE British Academy Film Awards is broadcast on BBC One at 9pm on Sunday 10th February. For advice and inspiration from the best creative minds working in film, games and television, visit: www.bafta.org/guru