This morning, Star Wars: The Force Awakens was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Achievement in Visual Effects. This might seem like a no-brainer, but don’t tell that to the team at ILM who were taking nothing for granted.
Earlier today, we spoke to Roger Guyett, the visual effects supervisor on Star Wars: The Force Awakens, who explains just what the process is like to get a movie nominated for an Oscar. It’s a little different than the other categories as the field is first whittled down to a short list before a presentation – known as “the bakeoff” – trims it down to the five final nominees. During “the bakeoff,” each film shows exactly ten minutes of footage. How does one pick ten minutes from a movie like Star Wars? Ahead (a very delighted with today’s news) Guyett explains.
It’s a nice day. Not a bad Thursday, is it, when you get this kind of news.
Were you feeling optimistic?
You never quite know, do you? I’ve never gone to bed feeling completely optimistic about these things. But I thought we had a reasonable chance at it, Star Wars being what it is… it’s still incredibly exciting
I would worry that because it is Star Wars people would take it for granted. “Well, of course Star Wars is supposed to look great.”
[Laughs.] Well, you know, I guess that’s obviously a little bit beyond my control. It’s this movie, isn’t it? And I think J.J. did a fantastic job putting it all together – but in visual effects terms, it’s a juggernaut, isn’t it? One of the premises of it is you need the visual effects to make the thing work. So far, we haven’t made an X-Wing or a Millennium Falcon that can fly. Maybe that will be Episode VIII, they’ll finally actually make one that works.
I bet Rian Johnson might like that.
He probably would! It would be too much fun, wouldn’t it? You know, to me, it was an opportunity to marry the most contemporary technology with, in a funny way, some of the oldest and try to retain some of that charm. Ironically, you want people to be swept up in this movie without them noticing your work… until someone is really voting on that ticket and you want them to realize just how much work is involved.
The Visual Effects Oscar process is different. That’s a shortlist that comes out prior to the nominations. That list came out before the premiere when the movie was at its most secret stage. Did the short list voters see the movie in full, or just a sizzle reel?
Well, for the short list they have all seen the movie. The way that it works is they have a meeting and boil it down to a group of movies that they think are in that range. By the time they boil it down to the short list, they’ve seen all those movies. There are probably 40 or 50 and we put on a screening for them so they could see the movie.
And this was before the premiere?
Yeah, yeah. Despite the reputation, or whatever, you want people to see the movie before they’re really voting on if it’s worthy of that kind of thing. It’s a multi-stage event. It feels a bit like a marathon, the way the process works. Then you do a presentation, which is what happened last Saturday and then all the members of the branch vote.
What’s the presentation like? Do you just put in what you’re most proud of?
There’s 10 movies on this list that the committee has chosen are worthy of the opportunity to present. And it’s such a competitive field, there are so many movies that should be on that list. It’s called “the visual effects bakeoff,” and each person does a five-minute presentation followed by a 10-minute reel and a three-minute question-and-answer. And it’s the same for each movie. So, it’s a long night. You can imagine if you’ve done something like Star Wars, how in heavens name do you edit it down to 10 minutes?
Did you include the TIE Fighters flying out of the sunset?
Interestingly enough, we couldn’t get that shot in the reel because the context of it was in. We put a bit of everything in: Maz, Supreme Leader Snoke…
Yeah, BB-8! The bit of the Falcon chase through the desert. But you have to have a few goes at it — it’s not easy to edit together if you’ve done a big movie like this. I have to say, I’m kind of disappointed for J.J. and Kathy [Kennedy] that it didn’t get more recognition for Best Picture. It’s not easy.
I was holding out hope for Harrison Ford, too. It’s like Stallone, coming back after all these years and he’s great.
And he does it flawlessly. It’s funny, I know there seems to be some added value in doing a more arthouse project, but, my God, when you think of how many people were interested in seeing this movie, it’s incredible… As you say, Harrison is fantastic, isn’t he? He’s great. And I have an 18-year-old daughter, so the fact that Rey is such a fun and strong character – and I think she’s really well played by Daisy – it’s funny how much I’ve heard people talk about that aspect of the movie. It’s awesome, isn’t it? I’m very, very happy that Star Wars is being recognized and feel very lucky.
Mike Ryan lives in New York City and has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York magazine. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.