IndieWire’s FYC Brunch Assembled Two Dozen Craftspeople Behind the Year’s Best Movies

Panels included craftspeople from “Marriage Story," "Avengers: Endgame," "The Elephant Queen," and "Honey Boy."
Chris O’Falt, Jade Healy, Deborah Cook, Sandy Powell and Christopher Peterson
Chris O’Falt, Jade Healy, Deborah Cook, Sandy Powell and Christopher Peterson
John Salangsang for IndieWire

IndieWire hosted its first-ever Consider This FYC Brunch in honor of the 2019-2020 film awards season Tuesday, where over two dozen filmmakers, craftspeople, and producers discussed their work on the year’s best films in front of an audience of Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voters and guild members.

The event at Liaison Restaurant + Lounge in Hollywood was hosted by comedian and actor Sasheer Zamata (“Saturday Night Live,” “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert”). IndieWire staff moderated six intimate conversations with the editors, designers, directors, and others behind such films as the Gotham Award-nominated “Marriage Story,” Marvel hit “Avengers: Endgame,” the soon-to-launch Apple TV+’s inaugural film projects “The Elephant Queen” and “The Banker,” four National Geographic documentaries, and more.

“We’re here to celebrate the best films of the year,” IndieWire Editor-in-Chief Dana Harris-Bridson said. “In particular to celebrate the people who make those films possible — and that is the crafts.”

A panel moderated by Toolkit Editor Chris O’Falt kicked off the morning, where the focus was “time” — which was a plentiful luxury for Nathan Johnson, composer of Lionsgate’s “Knives Out.” It was over a decade ago that Johnson’s cousin, director Rian Johnson, described the film’s opening scene to the composer.

After production started, Nathan Johnson was regularly on set as part of his process of creating the soundscape of the whodunnit, which gave a new twist on old themes with inspiration from “Lawrence of Arabia” and other late ’50s, early ’60s scores.

“The goal is to make something new,” he said. “It’s really hard to make something new without having the space to explore and go down rabbit holes that might not lead to something.”

Johnson said Daniel Craig’s character’s motif was playful and based on him being “like the classic detective” where the audience is unsure whether he’s two steps ahead or two steps behind the mystery.

Deborah Cook discussed the unique role of a costume designer on a stop-motion animation movie like United Artists Releasing’s “Missing Link,” which begins with the underpinnings of the characters’ movement.

Chris O’Falt, Jade Healy, Deborah Cook, Sandy Powell, Christopher Peterson and Nathan Johnson
Chris O’Falt, Jade Healy, Deborah Cook, Sandy Powell, Christopher Peterson and Nathan JohnsonKatie Jones for IndieWire

Time was short for Sandy Powell, co-costume designer for Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman.” She joined the film right after working on “Mary Poppins Returns,” and “The Favourite,” both of which earned her Oscar nominations last year. That led her to bring on collaborator Christopher Peterson, who did groundwork on Scorsese’s gangster epic for about a month before Powell was physically able to be on set.

They discussed how they created costumes for the likes of Al Pacino, who plays mob-connected union boss Jimmy Hoffa, who wore off-the-rack clothing and whose dress was informed by his poor upbringing, even after he found great power and success as the president of the Teamsters union.

Jade Healy, production designer on “Marriage Story” discussed how physical space played a role in the film’s Los Angeles vs. New York themes. She considered details as fine as the way the color white displays in New York light compared to California light.

Chief Critic and Executive Editor Eric Kohn moderated a panel focused on National Geographic documentaries “The Cave,” “The Nightcrawlers,” “Sea of Shadows,” and “Lost and Found,” all of which involved a high level of risk for filmmakers and/or their subjects.

“I would say the kinds of stories we like to tell inherently have risk as part of their DNA — they’re high stakes kinds of stories, they’re often life or death. They’re stories that are complicated and have no easy answers,” Carolyn Bernstein, NatGeo’s executive VP of global scripted content and documentary films.

That was the case for Richard Ladkani, director of “Sea of Shadows,” which was supposed to be a film about the vaquita, the world’s smallest whale which is facing extinction in its habitat off the coast of Mexico.

“We quickly realized the cartel runs the show there and if we really wanted to tell the story we were going to have to engage,” he said.

Editor at Large Anne Thompson talked with Victoria Stone and Mark Deeble, directors of Apple’s Sundance pickup “The Elephant Queen,” a documentary that follows Athena, a 50-year-old mother elephant, and her family — who, as Stone tells it, “found us” rather than the documentarian couple finding her.  “She had these beautiful long even tusks and a calm disposition,” Stone said.

Natasha Braier, Greg O'Bryant, Rachel Morrison, Jahmin Assa, Monica Salazar and Dominic LaPerriere
Natasha Braier, Greg O’Bryant, Rachel Morrison, Jahmin Assa, Monica Salazar and Dominic LaPerriereJohn Salangsang for IndieWire

O’Falt discussed the work behind some of Amazon’s best movies of the year: “Honey Boy” and fact-based political thrillers “Seberg” and “The Report.”

Natasha Braier talked about the challenges and joys of shooting “Honey Boy” on a shoestring budget and over just 19 days. The film was written by Shia LaBeouf during court-ordered rehab and centers around his experience as a child actor and his troubled relationship with his father, whom LaBeouf plays.

For Braier, one key was embracing director Alma Har’el’s documentary roots and Shia LaBeouf’s acting style that involved moving freely around the space. The result was spending the last of the lighting budget on wireless controls, which allowed Braier to “DJ” the lights as to not interrupt LaBeouf’s flow and allow Har’el to keep a 360-degree view of the set.

“What he was doing was so delicate,” Braier said. “We wanted to be as invisible as possible.”

Greg O’Bryant, editor of “The Report,” said the challenge of working on Scott Z. Burns’ movie about the Senate investigation into the CIA’s torture program was balancing Burns’ impeccable research and not bogging down audiences with those details — all while ensuring the facts lead the narrative.

On a panel moderated by Thompson focused on Apple’s upcoming Jim Crow-era drama “The Banker,” director George Nolfi discussed the challenges of getting the movie made.

“It was almost impossible to get made,” Nolfi said. “It’s still very hard to make a film with African-American leads. And on top of that try to pitch a movie that’s about banking and real estate — sure, for $500,000.

Finally, Kohn moderated a panel focused on the mega-hit “Avengers: Endgame.” Editor Jeffrey Ford said the magic of Marvel Cinematic Universe Movies exists in the perfect casting.

Sarah Finn cast 22 of those movies and at the beginning there wasn’t a plan for all the characters to meet up.

“It was mind boggling for me to think about them inhabiting one screen,” she said. “100 characters that have been cast over a decade.”

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