Oscar Blitz 2023 – Production Design (VIDEO)

Happy Friday, everyone, and welcome to the first video breakdown of this year’s Blitz. Last year I dabbled in giving the video treatment to the four acting categories as well as Best Picture. I figured those would be the easiest ones for me to get footage, as YouTube is typically filled to bursting with clips of various scenes and performances. Surprisingly, it proved more difficult than I imagined. I remember in particular that it was basically impossible to get a good clip of Ariana DeBose from the West Side Story remake, eventually having to settle for an interlude from that film’s version of “America.” It worked out for my central thesis, that DeBose didn’t so much perform the role of Anita as stand there and collect the box check victory in between dance numbers, but I learned a couple of valuable lessons through the experiment. One, it’s fun to occasionally flex my editing muscles again (within the constraints of my free time and the processing power of my laptop), and two, I shouldn’t limit myself to the so-called “major” categories, as that’s what the Academy itself did last year to devastating results.

As such, I decided to give video analysis another try, especially since Microsoft practically forcing me to upgrade from the standard Windows Video Editor to Clipchamp brought a new array of graphics, text fonts, and the ability to actually change the size of my shots. But I knew that to do it properly, I couldn’t do the same thing as last year. So I spun my little online wheel of randomness and picked four categories that would get featured on the YouTube channel (please subscribe if you haven’t already; I don’t make a habit of calling to action, but it is appreciated).

The first category up on the player this time around is Production Design, which is one that I’ve learned more and more about as this project has gone on over the years. I knew that the category – formerly called Art Design – was about the basic look of sets and scenery, and that this was the only one that was formatted to specify which nominees did which job, creating a distinction between the overall Production Designers and the Set Decorators.

But even then, I wasn’t exactly sure what it all meant, so as I got deeper into the weeds as an adult, especially over the last decade-plus of trying to see every nominee (and succeeding the past five or six years running), this was one of the fields that inspired me to take a more critical look at all the films I see. I remember watching the Oscars in the 90s and early 00s and seeing this category’s fields be presented as a sort of transitional montage from rough sketches to the finished product (same with Costume Design and Visual Effects), and I found it fascinating. I’ve said many times before that I’m in awe of people who can do what I cannot, and art in general is one of those arenas. I can’t draw worth a shit, no matter how hard I try or what classes I take. It’s just not in my skill set, and I accept that. So when people do excel, I’m floored by what they’re able to accomplish.

Because of that, there’s been a natural inclination to start paying more attention to the design of the sets and props when I see a movie, especially one that has a clear tone and artistic style. And when it’s done really well, it feels like a completely separate experience from the rest of the story. The garish use of neon colors in Promising Young Woman, the interactivity of an almost living set like The Menu, or just driving around Los Angeles to see the retrofit transformation to look like the late 60s for Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood, when there’s particular attention paid to creating a memorable setting for a movie, it enhances my enjoyment exponentially.

Still, I confess I haven’t learned everything, and at times it makes this process a bit frustrating. As I mention briefly in the video, a nomination like the one for Avatar: The Way of Water utterly baffles me, because there’s a Set Decorator up for the award even though there are no physical sets in the film to decorate. Even doing some research after I recorded my commentary only turned up a blurb or two about submitting artwork for 60+ scenes, which only made things more confusing, because that made it sound like the Decorator was the Production Designer. I know that a Set Decorator isn’t just the person who outfits the stage. That’s the Property Master. But I always thought of the Set Decorator as the bridge between two jobs, someone who both designs and dresses the scenery. So without any real sets, the equation feels off to me.

As I say in the video a couple of times, this is why I really wish we as a general public had access to the “Bake Off” presentations that each production company and studio give to Academy members. Occasionally we’ll get a video that reduces the affair to a quick montage, but there are those of us who are genuinely intrigued and curious about how this whole process works and would love to see how the achievement is justified and sold. Because I’ll admit, I come off a touch bitchy in this video when talking about Avatar, even though I really don’t want to, because I truly just don’t get it. What harm is there in having the Academy post the five nominated presentations after the finalists are announced? It could only lead to more understanding, transparency, and appreciation for the work that these professionals and artists are capable of.

Anyway, that’s my lengthy preamble for this week’s video. I do plan on including something here on the blog with each of these posts so that they’re more than just a glorified link to the YouTube channel. I hope you enjoy whatever cheeky insight I have into this process, and I remain grateful for all the engagement and feedback you guys give me. I’ll probably never make a dime off of any of this, but as long as I know you’re having fun, that means I’m having fun, and the labor of love will continue until that changes.

That said, though, this week took a lot out of me. The video alone took about 15 total hours to fully produce around what turned out to be an unexpectedly busy time at work, so any likes, subscribes, and shares are more than welcome. And really, I need a good night’s sleep!

Who do you think should win? Vote now in the poll below!

Up Next, hopefully this weekend sees me fully refreshed after some much-needed rest and an Eagles Super Bowl victory. I’ll have two new “Back Row Thoughts” columns to put out as I finally complete the International Feature and Documentary Feature shortlists as well. Then, come Monday we’re back in the hot seat as we discuss the men who are also in the hot seat (at least in Natalie Portman’s eyes) because they had the unmitigated gall to be nominated while also having a penis. It’s Best Director!

Join the conversation in the comments below! Did you like the video (both from the personal enjoyment standpoint and the physical act of clicking a button)? How should I change my approach going forward? Do you know what Vanessa Cole’s job was? Let me know!

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