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Variety Artisan Awards Salute ‘Star Wars,’ ‘Mad Max’ at Santa Barbara Film Festival

Eight recipients of Variety‘s Artisan Awards explained the creative challenges and rewards of their work at a special event during the Santa Barbara Film Festival on Wednesday at the Lobero Theater.

The honorees were cinematography, John Seale, “Mad Max: Thunder Road”; costume design, Jacqueline West, “The Revenant”; editing, Hank Corwin, “The Big Short”; production design, Arthur Max, “The Martian”; music, Carter Burwell, “Carol”; song, Diane Warren, “Til It Happens to You” from “The Hunting Ground”; sound editing, Mark Mangini, “Mad Max: Fury Road”; and visual effects, Patrick Tubach, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

The evening featured a clip from each film, followed by a one-on-one conversation between each winner and Variety awards editor Tim Gray.

Max, who’s worked with Ridley Scott on 11 films, offered an affectionate and funny monologue praising the director, saying no film school on earth can teach as much as Scott does. “He makes it all look easy, and then he goes further and makes it sing.”

Seale offered anecdotes about the ingenuity and dedication of George Miller, who spent years getting “Mad Max” to the screen. Asked about the biggest misconceptions about his job, Seale said he’s not surprised if people don’t understand a d.p.’s work: “I’m not sure I understand it myself. Each film is so different.”

Mangini offered a brief and clear explanation of the difference between a sound editor’s work and a sound mixer’s, and got a gasp from the audience when he said “Mad Max” entailed more than 2,000 channels of sound, ranging from whale noises to the tinkling of an ornament dangling inside a vehicle.

Corwin chose a clip from “Big Short” in which Marisa Tomei and Steve Carell talk about his soul-crushing job. Corwin said he liked the scene because it’s a turning point in the film; he added that he often identifies with one character when he’s editing a film, but with the Adam McKay movie, “I identified with the entire film.”

West talked of the hundreds of costumes designed for “Revenant,” including multiple versions of Leonardo DiCaprio’s clothes disintegrating after the bear attack. She added that when she worked on “Benjamin Button,” Brad Pitt referred to her as a method designer, since she got so much into her characters.

West also announced that she has set up a scholarship for a Native American youth at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in Los Angeles.

Burwell discussed the difficulty of balancing the romance, danger, melancholy and confusion of the lead characters in “Carol.” The clip chosen showed the final minutes of the film, in which Burwell’s music conveys the wordless emotions of the characters.

Tubach talked about the teamwork at Industrial Light and Magic and the influential innovations made by George Lucas; he said the team was very aware of the responsibility of the “Star Wars” heritage. Asked about public perception of vfx, he laughed that most people understand the concept of visual effects, “but they think the computer does all the work and we just color it in.”

Warren said she’s written more than 100 songs for films but this was the first documentary. She talked about the topic of the film (campus rape) and the outpouring of reaction she’s received for the song on which she collaborated with Lady Gaga, adding that the issue hasn’t been addressed for so long: “I get pissed!”

The event was introduced by the fest exec director Roger Durling to an enthusiastic audience. Variety had previously announced the recipients of the second Artisan Awards, which honor outstanding work in 2015 films.

The evening concluded with a group discussion, followed by presentation of the trophies by Richard Harris, Oscar-winning editor of “Titanic.”

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