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The Unsung Heroes of 2015 Oscars

Every year, Variety salutes the behind-the-scenes players who helped bring heralded films to life.

John Giura
Wrestling Coordinator, “Foxcatcher”
Bennett Miller called John Giura in 2006 when the director began developing “Foxcatcher.” Giura had wrestled with Mark and Dave Schultz, the brothers whose story is portrayed in the film by Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo, and ­Giura became an invaluable consultant for screenwriters E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman; he receives an executive producer credit on the film.

When the film went into pre-production in 2012, Giura coached Tatum and Ruffalo in freestyle wrestling. The NCAA All-American and World Cup gold medalist worked especially with Ruffalo to embody his late mentor.
“Dave took me under his wing,” says Giura, who met Schultz in the late 1980s. “We became very close on those two weeks in the Soviet Union every year. When he moved to Foxcatcher, he recruited me.”

Giura noticed Ruffalo, who wrestled in high school, was using “blunt force” — unlike Schultz, “a very technical and graceful wrestler.” He had Ruffalo follow Schultz’s routine of doing tai chi before every practice.

Giura ran drills every night with the actors, even after a long shoot — forcing the repetition needed to make their choreographed moves and improvised hand fighting look natural.

Nancy Haecker
Location Manager, “Wild”
Nancy Haecker, a locations veteran of 18 years and president of the Location Managers Guild of America, read Cheryl Strayed’s trail memoir “Wild” on a 2013 flight, and was determined to scout the film adaptation.

“Wild” was shot entirely on location, and Haecker was hired to scout all of the 62 sites needed. Logistical considerations, along with the state’s tax incentives­ (and desire to host the film), led producers to shoot entirely — but for two days in the Mojave — in Oregon. High desert areas near Bend doubled as the Owens River Valley, and the forests of northern California were played by spots around Portland. “Most everything you see in the film is a cheat,” says Haecker.

All locations were squared away when, two weeks before principal photography, the 2013 government shutdown sealed off all national parks. “We were screwed,” says Haecker.

She quickly rearranged the schedule, scouted alternative locations on private property and lucked out with unaffected state-owned sites. A week before they needed several important Portland-area federal locations, government operations resumed.

Nate Lang
Drum Coach, “Whiplash”
Nate Lang was hired to play Carl, the resident drummer in J.K. Simmons’ band in “Whiplash,” before he was asked to double as Miles Teller’s drum coach. A month before shooting, Lang — a New York actor who’s been drumming since he was 5 — drilled Teller, three times a week, on the fundamentals of jazz drumming. Teller had some experience with rock, but the difference in style, Lang says, is “the equivalent of being a classical pianist and being Jerry Lee Lewis.”

First came learning a new grip: traditional versus matched. For a solid week they worked on rolls and “just moving around the drum set,” says Lang. The rest of the month was devoted to learning the pieces highlighted in the film — namely “Whiplash” and “Caravan.” Both are extremely difficult to play, with tempo changes, multiple rhythms and cross-rhythms.

When time came to film the onscreen musical performances, Teller’s training paid off as he drummed along to a click-track with accomplished musicians.

The life-or-death intensity came easily. “All you had to do was listen and react to J.K.,” says Lang. “When a guy throws a tom-tom against a wall, it’s scary.”

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