Trio of Film Artisans Reveal What Inspired Their Oscar-Worthy Work

Below the Line Oscar Race
Rex Shutterstock

Arthur Max: Shorthand With Ridley Scott

After some 30 years of collaborating with Ridley Scott on dozens of commercials and 11 films, production designer Arthur Max has established a close relationship with the director that has arguably turned into one of the most enduring and fruitful in Hollywood history. (He was also Oscar-nominated for his work on Scott’s “Gladiator” and “American Gangster”).

“Over that time we’ve learned a visual shorthand on how to communicate with each other quickly and efficiently, as well as a mutual trust,” says Max. “So whatever genre we’re working in, it’s the same visual vocabulary in terms of sets, lighting, density of detail and so on. Ridley’s a very visual person, and he always storyboards it all first.”

To bring “Martian’s” storyboards to life, Max did his research, “as we wanted the science to be as accurate as possible,” and consulted with NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He worked with a team of 24, including concept artists and set dressers, on a “very tight” 13-week pre-production schedule.
He first oversaw the design work on the giant stages at Korda Studios in Budapest, and then on location in the arid desert of Wadi Rum, Jordan.

Adam Stockhausen: From Wes Anderson to Steven Spielberg

Stockhausen won the Oscar last year for his work on Wes Anderson’s frothy period fantasy “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” and he returned to Eastern Europe for Steven Spielberg’s fact-based Cold War spy drama, “Bridge of Spies,” which is set in Berlin and New York.

“They’re very different genres, and our approach (to ‘Bridge’) was also very different, as we were looking at so much specific research and photographs and archival film of these actual events,” he says.

“But recreating all that wasn’t easy, as most of the original places and locations are either gone or have changed so much they were unusable.”

Ultimately, Spielberg and Stockhausen substituted locations in Poland for period East Berlin.

However, on “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” the filmmakers didn’t have to worry about reproducing real historical events and the production designer had more freedom and built everything from scratch.

Sandy Powell: Luck and Inspiration

Nominated for both “Carol” and “Cinderella,” Powell can now count an even dozen Oscar hopes (she won for “The Aviator,” “Shakespeare in Love” and “Young Victoria”). This year she’ll be competing with herself.

Powell ascribes her amazing Oscar run to a mixture of “being lucky enough to have great projects offered to you – and then making the right choices and working with great directors who really inspire you.”

“Cinderella” was shot at Pinewood, just outside London. “It was a huge undertaking,” Powell recalls. “I had over 100 people in my department at the peak, everyone from buyers and seamstresses to tailors and assistants, many of whom I’d worked with before.” For “Carol,” which shot in Cincinnati, Powell did the prep work in New York and L.A. and then took her Gotham assistants with her on the shoot. “It was a much smaller production, and we used a lot of local people in Cincinnati for extras and stand-bys.”

Both are period films, Powell’s favorite genre: “I love period pieces the most,” she says.