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Variety asked some of the behind-the-scenes artists about their challenges and joys working on the year’s most prominent films.

Nicholas Becker
Sound Design, “Sound of Metal”
“The most powerful scene in terms of sound is the last one, which ironically has none at all. Usually when there’s silence in film, the convention is to put a little hiss or something to fill the void, but Darius [Marder, director] bravely wanted there to be nothing, complete emptiness. And so when Ruben removes his implant and there’s nothing, the audience finds themselves amid an orchestra of air conditioners, noisy neighbors, or their own breath. It always reminds me of John Cage’s ‘4’33”.’ It’s a powerful moment for Ruben, but also for the audience, as the sound of the real world bleeds into the world of the film, tying them together.”

Erran Baron Cohen
Composer, Co-writer of “Wuhan Flu” Song, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”
“One of the most revealing moments in the film is when Sacha [Baron Cohen], as Country Steve, sings at the gun rally. It was a challenge. On one hand, the music had to be immediately catchy so the audience would sing along. But it also had to get the audience singing along to increasingly outrageous lyrics, highlighting their own prejudices. I was sent some initial lyric ideas. I composed the melody and arranged the instrumentation in a bluegrass style. The result was the ‘Wuhan Flu’ song, which shows how many people embrace conspiracy theories and would do harm to scientists and journalists.”

Lynn Fainchtein
Music Supervisor, “The United States vs. Billie Holiday”
“This film has been one of the most laborious and detailed projects I’ve ever worked, there are many anecdotes, but one in particular that gives me great pleasure is ‘Gimme a Pigfoot and a Bottle of Beer.’ [Director] Lee Daniels wanted a funny song, I found this one and loved it immediately; [actor] Andra Day and [music supervisor] Salaam Remi’s version surpassed my expectations. Another precious moment are both Sister Rosetta Tharpe tracks but particularly ‘Precious Memories.’ I love Sister Rosetta and we managed to have two songs from her in the film, that makes me very proud and happy.”

Sarah Finlay
Production Designer, “Supernova”
“A large part of Francis Lee’s ‘Ammonite’ was shot in Lyme Regis, West Dorset, and I’m pleased with how we transformed the areas we used. Mary’s shop was a great set to do, and along with the set decorator Sophie Hervieu, I think we produced an authentic, detailed space for the actors to inhabit. I’m really proud to have been part of one of the creative teams that together realized Mary Anning’s world.”

Stella Fox
Set Decorator, “Emma”
“Emma’s bedroom is a real highlight of my work on this film. The bold chinoiserie fabric used on the wall panels & drapery provided the inspiration for our color palette. While it does feel like a heightened world, every detail is faithful to the courageous color choices made in the Regency period. Using a gradient of electric pastels & corals I wanted her bedroom to feel like a selection of irresistible Italian ice creams. The result was strong yet elegant, like Emma herself. The drapery & soft furnishings were intricately fabricated specifically for this set. The furniture was upholstered using fine silks and brocades, reflecting Emma’s status.”

Peter Francis
Production Designer, “The Father”
“I’m not sure there is a single moment, but maybe when people suddenly become aware that Anthony’s environment isn’t quite as it appeared in the previous scene. The very subtle changes we made to the set hopefully helped the audience to understand the confusion in Anthony’s mind. The set had to be many things, different places, whilst being the same physical space in which Anthony inhabits whilst his mind is telling him he is somewhere else. If we helped portray confusion and with that helped to tell the story through the production design then that makes me immensely proud.”

Suzie Harmon
Costume Designer, “The Personal History of David Copperfield”
“My proudest contribution to ‘The Personal History of David Copperfield’ is not one individual moment but seeing all of the characters together on screen with the vibrancy and richness of color and patterns in their costumes: Betsey’s warmth through her ginger and cinnamon dresses; Mr. Micawber’s magenta leopard-print waistcoat and his perfect jaunty hat; Dora’s romance through flounces and flowers; Steerforth’s stylish tailored dandy with his sharp checks; Little David’s aubergine plaid shirts and of course David’s many quilted and embroidered waistcoats.”

Natalie Holt
Composer, “Herself”
“Phyllida [Lloyd] had directed ‘Mamma Mia!’ so ‘Herself’ was a real departure for her, but she obviously had a love of using songs in film. It was a challenge to decide if the film should have a score or just music from within the film. My proudest moment was a mixture of those two approaches, because it’s when the protagonist sings a song at a party which then evolves into the orchestral score for the tragic climax of the story. In that transformation it was like her solo song became an anthem for all women who have suffered and been abused.”

Erik Porn
Makeup Effects Supervisor, “The Wretched”
“There is a scene near the end of ‘The Wretched’ where the witch emerges from one of the characters — that was the most fun to film with the most rewarding payoff! It was all done practical in camera without CGI. We had the actress in the floor with a fake body the creature could emerge out of. We also used a fake head and arm. It was a great collaboration with the set builders.”

Thrain Shadbolt
Visual Effects Supervisor (Weta Digital), “Birds of Prey”
“The moment I enjoy the most is the scene in Harley Quinn’s apartment with her pet hyena Bruce. They share a fun interaction where Bruce first grabs a Twizzler Harley’s holding in her mouth, then she ruffles the fur of his mane with her hands, digging her fingers deep into it and giving it an affectionate shake. This was a technically challenging effect to pull off, with multiple layers of simulation working with the character animation and close interaction of our principal actress. It was key to showing the bond between the two.”

Andrea Abbiati and Isabel Cortázar
Casting Directors, “I Carry You With Me”
“The entire process of casting ‘I Carry You With Me’ was such a joy — from adapting to Heidi’s [Ewing, the director, who comes from doc background] organic approach to being able to visualize and help bring to life the richly scripted characters. True Mexico/U.S. co-productions are rare, and close creative collaborations on them even rarer. It’s been so satisfying to watch the film grow in such a natural way with trained, committed actors, many of whom played against type for the first time. We are especially taken with Armando Espitia’s soulful lead performance and look forward to casting him again on future projects.”