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When you stack up the Oscar records of cinematographer Roger Deakins, composer Thomas Newman and sound mixer Greg P. Russell, an amazing stat hits you in the face: 0-34. Three guys have gone to the Oscars 34 times and not once have they walked away with a trophy. And this year, each of them feature on one of the biggest critical and commercial hits of the year: Sam Mendes' "Skyfall."
Whether any of them manage to earn a prize for their work on the film is still to be seen, but just that such dramatically unrewarded but clearly peer-respected below-the-line talent can be found on one film this season is pretty sensational. Russell attributes that to the vision of Mendes, a filmmaker who has, after all, put together award-worthy crew after award-worthy crew over his 15-year feature filmmaking career.
"These are his players," Russell says humbly. "I’m new to this deal because Roger has been doing work for Sam, and Thomas has done, I think, all of Sam’s films. So there’s that history and I was privileged to be a part of it."
Russell, who has been nominated 15 times over his career for such films as "The Rock" and "Armageddon," as well as franchises like "Spider-Man" and "Transformers," actually met Deakins two years ago during the Academy's class photo event at the annual nominees luncheon. Russell was nominated for Philip Noyce's "Salt" while Deakins was up for the Coen brothers' "True Grit." In fact they can be seen standing next to one another in the photo.
"We were standing side-by-side and I said, 'I’ve been a huge fan of your work, and consider you the very best,'" Russell recalls. " I mean, I think he is probably one of the greatest cinematographers that’s ever lived. And we're sitting there going, 'We’ve been to this thing however many times between the two of us, and we’ve never won this thing.'"
But the peer recognition never gets old, Russell says. And Newman agrees. "It's very exciting but it can be a crazy kind of carousel ride, those things," Newman says of the Academy Awards. He has beenin the Oscar mix 10 times, for films as "The Shawshank Redemption" (for which Deakins was also nominated -- the first nod for each of them, in fact), "Finding Nemo" and "The Good German," as well as "American Beauty" and "Road to Perdition" for Mendes. "I think the beginnings of the shows always start off a little nicer than the middle and the endings, as a buddy of mine said, because there's just more and more losers in the room the more the night goes on. But it's still exciting."
Deakins has been nominated nine times, for such films as "Kundun," "O Brother, Where Art Thou?," "No Country for Old Men" and "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" at the Oscars. Somehow he's never won, though he has be awarded by the American Society of Cinematographers twice (for "The Man Who Wasn't There" and the aforementioned "The Shawshank Redemption").
But he doesn't have much to offer on the subject of losing. He is, like his colleagues, happy to get the recognition and keep doing the work. And on a film like "Skyfall," he's pleased to be a part of such a robust below-the-line mixture.
"I think the whole thing is so rich as a piece," he says. "A lot of Bond movies, they're quite simple, aren't they, visually and sound-wise? They're quite clinical and simple. And not to say that's bad, but that's the sort of tradition of it, really. Whereas this is really kind of rich and complex. There's a lot of things in it that probably are quite new to the franchise. So the soundtrack is just one of them. It's like this rich blend of things. I thought that was one of the great successes of it."
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