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The Oscars

They're not in it for the glory

You probably don't know their names, but these five worked to nail down the details behind the scenes of the best picture nominees.

March 23, 2003|Hugh Hart | Special to The Times

They are not accustomed to the spotlight. They worry about sounding pretentious, banal or boring. They wonder if they're rambling. They think to talk about themselves makes them feel sound "egotistical." They would much rather shower praise on the costume designers, gaffers and crew members who they seem to think really deserve all the credit.

They are unsung heroes.

"Chicago," "Gangs of New York," "The Hours," "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" and "The Pianist" would have been made without Zane Weiner, Maria Djurkovic, Celestia Fox, John DeLuca and Joe Reidy, but the movies wouldn't have been quite the same. Here's a look at five off-screen talents who helped bring those best picture nominees to life.

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Zane Weiner

Unit production manager

"The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers"

In November 1999, Weiner met Peter Jackson for the first time when he flew to New Zealand and began work on "The Lord of the Rings." For the next year and a half, Weiner, a former Broadway musical stage manager, endured wind, rain, sludge, devoting 18-hour days to a single task: making sure the director could move efficiently through the far-flung production.

"I was brought over to stick with the main unit -- Pete's unit," says Weiner. "My job was to make sure that what Pete needed was there when he needed it."

To that end, Weiner made about 250 phone calls a day beginning at 3:30 a.m. "I'd go to the office for two hours, get to the set just a little earlier than the crew call to make sure everything was OK, and then most of the time I'd start making toast."

Toast?

"The Kiwis had to have toast with everything," Weiner explains, using the nickname for New Zealanders. "So every morning there'd be a couple hundred people waiting for their toast. I started making toast early in the day to knock down the line. That's kind of what you do. You multitask."

As Jackson's troubleshooter, "I checked with the different department heads every day," Weiner says. "You stay with the director pretty much all day, taking care of the cast and the crew needs and always prepping for the next day.

"You're dealing with the art department, making sure the sets were ready, dealing with the 45 or so workshop people who were there trimming up the costumes, bringing in all the weapons and prosthetics. You're checking in with the art department, which built over 350 sets, and dealing all the departments to make sure their equipment was out of the mud and out of the wind."

His role model: Jackson, who apparently never met a remote location he didn't like. "One time," Weiner recounts, "I went to scout a location probably an hour drive from the closest town. This set was being built on top of a mountain that was in the middle of this huge valley that was surrounded by more mountains. The construction crew was up there working, and everything was lashed down with steel cables because the wind was blowing at about 150 kilometers [90 miles] an hour.

"I came back and Pete said, 'How'd you like it?' and I said, 'What the hell were you thinking when you picked that location?' But we shot there, and it's that big Rohan city in 'The Two Towers.' It looked great."

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Maria Djurkovic

Production designer

"The Hours"

Djurkovic had just finished a five-month shoot in Bulgaria for Tim Blake Nelson's holocaust drama "The Grey Zone" when she got a call from her friend Stephen Daldry. "The day after I'd returned, Stephen rang me saying, 'Darling darling, I've got this script I want you to read.' " She did. "Three different characters, three different time periods, working with a director I really enjoyed -- it was obviously a designer's dream," says Djurkovic, who also designed "Billy Elliot" for Daldry.

Creating three distinct period looks -- the English countryside in 1925, suburban L.A. circa 1960 and modern-day Manhattan -- was a formidable task, but Djurkovic seems equally pleased with individual details that quietly weave the separate strands into a whole. "There's actually quite a lot that links the stories together," she says. For example, she points out that the curtains in Laura Brown's (Julianne Moore) house in the '50s story are made of the same fabric hanging in Rich's (Ed Harris) New York apartment. Her staff also crafted replicas of paintings by Virginia Woolf's sister Vanessa Bell, which were hung on the walls of Clarissa's (Meryl Streep) flat in New York. "Little tricks like that amuse me," Djurkovic says with a laugh. "I think it helped in a very subtle way to unite the three stories. Even though each period looks very different, these kinds of things tie them back together again."

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