John Williams, Janusz Kamiński, Michael Kahn and Rick Carter have all won Oscar gold with Spielberg in the past.
While Top Gun: Maverick and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever are set to be Oscar battle juggernauts (Avatar: The Way of Water and Babylon are still TBD), you should consider Steven Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical The Fabelmans as well as the main contender. That’s due to its status as Best Frontrunner Film (winner of the influential TIFF People’s Choice audience award) and his superb artistry in recreating the acclaimed director’s troubled coming of age in the ’50s and ’60s and his early brilliance as a filmmaker.
The Fabelmans is obviously something special for its director: the homage to his late parents – computer engineer Arnold Spielberg and concert pianist Leah Adler – is his most personal film to date. (It was also filmed during the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced Spielberg to come to terms with his own mortality.) The fictional cinematic memoir is filtered through alter ego Sammy Fabelman (Gabriel LaBelle), an aspiring director heavily into the Film’s spell lapses at a young age (when played by Mateo Zoryon Francis-DeFord). In a tug-of-war between artistic, free-spirited mother Mitzi (Michelle Williams) and scientific, workaholic father Burt (Paul Dano), Sammy learns to use the camera to empower himself. Uprooted from New Jersey to Arizona and later to Northern California, Sammy’s adventures in broken suburbs, the breaking up of families and the joys of directing provide us with a visual and thematic roadmap to understanding Spielberg’s earlier work.
As always, the director was joined by his experienced, Oscar-winning teams of crafts, but this time was different. As the director said at TIFF, “I could always put a camera between myself and reality to protect myself, and I couldn’t tell that story.” That’s where his entrusted craft teams came in. They understood the biographical significance of the story and, given their personal history with him, were well-equipped to embark on this meta-journey with Spielberg.
There’s production designer Rick Carter (“Lincoln”, “Avatar”), cinematographer Janusz Kamiński (“Saving Private Ryan”, “Schindler’s List”), John Williams (“Schindler’s List”, “ET The Extra-Terrestrial” and “Jaws” ), the editorial team of Michael Kahn (Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List and Raiders of the Lost Ark) and Sarah Broshar (West Side Story), and sound designer Gary Rydstrom (Saving Private Ryan, Titanic) , Jurassic Park, Terminator 2: Judgment Day). Also joining the group for the first time is two-time Academy Award winner Mark Bridges (The Phantom Thread, The Artist).
Merie Weismiller Wallace/Univers
Carter, whose collaboration with Spielberg began with Jurassic Park, has always reflected on his craft. He likes to build the world from the inside out in the moment, but then pull back and analyze. Reconstructing the world of the Fabelman family presented a new challenge. This was a metaphor-free road trip, built around what Carter calls the “Spielberg Code,” recurring themes and motifs from his films. So when the family moves west, the journey becomes a classic migration story. But for Sammy, it’s going to be a trip to the promised land of Hollywood.
Ironically, although The Fabelmans was forced to shoot in California due to the pandemic, it worked to the filmmakers’ advantage, sparking a nostalgic aesthetic for Spielberg and Carter reminiscent of their respective production experiences in the ’70s, when the state stood for everywhere. The most important sets were the three Fabelman houses in Haddon Township, New Jersey; Phoenix, Ariz.; and Los Gatos, California. These were the chambers of Sammy’s psychological development, based on Spielberg’s memories and photo reference material from his family archives. The recreations captured the emotional spirit of the rooms: for the New Jersey home, it was Sammy’s inner workings and budding love of cinema; In Phoenix, a ranch style channels Burt’s hopeful ambitions. The house in Los Gatos is older, gloomy and austere, with no childhood memories whatsoever.
Bridges, who became a master of costume design in the mid to late 20th century, not only studied Spielberg’s family photo albums but also watched his old home videos. He then acquired the artistic liberty to convey the western development of the Fabelman family and the changing mood in a color palette that evolved from cool tones to lighter to dirty pastels. For Mitzi, Bridges appropriated Leah’s signature red lipstick, Peter Pan collar, and overalls, but altered the look to complement William’s silhouette and personality.
For Burt’s technician vibe, the costume designer capitalized on Arnold’s penchant for plaid, but worked with actor Dano’s very different physique. For Sammy, Bridges enjoyed what he gleaned from the photo albums. These included oversized jeans, two-tone shoes, suspenders, and Hawaiian shirts.
Kamiński, Spielberg’s cinematographer for 30 years (beginning with “Schindler’s List”), got to know the director and his family very well during this time. Now he can prove that familiarity.
Shot on Kodak stock – in both 35mm and 16mm and Super 8 for Sammy’s films – The Fabelmans became Spielberg’s ultimate expression of the film’s analog glory, which Kamiński captured by going warmer and brighter than the Journey of the Fabelmans from the 50’s to the ’60’s. The coming-of-age drama offered moments of emotional intimacy and exciting spectacle (including a tornado courtesy of ILM) and plenty of Easter eggs (topped off with the signature stream of light streaming through the windows).
The greatest pleasure, however, has been making Sammy’s compelling amateur films, from his toy train accidents as a young child in New Jersey to his impressive endeavors as a teenager in Arizona (including a recreation of Spielberg’s acclaimed World War II action film, Escape to Nowhere). ).The production of Sammy’s films required close collaboration between director, cinematographer and props master Andrew Siegel. Spielberg was not only able to relive his youth – shooting himself with an 8mm camera – but also enhanced the handcrafted quality of his early work. This was the best way to demonstrate Sammy’s amazing talent as a director. To get a usable film, Spielberg and Kamiński shot with both 8mm and 16mm cameras, using the footage of the former as a visual reference, to direct the work of degrading the footage of the latter so that it ei resembles 8mm quality film.
Kahn began editing with Spielberg on Close Encounters of the Third Kind and also met the director and his family. The Fabelmans also marks the publisher’s ninth collaboration with Broshar, beginning with The Adventures of Tintin in 2011. As with other crafts, Kahn and Broshar’s Fabelmans experience was like becoming multiple Making Movies at Once – Spielbergs and Sammys. Editorially, the family’s cross-country trek highlights Sammy and Mitzi’s emotional highs and lows.
At the same time, the sub-theme surrounding Sammy’s cinematic exploits offers its own emotional arc. For example, while filming and editing movies from a family camping trip, Sammy enters “Blow-Up” and “The Conversation” territory by discovering a family secret that leads to disillusionment. However, Sammy also recognizes how to weaponize filmmaking to his own advantage. This occurs later when a beach party movie is being filmed during senior high school ditch day in Malibu.
While The Fabelmans tells a fictionalized version of Spielberg’s story, it also finds an opportunity to pay homage to Kahn’s career: note the nod to Hogan’s Heroes, the WWII sitcom that had the editor gritting his teeth .
The sound team of executive editors Rydstrom and Brian Chumney (“West Side Story”) and Oscar-winning re-recording mixer Andy Nelson (“Les Misérables”, “Saving Private Ryan”) were able to help with the migration of the Fabelmans on several soundscapes excellence and Sammy’s various film projects. The highlight of the family story is the sound of the tornado, in which Mitzi actually hurtles towards it in the car with Sammy and his three sisters (Reggie, Natalie and Lisa). Notably, the sound team also got to recreate young Spielberg’s Escape to Nowhere and his western short, The Last Gun (called Gunsmog in The Fabelmans), while delivering what we’ve come to expect from Atmos or IMAX sound mixes.
Williams has provided voice acting for 28 of Spielberg’s 35 films since the director’s 1974 big screen debut, The Sugarland Express. But The Fabelmans marks the final of their nearly 50-year collaboration, with William’s impending retirement after Indiana Jones 5. He, too, had the privilege of knowing Spielberg’s parents and particularly admired Leah’s musical talent. This served him well in several ways: the story centers on Sammy’s strong connection with Mitzi, and Williams was inspired to compose one of his finest piano themes around that connection. He also got to musically convey “the Spielberg Code” throughout the film and in Sammy’s film projects, using the piano in a variety of ways (including ragtime).
Meanwhile, the piano pieces for Mitzi were personally selected by Spielberg and recorded for the soundtrack by Joanne Pearce Martin, solo pianist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The pieces were of course among Leah’s favorites, which she played on her piano. These include Friedrich Kuhlau’s Allegro burlesco from the Sonatina in A minor, Muzio Clementi’s Spiritoso from the Sonatina in C major, Joseph Haydn’s Allegro con brio from Sonata No. 48 in C major and Johann Sebastian Bach’s Adagio from the Concerto in D -Minor. The last of these parts features prominently as Sammy edits his camping trip movies together and makes his shocking discovery.