Best picture nominees
Before filming began, James Cameron and his team spent a year shooting a four-minute and 30-second sequence and bringing it to a finished level. "We sat and watched the scene ourselves to see if we believed that an audience would engage with characters that we were realizing through digital technology," producer Jon Landau says. From that sequence, the filmmakers took 35 seconds and realized it at a photographic level. Adds Landau: "We picked only the close-ups, not the wide shot, because ultimately we knew that's where a movie hinges." So who were the actors in the sequence? "Lost" actress Yunjin Kim and Daniel Best ("24").
After the main shoot wrapped in London, the filmmakers had one sequence left: the montage in Paris. Saving it for last ended up working to the cast's advantage, not just because the sunny spring weather was a welcome change from the unexpected London snowfalls they received in March and April, but because "there wasn't any dialogue, just three days of shooting a montage," says producer Finola Dwyer. Carey Mulligan and Peter Sarsgaard felt very relaxed, which translated onto the screen. Says Dwyer: "It all played in to the mood of them being in love because they really did feel so carefree."
"The Blind Side"
The filmmakers used a visual motif involving glass windows to convey how their co-lead, Michael Oher, feels he is always on the outside looking in. The opening sequence, for example, features Michael riding in the back seat of a car, looking out at the poor section of town, while the camera is inside the car with him. As the car enters the affluent section, the filmmakers chose to shoot from outside the car, with the window halfway down with Michael peering out at a world where he doesn't necessarily belong.
To create a fictional Johannesburg that was bleak and gray, the filmmakers shot the movie during the winter months. They came across a landfill full of shacks about to be torn down because the authorities were moving residents to state-subsidized housing. The production bought the remaining shacks and created a fenced-off shooting area. Materials from the demolished shacks, including the garbage and scrap iron, were purchased and used to rebuild the rest of the shacks. This not only created an instant setting, but also a controlled shooting environment that felt completely authentic.
"The Hurt Locker"
"We were in a Palestinian refugee camp and we kind of took over their village," actor Jeremy Renner recalls. "There were kids throwing two-by-fours with nails on us. I had the (bomb disposal) suit on so I didn't care, but there were others around me who could have gotten hurt. I remember digging around through the dirt during the first (bomb scene) and there was a needle that got stuck in my arm. I was like, 'Uh, I hope that's part of the movie.' Thank goodness the needle only got stuck in the bomb suit and it didn't puncture the skin."
When dealing with actors, Quentin Tarantino routinely explains a character's history before and even after the period the movie covers. "Diane Kruger knew Bridget von Hammersmark's whole film career, right up until the moment that we intercept her story," he says. "She knew the signature role that made her famous in Germany. She also knew that, at one point, every Hollywood studio wanted their own Dietrich and Universal approached her to go to America, but she didn't." And Brad Pitt's scar? "The only people that know is me and Brad," Tarantino says. "It's a rope burn around his neck and it'll never be explained."
"Originally, in the fantasy scenes and in the reality scenes, Precious would see things in animation," filmmaker Lee Daniels says. "There were animated butterflies and bunny rabbits. There were little animated creatures that Mary (Mo'Nique) would sit on or step on by accident that Precious would fantasize. In fact, the movie ended with Precious walking away into an animated world." So what happened? "We couldn't afford it. But that was the way I wanted it to go: All dream sequences in animation."
"A Serious Man"
The Coens' most personal work to date has roots in two places: The Midwestern world they knew growing up, and the work of Nobel Prize winner Isaac Bashevis Singer, famous for writing about Jews in Polish shtetls not unlike the film's fictional folk tale prologue. For the contemporary part of their story, they not only drew on people they had met through their parents -- both academics -- to create the lead, a professor played by Michael Stuhlbarg, but even shot in the synagogue they attended as kids.
In drawing the character of outcast pooch Dug, director Pete Docter looked at real-life dogs that were "a little heavy-set, happy but dumb-looking." Docter and his team stumbled on an online pet adoption site and browsed through it. "We found a dog that fit the bill exactly,"
Docter says. "His name was Buddy Hackett. We took pictures off the Web site -- and he became the model for Dug." Since Docter's own dog had just passed away, he decided to inquire about adopting the real Buddy Hackett, but "he was already adopted out," Docter says. "Somewhere out there in the world, a family has the real-life Dug."
"Up in the Air"
In working for the first time with his son Jason, producer Ivan Reitman says he "had to learn early in the production to set aside any of the dad stuff altogether and really focus with Jason as I would (with any other director)." That said, "there were a number of things we disagreed on. Jason did what he wanted about 80% of the time and relented about 20%. With all the differences of opinion that we had on casting, Jason was absolutely right and I told him so after I saw dailies."