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Oscars: David O. Russell, Martin Scorsese and Other Directors Reveal What Inspired Their Nominated Movies

David O. Russell American Hustle - H 2014
Annapurna Productions
From left: Christian Bale, Amy Adams and David O. Russell on the set of "American Hustle"

This year's crop of nominees -- which also includes Alexander Payne, Steve McQueen and Alfonso Cuaron -- reveals the personal ideas and experiences that influenced their films.

This story first appeared in the Feb. 7 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

ALFONSO CUARON, Gravity

ON HIS FILM'S ORIGINS

"The point of departure was a small road movie that fell apart after we had the location and a great cast. Everything was just falling apart in my life. I sent [cinematographer Emmanuel] Lubezki the script for Gravity. I said, 'It's only one or two characters, we're going to do it very quickly and then we're going on to another movie.' It was a miscalculation. I mean, everything was a miscalculation. For the next four-and-a-half years he kept calling me and saying, 'OK, you told me it was only going to be one year!' Soon we learned there was no technology that existed to do the film, so we had to invent new technology. We were not thinking about science fiction. Our first conversation was about the metaphorical possibility of space. You have a character who lives literally in her own bubble, psychologically, but literally in her own bubble. She's drifting off her own inertia into the void, far away from the Earth, where there's life and human direction."

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STEVE MCQUEEN, 12 Years a Slave

ON WHY HE CHOSE HIS SUBJECT

"I made this movie because I wanted to tell a story about slavery, and that hasn't been given a platform in cinema. It's one thing to read about slavery, but when you see it within a narrative, it's different. Now if that starts a conversation, wonderful, excellent.

But for me, this film is about how to survive an unfortunate situation. I hope it goes beyond race. Yes, race is involved, but it's not entirely about that."

ALEXANDER PAYNE, Nebraska

ON THE AUTHENTICITY THAT NON-ACTORS GAVE TO HIS MOVIE

"The script, about 91 pages, had the austerity of early Jim Jarmusch. I was thinking, not to have completely simple takes, but as much as I could, orchestrate the actors toward that. Over half [the cast] are non-actors. Aunt Betty [Glendora Stitt] had never been in front of a camera. You have to have the real McCoy. You want to shoot where you grew up, which is at once graspable and mysterious. You feel confident in the details. In his lovely documentary A Letter to Elia, [Martin] Scorsese says that when he saw On the Waterfront, the faces of those palooka longshoremen, his reaction was: 'It's as though the people I knew mattered.' I kind of feel the same, and I always think America needs films about Americans and not constantly to be clobbered by the cartoons produced by our friends in Hollywood, which are not showing people. We need to have films that operate as a very close mirror to who we are. That's the function of art."

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DAVID O. RUSSELL, American Hustle

ON CONNECTING TO HIS CHARACTERS

"Their love for life is what matters to me. I'm not interested in people merely being criminals or merely doing operations. If someone loves Duke Ellington, who is one of my favorites, that is a very specific, old-fashioned passion for life. That's what saved my life. Movies saved my life. The narrative of movies refreshed my belief in life. And Duke Ellington refreshes my belief and passion for the day. That's something that I discovered in my last three movies. I love that my characters have these things that they love. There's a romance to that. It's not a cliche to me when it's really felt, and I have to have it in the movie. These people, whose lives are falling apart, spend the entire movie reckoning and trying to believe in life again and find their way."

MARTIN SCORSESE, The Wolf of Wall Street

ON HOW HE WENT ABOUT EDITING HIS FILM

"I really don't know how other people work. But I sit with [editor] Thelma Schoonmaker and watch the rushes. I talk to her about everything. She writes it down, types it up, selects all kinds of things. And that's a certain process. [During] a lot of the shooting, because we were driving around a lot, I didn't have time to see certain rushes of certain scenes and the scenes went longer in the footage. And so, by the time we finished shooting, I was able to catch up on all the rushes. But that's part of it, too, absorbing the picture, thinking about the shape of it. Ultimately, we took our time. It was quite an experience, putting it together in the editing room."