Reporter at Large

Rounding up winners' reactions to this year's Oscar kudos.

The producer credit controversy that has dogged "Crash" didn't mute the film's writer-director Paul Haggis, writer-producer Bobby Moresco and producer Cathy Schulman. "Do we look muted? Because we're pretty fuckin' happy!" exclaimed Haggis, as the room roared in laughter. "We owe our being here to a lot of people, and those people are listed as producers -- Bob (Yari), Mark (Harris) and Don (Cheadle), and Bobby here -- and we're here representing them." The producers were dumbfounded by their best picture win. Haggis said his brain turned to mush, while Schulman actually thanked both her husband and her wife onstage. When Schulman was asked to explain, she was embarrassed: "Did I really say that?" Moresco added: "I was sitting with her husband, and he turned to me and said, 'Who's her wife?' "

Paul Haggis, who with Moresco also won the best original screenplay Oscar, credited being Canadian and thus an outsider with helping him write the Los Angeles-centric project. "Being an outsider in this town is a good thing. Being an outsider anywhere is a good thing," Haggis said. "Even though we're here and we look like Americans, you're just half a step back from everybody else. I just notice things, just on the studio lot, and I'd see something and I'd say to someone, 'What just happened here?' And they'd go, 'No, nothing happened," but I'd be like, 'No, I'm pretty sure something happened.' And I'd go write it down."

Not winning the Oscar for best picture left best director winner Ang Lee shellshocked. "I was backstage enjoying the buildup I was familiar with: the writers (winning), then me (winning)," he said. "It was a surprise, frankly. But congratulations to the 'Crash' filmmakers." He was equally disappointed that "Brokeback" actor Heath Ledger didn't win. "I think his performance is outstanding, and in film history, it will be something that will be remembered. It's not only remarkable but a miracle. A lot of people told me he reminds them of a young Brando." Lee became the first Asian filmmaker to win the best director award, and he said that the statue will not be part-American/part-Asian but all filmmaker. "Oscar is for filmmakers. I'm going to share it with people of any color, any background, as long as they do a great job." He said that as far as Asian directors go, his family was into John Woo because they thought Lee made "boring" films. But "they are proud now," he said. Lee also revealed that "Brokeback" has been rated PG in Asian countries as opposed to the U.S., where it is rated R.

Immediately after he walked backstage, best actor winner Philip Seymour Hoffman was besieged with questions about why he didn't bark onstage as he had vowed. "I literally lost all control of my bowels up there," Hoffman said. "I did think maybe I'd bark at the end for my friend (college buddy Steve Schub). But I was lost. I was swimming. I was lucky to get out what I got out." He said he has never chosen a role because he thought it would be a potential award winner. "I would be a miserable person," he said. "You can't make choices like that in life, not when you're in an art form, and that's how I see (what I do)." Hoffman said that being rendered speechless onstage at the Oscars had nothing to do with being at the high point of his career. "It's not the most comfortable environment," he said. "You're trying to do your best, and it's very exciting. But it has nothing to do with a high point of your career. It has to do with millions of people watching you. I've had high points in my career all the way along, and those are high points for personal reasons." Hoffman also brushed aside any suggestion that he won the award because he was playing a gay man. "It's the heart you're getting at," the actor said. "If the heart and soul are singing in the film, then it works. (There were) a lot of great roles this year, and actors brought their hearts and souls to them."

So what Johnny Cash or June Carter song would sum up the frame of mind of best actress winner Reese Witherspoon? "None of their songs were celebratory enough," the "Walk the Line" star joked. "My mind is blank. I just found out my husband's movie won the best picture." Despite all the Oscar excitement for Witherspoon and husband Ryan Phillippe, who was part of the "Crash" ensemble cast, she said her day was rather ordinary. "I woke up and fed the kids and changed a lot of diapers," she said. "I got my hair done and my nails done, and then I was out the door." As for how the win will change her red-hot career path, Witherspoon said probably not much. "I'm unemployed," she said. "I'm actively looking for a job." After 16 years in the business, the first-time nominee and winner said she won't tinker with her job approach. "Just keep working hard, man. I'm usually one who doesn't come up for air," she said. "Something in my life has forced me to recognize what I've achieved."

George Clooney was in fine form in the press room, mixing self-deprecating humor and intelligence and even deflecting a question about his personal life with ease. Asked what he thinks of Ang Lee, Clooney joked that he hates the man and caught him stealing once. More topically, the best supporting actor winner for "Syriana" said that while many like to say that Hollywood leads culture, he doesn't think recent movies have been ahead of the curve. "We are starting now to reflect, two years later, the social and political issues that are, for the first time since Watergate, concerning us -- and we're talking about it, and the films are reflecting it," he said. "We've done this on and off -- in the '30s, in the '50s, certainly the '70s -- and we're doing it now. We reflect society and not truly lead it." Clooney added that while some think his movie and films like "Brokeback Mountain" are not mainstream, "the mainstream" keeps changing. "My film would have been right at home in the '70s," he said.

Although best supporting actress winner Rachel Weisz was eager to talk about her first Oscar win for "The Constant Gardener," the conversation backstage kept drifting back to the actress' condition. "(Before the winning announcement), the baby was going crazy. Poor baby," said Weisz, who is seven months pregnant. "Once I went onto the stage, I couldn't even tell you my name -- I didn't feel anything." As for an appropriate baby name, one reporter suggested that the evening provided the perfect choice. "There are a few names (we're mulling) -- we don't know yet if it's going to be a girl or a boy -- but Oscar isn't amongst them," Weisz joked.

Despite their win for best adapted screenplay, "Brokeback Mountain" scribes Diana Ossana and Larry McMurtry appeared somewhat downbeat. "It's bittersweet, certainly," said Ossana, who also produced the best picture favorite, which lost to "Crash." One reporter asked the jeans-clad McMurtry whether "Crash" benefited because it was shot in Los Angeles, unlike "Brokeback," which was filmed in Calgary, Alberta. "Yeah, I do," he said tersely. Other reporters asked whether audiences, including the Academy, were averse to seeing the film because of its gay theme. "That's silly. Whatever preconceived notions you have about the film, you've got to put them aside," Ossana said. "There are a lot of jokes about the film; they really don't bother us at all. They have nothing to do with the movie." But she did admit that the gay content did present one large headache for the long-gestating project. "The obstacle for this one was the cast," she said, adding that the film took nine years to reach the screen. "Actors wouldn't commit. Larry's belief is that actors' reps dissuaded them." But ultimately, Ossana was happy to focus on the positive, pointing out that McMurtry's work has spawned 13 Oscars and 34 Oscar nominations over the years.

"Tsotsi" director Gavin Hood was beaming backstage, feeling South African pride after his win for best foreign-language film. The win, he said, wouldn't change how Americans view South Africa but rather the other way around. "I think it's going to change the way South Africans view their movies. We're the second film nominated, and we're the first film that won. And I feel very, very proud. It shows us that we can do it." He also said it would spur more local filmmaking. "I do hope that people will invest more in our local stories. The stories are universal, the emotions are universal. We are more alike than we think." He said his greatest hope was that his film inspires young filmmakers to make more homegrown films. "We grew up watching American films, and maybe now Americans can watch some South African films."

So why did honorary Oscar recipient Robert Altman decide to reveal the well-kept secret of his heart transplant in front of a billion viewers worldwide? "I don't know; it just occurred to me," Altman said. But then the veteran director turned philosophical. "There's such a stigma about heart transplants," he said. "And there's a lot of us out there. I have a female heart. It's about 40 years old now." As for his impact on the film industry, Altman said he is merely part of what he described as a current or wave. "There are hundreds of us," he said. "It's very hard. It's heartbreaking. But it's the most gratifying thing I know how to do."

Despite the avalanche of pre-Oscar accolades, "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit" co-directors Nick Park and Steve Box had few expectations entering the night. "I mean, you can never really tell. We had a 1-in-3 chance," Park said after nabbing the Oscar for best animated feature. Instead, the pair insisted that the three nominated films were all winners. "We are really up with the giants this year," Park said, singling out the genius of filmmakers Tim Burton and Hayao Miyazaki. "All three films are unique this year," said Box, lauding the handcrafted approach used by fellow stop-motion entrant "Tim Burton's Corpse Bride" and Miyazaki's "Howl's Moving Castle," which features a great deal of hand-drawn animation. "Maybe the CGI films didn't hit the mark this year," Park quickly added. "We're glad Pixar didn't make a movie this year."

The makers of "March of the Penguins" -- Luc Jacquet, Yves Darondeau, Christophe Lioud and Emmanuel Priou -- dedicated their win to children who have seen the film because it will be up to the decision-makers of 2042 to see if a treaty that protects Antarctica will be renewed. They hope their film, which Jacquet called "not a political one but an emotional one," will sway the future generation because, as Darondeau said, "With a documentary, you can touch millions." Second on their wish list was that the French version of the film, which is three minutes shorter than the version released in the U.S., be distributed stateside. "Now that we have the Oscar, maybe they will show it," Darondeau said. The foursome were in good spirits, making penguin noises and proudly waving the stuffed penguin toys that their Japanese distributor, GAGA Communications, sent them for good luck.

Cinematographer Dion Beebe, who won an Oscar for "Memoirs of a Geisha," told the international press corps backstage that he grew up in Cape Town, South Africa, and Sydney and that everything he experienced in his life informed who he is and how he sees the world. He credited Rob Marshall for pulling together his Oscar-winning colleagues for "Geisha," production designer John Myhre and costume designer Colleen Atwood. "We all collaborated with him before on 'Chicago,' " Beebe said, and during production, "we had such a wonderful experience. You become a wonderful creative family." Beebe also cited his real family backstage: his mother, wife and newborn son, Ansel. "My mom was a great woman," Beebe said. "On a night like this, which is so crazy and surreal, it helps having your mom in the room to keep it down to earth."

Oscar-winning composer Gustavo Santaolalla spoke eloquently backstage about his Latin heritage and the universal love themes found in "Brokeback Mountain." "One of the great things about the movie is sometimes people ask me if I thought the movie would be this big," he said. "Yes, I did. I'm so happy. None of us saw it as a gay cowboy movie; to us, it was always a universal love story. The sexual innuendo is secondary. You are confronted with the human fabric: desolation, loss and love." Santaolalla said he took the many jokes about "Brokeback" as testament to its cultural impact. "The movie has become an iconic part of pop culture, and jokes come with that," he said.

"Phe-ew. It's a big trip!" said Jordan Houston of Three 6 Mafia's journey from Memphis to Hollywood to the podium after winning the Oscar for best original song from "Hustle & Flow." He looked at his statue, then said, "Man, look how shiny it is. And it smells good." The members of the rap group, which includes Cedric Coleman and Paul Beauregard, had a hard time believing they won. "I was ready to clap for the winner and go to my dressing room," Beauregard said. "I didn't even write a speech, that's why I was 'Uh, uh, uh.' This is such a blessing." But when they won, the diamond-grilled trio were getting calls tout suite, so much so that Houston turned his phone off. Houston revealed that the group cleaned up the song's lyrics for the show. "I had to. My mom was watching, and I didn't want to say cuss words." In the end, though, the group believed the win meant the acceptance of hip-hop ... and maybe more. "Listen to the radio," Houston said. "Hip-hop is taking over. We're doing sneaker deals, we're taking over clothes, underwear. Hip-hop is taking over now."

"Memoirs of a Geisha" costume designer Colleen Atwood certainly isn't an Oscar rookie -- the six-time nominee took home a gold statuette in 2003 for "Chicago" -- but she said she was more nervous hearing her name called as this year's winner. "Scarier," she said. "I don't know why. It's such a huge honor -- to get it once in your lifetime is amazing. But it's getting to do great work, that is what reassures you." Atwood said it took a global village to create the film's lavish signature kimonos, with contributions from nations as diverse as Denmark and Costa Rica. Along those lines, Atwood was surprised by the controversy about the film featuring Chinese actresses as Japanese geishas. "The film is a film about a person, not about a race. It happens to be set in Japan," she said, adding that the actresses had to learn not only the geisha world but also to speak English. "I have nothing but admiration for them."

Howard Berger and Tami Lane, the ace character makeup team behind "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe," said they are seeing an increasing amount of interest in using practical makeup effects instead of digital makeup in feature films. "We're coming into a world (with practical makeup) where people expect to see digital," Lane said. "You can pull (audience members) back in with practical makeup because people (when they see the real thing), they say: How did they do that?" Berger noted that directors actually want to see more physical creatures and effects. "Having the real thing on set really helps the actors act," he said. "And when (the crew) watches dailies, you can see the effects onscreen."

Mike Hopkins and Ethan Van der Ryn won an Oscar for best sound editing on "King Kong," but as they pointed out backstage, they are part of a well-oiled machine, having worked together on the past four Peter Jackson films. "Going through 'Lord of the Rings' was a tremendous learning experience," Van der Ryn said. "Our whole crew just knows what needs to happen, and they just do it." The sound team described the device that was built by the production sound team that allowed Andy Serkis, who played Kong, to vocally work on set so that the actors could hear the voice of the great ape in real time. "People ask if it gets easier," Hopkins said. "It (doesn't) because I know what to expect (in terms of how hard it will be)."

Christopher Boyes, Michael Hedges, Michael Semanick and Hammond Peek won for best achievement in sound mixing for mixing the music, sound effects and dialogue on "King Kong." Shots were coming in so late, Hedges said, that it caused the team a lot of confusion. Boyes said he actually felt some measure of guilt for fellow nominee Kevin O'Connell, who has become the Susan Lucci of sound. He also cited the work of fellow nominees Paul Massey, Anna Behlmer and Andy Nelson. "These people did wonderful jobs, they did amazing work," he said.

Asked to serve as movie prophets backstage and predict the future of visual effects in 10 years, the Oscar-winning team of artists behind "King Kong" said it is dependent upon great stories. "Visual effects are written by the story," visual effects supervisor Joe Letteri said. "Until you know what the story is, you don't know what you can do visually." Both Letteri and Weta Workshop's Richard Taylor emphasized the important role that human actors play in making digital creatures appear believable. "('King Kong') is the first time a digital character has risen to a level of performance where we could improvise," Taylor said. "That means digital cinema has a great future because we can form bonds with actors on the screen -- because it all depends on the actors that work with the (digital character)."

After winning the best editing Oscar for "Crash," Hughes Winborne admitted that he has subjected his son Wyatt to a grueling awards season. When asked whether the boy still wants to be an editor when he grows up, Winborne said Wyatt is still on board for joining the profession. "The ACE Awards were two weeks ago," the editor said. "He was so excited by that. He said, 'Daddy, I'm so nervous, I could throw up.' But the next day he said, 'Teach me to edit.' "

Gretchen Rau, the set decorator on "Memoirs of a Geisha," was not present with production designer John Myhre when he accepted the Oscar for best achievement in art direction. Myhre said Rau has serious health issues, and he felt it was more appropriate for her family to discuss them. "But I guarantee she's watching the show," Myhre said with a smile. "I hope it was very loud at her house tonight." Myhre had not been to Japan before "Memoirs" but said it is an amazing country.

John Canemaker, who won the Oscar for best animated short film with Peggy Stern for "The Moon and the Son: An Imagined Conversation," thinks independent animation is on the cusp of a real breakthrough. "As technology becomes more prevalent, you're going to see more and more personal stories and more niche filmmaking done," Canemaker said. "It bodes well for the future of animation." Stern added that with distribution deals like the one this year that put the best short-film nominees on iTunes, animation can be more widely seen. "I hope we can do more of (these types of deals) in the future," she said.

Compiled by Tatiana Siegel, Sheigh Crabtree and Borys Kit
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