As they do each year, the Academy Awards shines a light on the best of the best in the movie business, and crowns one person or party the night’s top honor: the coveted Oscar. It’s a glamorous affair, and we, along with more than 200 other countries, get to share in that excitement. We get to watch as those who are deemed to be the pinnacles of each and every filmic trade, in a calendar year, are celebrated for their contributions in telling a particular story.
It doesn’t matter who wins or loses as the fact that they are recognized is consolation enough. Now I’m not spouting grade-school type platitudes on par with, “if you had fun, you won”, but it does recall the idea in Hollywood that there are no small parts. Everything contributes the final product. After all, you couldn’t have a best actor without a great script. You couldn’t have best original score without some brilliant production design to inspire the composer. You couldn’t have best cinematography if it weren’t for someone (or people) having a grand vision long before cameras ever started rolling. As such, when someone takes home the little golden man, each and every department can claim a bit of that statuette.
So enter those of us in the design world, whether it’s Wilson Associates, Audi, Pixar, what have you. When you are part of a design team, like filmmakers, you are bringing ideas to the table along with others in hopes of creating something truly great. Is it easy? No. Does it happen quickly? No. And that’s what you have to remember. Design is a process, albeit a long one, and one of the rare professions where there’s more than one right answer to a given problem. But design has many parallels to filmmaking in that we are all storytellers, only our canvases are not the silver screen, but hotels, restaurants, resorts, casinos, yachts, penthouses, pool decks, spas, etc.
Each of us may secretly wish to one day find ourselves showered with praise that rivals the Academy Awards. But on that day, you can be the first to tell everyone that for every amazingly flawless photograph, the road to get there was anything but easy. If you don’t believe me, ask anyone in the office how many redlines, conference calls, RFIs, or scrapped ideas they’ve dealt with over the course of a project. To bring this full circle, I’ve always loved how Oscar-winning director Pete Docter (Up, Inside Out) put it, “When something is a success, it perpetuates this myth that it fell, fully formed, right out of someone’s head.”
Now here’s a bit of a take home for those who don’t take home the Oscar, or even get nominated. This year, the show’s theme was “Celebrate Your Dreams.” With just three simple yet powerful words, it should remind us to strive for what we want to do. After all, this profession is a lifestyle in the sense that you can’t walk into a space anymore without noticing all the details someone else has designed, or how things do or don’t line up. Beyond that, we’re always looking for ways to make something better.
So you may, sometimes, think the work you do is thankless, repetitive, beneath you, etc., but remember what you saw last night: people being celebrated for being part of the process, even if the light is not cast directly on them. Filmmaking, like design, is a team sport.
Viola Davis took home her first Oscar, and her speech was easily the best of the night, if not of the decade. If you missed it live, please check it out below. While it could have been all about how great the process was, and extremely self-congratulatory for all parties, it was quite humbling; she thanked people for teaching her. Not just about acting, but more than that – how to fail, how to love, and how to lose.
How very apt, as you don’t really get anywhere in Hollywood (or any profession, really) without a whole lot of trying. Whether you realize it or not, any marketed product you see or interact with (quality not withstanding) has more thought put into it than you expect. Things don’t just fall out of the sky. Good, bad, or indifferent, there’s a reason why some things are the way they are, and it’s the result of a lot of people’s time and effort.
If you face some trouble laying out a space, putting together a concept package, or have a presentation that wasn’t the home run you and the team expected, imagine it this way: design, like opinions of film, is subjective. People may not agree with your ideas (clients or co-workers), but just keep at it. You’re making the best product you can, so you aren’t going to turn in your first draft and call it a day, right? It’s like Huey Lewis famously said, “All I want from tomorrow, is to get it better than today.”
To close this out, I want to reiterate something that’s pretty self-evident. It’s easy to recognize great talent, or get behind the front-runner, but try to see things in a different light. Not to diminish anyone’s hard work, but awards season is a fleeting moment in time as it celebrates the past. Acting, filmmaking, and design are all about the art of refinement, working towards a goal, not instant success or gratification. It’s hard to forget those magical words spoken by Gene Wilder, and it’s because he was absolutely right, “We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.”
This year’s slogan should be a reminder of why each of us is in this business: we dare to follow our dreams. We also hope to be the best at what we do. Whether we are celebrated at the end of it all remains to be seen. Whether or not that comes to pass, make sure to celebrate the steps leading to the end. It’s your dream you’re working on…take a deep breath, take a step, and make it count!