The Oscars 2019: Q+A with Award-Winning Filmmaker, Laurisha Cotton
This week, we chatted with award-winning documentary filmmaker, Laurisha Cotton, on all things Oscars 2019. Her industry commentary is *almost* as impressive as her baked brie recipe (we will never NOT have baked brie at future Oscars parties, thanks for the pro tip @Laurisha).
Hi! Where did your interest in the film world originate?
Disney’s early 1990s animated films made an impactful impression on me. I was incredibly fascinated by Beauty and the Beast. I cried when the film was over and didn’t want to leave the theatre. Once it was released on VHS, I acted out scenes with my autistic brother, who consequently learned emotions and improved his reading by having subtitles, much like the Oscar-nominated documentary, Life, Animated. I saw at an early age the power of drama and the inspirational messages that storytelling had.
What elements of a movie do you pay most attention to?
I grew up playing the cello, so I’m naturally drawn to score. Music enhances the picture, the story, the cinematography, and the editing of a film. It can set a mood. Just think about the “Jaws” theme: if the da-dun, da-dun was replaced with some chimes and airy flutes, you wouldn’t feel the suspense as much. That said, a great film makes you not notice all the glorious things going right i.e. editing choices, lighting, because you are enraptured with the story.
How are the awards chosen?
Academy love does not come easy. A film producer or distributor is required to sign and submit an Official Screen Credits form to the Academy. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is made up of 7,000+ members. The easiest way to earn a spot is to be nominated. A member can only be selected for one category. For example, you can’t vote for both acting and directing, though all voting members can submit for Best Picture.
I’m sure after this year’s Best Picture controversy, we will be hearing a lot more about how the awards are chosen.
So yeah, talk about Green Book winning Best Picture. Why is it controversial, what was your pick for Best Picture, and why?
It’s my belief that Best Picture nominees and, ultimately, winners, should be limited to films that can transcend time—either by demonstrating relevance to the present day or future film industry trends. Green Book did neither of these, and will not age well. Why is a film with a white-savior narrative being awarded the highest honor in 2019?
Leading up to the Oscars, there wasn’t a clear overall frontrunner—Green Book itself had mixed reviews. When the Golden Globes awarded Best Drama to Bohemian Rhapsody, I knew we were in for an interesting year. I had a feeling the Academy would divide the winners, with Roma taking Foreign Film, Direction and Cinematography. I thought The Favourite would take home Best Picture, as it was nominated for 10 Oscars. Surprisingly, it only won one.
In what ways do this year’s nominees/winners reflect on current political/societal issues?
Art provides a space for discussion on complex issues. In some ways, it’s easier to do a political film because it allows for clear story arcs, established characters and a fan base (or lack thereof) in place. Leaving documentaries aside, Vice and BlacKkKlansman capture today’s zeitgeist and how “we got there.”
The Academy has been critiqued for the lack of diversity amongst nominees. How did they do this year?
2019’s winners were among the most diverse I’ve seen in years. One could argue that the Academy’s diversity push helped. However, it’s important to note that the Academy is still behind on the male-to-female ratio. This is problematic for many reasons, one of which is that filmmaking is about perspective. There are always multiple sides to a story, and this should be reflected in nominations.
With viewership of awards ceremonies decreasing, how relevant do you think they will be in the future?
Nearly half of all millennials and Gen Xers don’t watch traditional television. To combat this problem, technology titans are being enlisted to find ways to make ceremonies more interactive for the viewer. Ultimately, it all boils down to the content of the films and hype around performances. Are the films nominated actually being seen by people? Is there any FOMO to not watching live on television?
This year’s Oscars received the highest TV ratings in five years. Why? It’s likely due to the world wanting to see Lady Gaga perform with Bradley Cooper, marveling at Wakanda, or the possibility of Spike Lee’s joy at finally winning an Oscar. In other words, the ceremony’s engaging content majorly boosted overall viewership. In the future, the Academy will need to look past the glitz and hoopla to see what engages the everyday American.
What current trends in the film world are you interested in?
We are living in the Golden Age of documentary film. Nowadays, everyone owns a camera via their phone, and has the ability to learn about niche stories around the world thanks to the internet and social media.
I’m most interested in Hollywood funding more films with female leads. Seeing The Favourite and Roma receive several accolades, after years of Best Picture awards going to films where there was little dialogue among women, makes me hopeful for the future.
Podcasts recommendations for a film buff wanna be?
Actor/actress who most intrigues you right now?
Emily Blunt. Her performance in “A Quiet Place” this year was superb and she was practically perfect as Mary Poppins.
If I only watch ONE Oscar winner, I should watch…
Bohemian Rhapsody, since it earned the most awards. Not to mention it’s entertaining and makes you want to listen to Queen on repeat days after.
Top 3 desert island movies?
Fellowship of the Ring, Pride & Prejudice and Silver Linings Playbook.
Thanks for keeping us hip, Laurisha!
Laurisha Cotton is an award-winning documentary filmmaker and a skilled strategist with almost decade of experience working in digital media for a variety of industries from the government to technology to law. Laurisha graduated from George Washington University with a Masters of Arts degree in European Studies and Documentary Film. She currently works as a Marketing Manager for ConsenSys.