Amazon Studios has several titles in contention again this year for the Oscars, including Todd Haynes‘ fantastical children’s story “Wonderstruck.” The film centers on the peculiar connection between a deaf girl named Rose (Millicent Simmonds) in the 1920s and an orphaned boy with hearing loss named Ben (Oakes Fegley) in the 1970s. Gold Derby recently spoke with Haynes, writer Brian Selznick, cinematographer Edward Lachman, and composer Carter Burwell about their work.
For Haynes, the Oscar-nominated filmmaker behind “Far From Heaven” (Best Original Screenplay in 2002), the film was a major change of pace. At the same time, the story taps into the director’s love of outsiders, people who exist on the fringes of society because of their sexuality, race, or gender. “I liked the loneliness both kids shared,” he explains, “and the ways that their creative interests and hobbies and curiosities were also things that were going to help them figure out their way… and give them a method for telling their own stories, and finding out the answers to these questions.”
Selznick adapted the screenplay from his own book of the same title. Prior to that, he divulges, “I never thought about writing a screenplay before.” He sought guidance from John Logan, who translated his “The Invention of Hugo Cabaret” into Martin Scorsese‘s film “Hugo” (2011). One piece of advice that he gained was to “just write it the way you want to write it before you show it to anybody else, before you show it to any potential directors, any potential producers. Just make it yourself.”
Lachman, who has twice competed at the Oscars for his work with Haynes (“Far From Heaven” and “Carol” in 2015), wanted to create a sense of “hearing with images” in order to “evoke the feeling in the viewer of what it must be like for a deaf person to perceive their environment.” He also hoped to convey the different time periods through “cinematic language,” referencing black-and-white silent films for Rose and neo-realistic dramas of the 1970s for Ben.
Burwell, an Oscar nominee for “Carol,” knew from the beginning that “music was going to be front and center” for this nearly silent film. “When we started watching the film with my music, and the music is nonstop, early on we began to realize it’s very easy for it to be overwhelming, or a bit over-informative, or just too much, to put it simply. So figuring out how to have music actually present a lot of the time… but have it not be oppressive was a trial and error process. Because the film’s just unusual, there’s no way to know what would work until we did it.”
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