Producer & Director Perspectives On "Call Me by Your Name"; Diving Into The Sound of "Water"
Luca Guadagnino, director/producer of "Call Me by Your Name" (photo by Alessio Bolzoni)
Insights from Oscar nominees including director/producer Luca Guadagnino, producers Peter Spears and Marco Morabito, audio artisans Nathan Robitaille, Christian Cooke

Actor Peter Spears waited a long time to produce his first feature, Call Me by Your Name (Sony Pictures Classics). Clearly the wait was worth it--not just because the coming-of-age tale earned him a Best Picture Oscar nomination but also that the on-again, off-again roller coaster ride that extended over the years was essential to ultimately creating a film that was worthy of Academy consideration to begin with.

The long-and-winding road led Spears to, for example, the right producer colleagues--including his Best Picture Oscar nominee compatriots Emilie Georges (interviewed in a prior installment of this Road To Oscar series), Marco Morabito and Luca Guadagnino, the latter also proving to be the visionary director needed to do proper justice to the screenplay by James Ivory based on André Aciman’s novel. In all, Call Me by Your Name received four Oscar nominations--Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay, Leading Actor (Timothee Chalamet) and Original Song (Sufjan Stevens for “The Mystery of Love”).

“It’s been such a long road, taken such a long time to get this made,” related Spears. “At the end of the day, it took this global village of producing partners and talent--from Italy, France, Brazil, Thailand, America--to tell this story.”

Spears recalled first reading Aciman’s book 10 years ago. “I was so moved by it and kind of jolted into this moment where I felt the need to make this into a movie. I had never felt that before. I went into it blindly with the feeling that whatever it takes, I want to do this.”

Through many chronicled stops and starts, the right team of “amazing artists” finally came together, shared Spears. “This happened when it was supposed to and the way it was supposed to. Some of the earlier incarnations would have been different movies. I’m so grateful we waited for the time that we did.”

Still, the timing wasn’t ideal on all fronts. Guadagnino noted that the summer of 1983 story was shot in a 17th century Italian villa in May--except the weather that particular month turned out to be extraordinarily and uncharacteristically rainy. “We didn’t have the sunshine we wanted,” recalled Guadagnino who credited cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom and sound designer Jean-Pierre Laforce with helping to overcome the unexpected weather.

Spears, though, gave considerable credit to Guadagnino who knew Lombardy, the locale in Italy, all too well in that it’s his hometown. “Every bit of the film has Luca’s imprint as a filmmaker and a producer. It was his town, his artwork, his furniture, his dishes. What we didn’t count on was shooting the summer in Italy and getting in May/June the coldest, wettest, stormiest time in 200 years in Europe. We were constantly battling rain, flooded rivers, location changes. Everything you see in that movie that looks and feels like summer is the wizardry of our amazing DP and Luca knowing the town, how to make it feel like summer while in fact we were deluged and under water.”

Yet ultimately it was the beauty of the story that overcame all logistical barriers. Chalamet portrays 17-year-old Elio, who’s quite worldly for his age. He lives in a northern Italian villa with his academic parents (Michael Stuhlbarg, Amira Casar) when a 25-year-old grad student named Oliver (Armie Hammer) arrives. Elio becomes involved with Oliver and in the process learns the beauty and heartbreak of love.

“The story is an affirmation of love,” said Guadagnino. “You can love where you want, however you want, who you want.”

It’s a message that has resonated for many, added Morabito, a steady collaborator with Guadagnino (producing the director’s I Am Love and serving as EP on A Bigger Splash). Morabito is gratified over the Oscar recognition received by Call Me by Your Name. “For a small European movie to be there, at the Oscars, means a lot. We’re very happy to get this movie made and to have it recognized. We had a great energy that sustained us.”

Guadagnino said that for Call Me by Your Name to garner Oscar attention and “to see how audiences have responded to the film reinforces my belief system in working with people you trust to tell a story--and to not compromise that story.”

Spears hopes the Oscar nominations not only prompt people to see the movie but to read the book on which it is based. “André (Aciman) entrusted us with his baby, this book. The Oscars help to protect the legacy of the story--both in the movie and the book. My wish is that more people seek out the book and read it who might not have otherwise--and that they have the same experience I had when I read it 10 years ago.”

The sound and Shape of Water
The Shape of Water (Fox Searchlight) earned Christian Cooke and Nathan Robitaille their first career Oscar nominations--respectively for Best Sound Mixing and Best Sound Editing. These are two of the 13 Academy Award nominations bestowed upon The Shape of Water, including Best Picture and Best Director (Guillermo del Toro).

Cooke and Robitaille also have in common how they first connected with Water director/producer/writer Guillermo del Toro; it was on the FX Network series The Strain which del Toro created.

Robitaille said The Strain gave del Toro “exposure to my fingerprint as a sound designer” as well as to the work and creative mettle of fellow Sound Editing Oscar nominee Nelson Ferreira. 

Robitaille noted that Ferreira gave him his first break in the business “back when I was 17. Nelson had a big hand in my upbringing in sound. He exposed me to other sound effects mentors over the years (including Craig Henighan and Paula Fairfield). For me, the Oscar nominations extend up the ladder to these people who helped train and inspire me in the first place.”

The Shape of Water introduces us to a janitor named Elisa (portrayed by Oscar nominee Sally Hawkins) who works in a hidden, high-security government laboratory. Elisa is a mute, trapped in a life of isolation. Her life, though, takes on hope when she and co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer, a Best Supporting Actress nominee) discover a secret classified experiment--a hybrid man/sea creature (Doug Jones) with whom Elisa makes a special connection. Elisa and this amphibian man, who too is mute, fall in love.

“When Nelson and I looked at the script for the first time, we saw we would be doing sound for two mute characters in love,” related Robitaille. “This called for an approach to sound that had to be convincing, interesting, fresh, new and inventive.”

Fostering such inventiveness was the opportunity to collaborate with editor Sidney Wolinsky, ACE who earned his first career Best Editing Oscar nod for The Shape of Water. “It was helpful to have him in the mix room, tossing out new perspectives and other ideas when you’re focused on forward momentum,” assessed Robitaille. “It’s nice to have an outside perspective.”

Re-recording mixer Cooke shares the Sound Mixing Oscar nomination for The Shape of Water with sound mixer Glen Gauthier and re-recording mixer Brad Zoern. Cooke said the biggest creative challenge the film posed to him came when the character Elisa went into a song-and-dance routine. The vocals, he noted, were done by an opera singer. “Blending in Sally with the opera singer was a difficult proposition, going from one character’s breath to another, making it seem like one seamless soundscape,” shared Cooke.

Cooke’s prime responsibilities on the film entailed music and dialogue while Zoren handled sound effects for the creature. But no matter the division of labor, Cooke affirmed that “Guillermo made us better mixers. I learned a lot from his details, which are so thorough and incredible. It was amazing to collaborate with him. We seemed to be on the same page in terms of achieving the end result. I hope I get the chance to work with him again in the future.”

This is the 15th and final installment of this year’s The Road To Oscar series. SHOOT will continue to report on Oscar-related news and of course provide coverage of the 90th Oscars to be held on Sunday, March 4, at the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood. The awards ceremony will be televised live on the ABC Television Network. The Oscars also will be televised live in more than 225 countries and territories worldwide.

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