The Scientific & Technical Academy Awards: “The Earlier Ceremony”

by | February 9, 2009 at 6:43 PM | The Academy Awards, The Movies

Every time you watch the Oscars, there’s always that moment where the current reigning ‘hottest actress in the world’ comes on, despite having done nothing award-worthy that year, and talks about “an earlier ceremony” where some no-less-important but much-less-exciting awards were handed out. These are called the Scientific and Technical Academy Awards, and for my money, this ceremony is a better experience than the real deal. No attacks on fashion, no rude music brushing winners offstage, and no embarrassingly awkward red carpet herding pen where the shiny TV personality is done talking to the interesting actor even though there was no interesting question asked of him, and yet the place is so crowded that the interesting actor can’t go anywhere, so he just hovers while the shiny TV personality blithely ignores that he’s still standing right there. It’s just a fantastic dinner (seriously, the charred tuna sashimi was tress faboo), some groovy smooth jazz music complete with a rockin’ harpist (harper? harpy?), some recognition for people who develop great advances in filmmaking that make our movies so much more enjoyable, and a magic show from a guy who was on Saved By The Bell. That would be Ed Alonzo, for the curious. A reasonably amusing chap.

Of course, there’s still some awkward teleprompting, although our hostess with the mostest for the evening, Jessica Biel, sold it well. Yet from my vantage point, one turn of my head meant I could read what the people at the podium were stumbling to say, and it made me wonder why they didn’t just have some papers in front of them instead. They had a real podium, after all. I have to think guys like Academy President Sid Ganis and Sci-Tech Awards Committee Chairman Richard Edlund might’ve come across a bit smoother if they did. They’re not actors. Don’t make these guys act like they’re not reading.

What was interesting to me, with this being the first time I’ve ever really paid attention to the Sci-Tech Academy Awards, was that only one of the award recipients got an actual classic Oscar statuette, and that was the Gordon E. Sawyer Award, given to Ed Catmull, the technical genius behind Pixar. The rest of the winners were given modified awards, although not without their own heft, that you can see here.

The winners, for the record, are also not associated with specific films, but rather general ass-kickery in the name of cinematographic sciences. For example, the John A. Bonner Medal of Commendation, named for the legendary sound engineer, was given to Mark Kimball for pioneering and advancing computer science applications to film work since the Tron days. Over 28 years of service to movies for this guy, and his list of credits and achievements is a mile long.

Getting Scientific & Engineering Award “Academy Plaques,” which are still gold sculptures but smaller and different, were Erwin Melzner, Volker Schumacher and Timo Müller for making kickass lighting fixtures; Jacques Delacoux and Alexandre Leuchter for some designing some kickass video-assist monitors; and Bruno Coumert, Jacques Debize, Dominique Chervin and Christopher Reboulet for designing some kickass new zoom lenses. Then there was a Technical Achievement Award “Academy Certificate” given to Steve Hylen for his work in the field of on-set optical effects. The “lenscrafters” (haw haw) shared a dinner table with me, and they let me hold one of their awards. Sucker’s still heavy and certainly impressive. Catmull was one table over, and he let a young kid of around 6 run around with his Oscar statuette, so there was no way I would’ve been able to say “hey, kid, stop having fun and let me hold an Oscar so I can say I held an Oscar.”

It was a good time, and they were quick about things, too. No long-winded speeches of any kind, only six awards given out, although they stressed that it was an unusually low number. It was just an occasion to get a bunch of tech wizards and engineering geniuses to dress up, have a fancy dinner and get a little recognition for their hard work and ingenuity.

So raise a glass of something dandy to the men and women whose names most people won’t even sit through a movie’s credits to notice – the people who really make movies work.