James Curwood recorded Liv Tyler’s dialogue for “Ad Astra.” Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Actress Breanna Wing was happy enough to be able to list her first speaking role in a major film on her resume. But after Sunday night, that credit might have a lot more oomph to it.

Wing, an Auburn native, played a hitchhiker in the Quentin Tarantino film “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” which is nominated for best picture.

“It would really start my resume off with a bang,” said Wing, from her home in Los Angeles.

Wing is one of at least five Mainers who have a strong rooting interest in the Oscars this year, because they worked on movies that are up for awards, including “Ad Astra,” “Missing Link” and “Little Women.” Their contributions range from sound recording and mixing to animation and historic props. The awards will be given out Sunday night in Hollywood and televised on ABC starting at 8 p.m.

FILM CREW LIKE FAMILY

Wing, 30, didn’t always dream of being an actress. She wanted to be a production designer, the person who decides the general look of a film set. She left Auburn in 2007 to study art design at Chapman University in Orange, California. Around 2011, she began working on films, mostly handling props and doing whatever was needed. While on the sets of films like Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” and “The Amazing Spider-Man,” she began to realize what she really wanted to do was act. So she took acting classes and started getting small roles in small films.

Breanna Wing of Auburn has her first featured role in a major film as a hitchhiker in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” Photo by Dennis Apergis

Soon after, a co-worker from “Django Unchained” suggested she ask Tarantino about getting a small role in his upcoming film, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” She had stayed friendly with Tarantino, who Wing says treats his crew “like family” and likes to hire the same people over and over again.

With no major film on her resume, Wing was cast by Tarantino to play a hippy hitchhiker who gets picked up by Margot Robbie, playing actress Sharon Tate. The film’s main characters – played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt – are works of fiction, as are their adventures. But the real-life Tate was murdered by cult followers of Charles Manson in 1969, and Manson’s followers were known to recruit cult members by hitchhiking.

In her scene, Wing is only on camera for less than a minute. She’s standing on a busy street with her thumb out – dressed in jean shorts and knee-length moccasins – when Robbie drives up in a Porsche. Robbie says she’s not going very far, to which Wing responds “beggars can’t be choosers.” Then she’s seen in the car with Robbie, laughing and chatting, though their conversation is inaudible. The ride ends, and the two women hug and say goodbye. Wing said Robbie “couldn’t have been nicer” during filming.

Being in the film led to Wing getting her own agent, but she has not gotten any other roles in big movies yet. She’s not going to the Oscars, but will probably watch with other cast members.

Animator Adam Fisher, now a teacher at Maine College of Art in Portland, worked on “Missing Link.” Photo by Steven Wong

MAYBE THIS TIME

Adam Fisher, 41, is hoping that the fifth time’s a charm. He has worked as an animator on four films that previously were nominated for an Oscar: “Coraline” (2009), “ParaNorman” (2012), “The Boxtrolls” (2014) and “Kubo and the Two Strings” (2016). All were made by Oregon-based Laika animation studio, and none won. This year, it’s for “Missing Link,” up for best animated feature.

Fisher, who teaches animation at Maine College of Art in Portland, is trying not to get his hopes up, even though “Missing Link” won the Golden Globe. The film is up against animated movies from major studios, including DreamWorks’ “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” and Disney/Pixar’s “Toy Story 4.”

“You can never take a nomination for granted because there’s so much fierce competition,” said Fisher, who grew up in Prospect Harbor and worked at Laika studios for about a decade before taking the MECA job in 2018. “I would call us a dark horse. But it’s one of our best-reviewed films, so I’m a little optimistic.”

Fisher grew up wanting to work in film and discovered animation at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. On “Missing Link,” Fisher did stop animation, meaning he would bend and twist a puppet into various positions so that when it’s filmed – at about 24 pictures per second – it looks like it’s moving. “Missing Link” features the voices of Hugh Jackman and Zach Galifianikis and tells the story of a fairly sophisticated Sasquatch named Mr. Link.

Fisher will be watching the Oscars at home in Cape Elizabeth, feeling “a little sad” he can’t be in Oregon with all his fellow Laika animators, hoping for that elusive win.

Photo courtesy of Laika Studios / Annapurna Pictures

A WORKING VACATION

Portland sound engineer James Curwood got his chance to work on an Oscar-nominated film by the sheer luck that Liv Tyler was here visiting relatives when his services were needed.

Curwood, who runs Flying Sound recording studio in downtown Portland, recorded Tyler’s dialogue for the space adventure film “Ad Astra” last July. The film centers on Brad Pitt as an astronaut sent on a mission to Mars in search of his long-lost father. Tyler plays his wife. The film is nominated for two sound-related Oscars, best sound mixing and sound editing, but Curwood is not named.

Tyler was added to the film after much of it was done, and when the producers asked her to record her dialogue – separately from her being filmed – she happened to be in Maine. Tyler spent much of her childhood in Portland and wrote a book called “Modern Manners” with her grandmother, Dorothea Johnson, an etiquette expert from Falmouth.

Liv Tyler, right, with James Curwood and Gracie Alexander at Flying Sound studio in Portland. Photo courtesy of Jame Curwood

Curwood has done sound work for other TV shows and films – often when an actor is in Maine on vacation – so he was hired for the job. Tyler spent much of the day in the studio with Curwood, as they both watched a video of the film and she recorded her lines.

“She really threw all of her energy at it. She put her whole body into making those lines sound the way she wanted to,” said Curwood, 39, a Cambridge, Massachusetts, native, who moved to Portland in 2011. He’s run his studio, doing film, TV and music recording, since 2018.

Curwood said Tyler was excited to be working in Maine and not have to disrupt her vacation – so excited, Curwood said, that she asked to take a selfie with him and studio assistant Gracie Alexander.

ALREADY A WINNER

Unlike Curwood, sound mixer Mark Ulano is named in an Oscar nomination for “Ad Astra” – and in another for best sound mixing for “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” The part-time Mainer was on set for every scene of both those movies, and involved in the planning, setup and recording of all the sound. He did not work with Curwood, since Curwood recorded Tyler in Maine and Ulano was working on sets in California.

Brad Pitt stars in “Ad Astra,” for which part-time Mainer Mark Ulano is nominated for a best sound mixing Oscar. Photo by Francois Duhamel/Twentieth Century Fox

Ulano, 65, is based in Los Angeles but has a house in Camden and teaches at the Maine Media Workshops + College in Rockport. A native of New York City, he’s been working in films for some 40 years and has already won an Oscar for best sound mixing, with three other people, for “Titanic” in 1998. Both of his nominations this year are shared with two others.

Ulano said that, as a sound mixer, he helps plan shots so that sound can help tell the story. If the scene calls for the listener to feel close to the actor, almost too close, then the mic is placed very close to the actor. But in some scenes, to make an actor seem small or vulnerable, the mic is placed far away.

Like Wing, Ulano had worked with Tarantino before, several times, including on “Django Unchained,” “Inglourious Basterds” and “Kill Bill,” volumes 1 and 2. He said working on a Tarantino project is “a pure experience, with no competing egos and everyone there to serve the project.”

Ulano said that, even though it sounds like a cliche, he is honored to be nominated, because the choices are made by other film professionals who know how sound can contribute mightily to a film’s power.

JUST PRESSING ON

David Wolfe was impressed at how much work the makers of “Little Women” put into getting the details right. Not that Wolfe has any film experience, but he does know a lot about antique printing presses. So when the filmmakers went looking for an 1860s press to be included in a scene about a book being printed in that time period, they sought out Wolfe at his Portland print shop, Wolfe Editions, on the recommendation of an antique bookbinder with whom they were already working.

“Little Women” is an adaptation of the 1868 Louisa May Alcott novel about the lives of the four March sisters, coming of age in Massachusetts. The character of Jo March is based on Alcott, and Wolfe’s press was used for a scene in which Jo goes to the print shop to see her book being made. The movie stars Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Laura Dern and Meryl Streep, and has been nominated for the best picture Oscar.

David Wolfe with his Civil War-era press that was featured in “Little Women.” Photo by Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Wolfe’s press, which Wolfe had recently acquired from a mill in Biddeford, weighs about 2,000 pounds and stands more than 6 feet tall. It was trucked to a Boston-area warehouse complex where much of the film was shot, beginning in the fall of 2018. Wolfe went with his press and spent about a week filming. Wolfe, 62, dressed as a period printer, and in the film his hands can be seen setting metal type into trays. Ronan, who plays Jo, is in the scene as well.

Wolfe said being in front of the camera was not that big a thrill for him; he mainly wanted to help make sure the press and its process were shown correctly. As for watching the Oscars to see if his press is part of a best picture win, Wolfe says he doesn’t stay up that late.


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