Entertainment & Arts

Oscars 2011: Winner's diary

Paul Franklin
Image caption This is Paul Franklin's second Oscar nomination

Paul Franklin has won an Oscar for his work on the mind-bending visual effects of Inception.

Among the film's most memorable sequences are the city of Paris folding in on itself, and the creation and destruction of "Limbo City".

Paul's London-based FX company Double Negative also worked on Christopher Nolan's films Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. The latter film earned Franklin a visual effects Oscar nomination in 2009.

Here Paul tells us about his experiences on the big night and in the run-up to Hollywood's most prestigious event of the year.

Sunday 27 February

As I said when I got up there on that Oscar stage and Jude Law handed me the little gold man, it feels like the top is still spinning. If this is a dream, then please don't wake me up.

It's been an extraordinary week. A week of freeloading with the best of them through LA's bizarre party eco-system. Then today, waking up with a sense of nervous anticipation, climbing into my suit and waiting in the interminable limo queue to drive up to the Kodak Theatre for the awards ceremony.

The usual religious protestors were there lining the roads, telling Hollywood it was going to hell in a hand cart. Black-clad snipers on the rooftops were a particularly American touch, and rumour has it they'd welded all the manholes shut - I wasn't sure whether to take comfort or run for the hills.

Image caption Our diarist celebrates his Oscar win

This year I was determined to make it up the red carpet with the 'talent' rather than be relegated to invisibility on the media-free side of the velvet rope.

As the limo deposited me at the approach I gesticulated wildly at a passing TV crew and thus managed to blag my way through the cordon and stride triumphantly up the carpet, sandwiched between Francis Ford Coppola and Aaron Sorkin.

The Oscar ceremony does not happen quickly - Johnny Carson described it as two hours of glittering entertainment spread out over four hours - and he wasn't wrong.

James Franco and Anne Hathaway did their stellar best, and eventually, a couple of hours in, Jude Law and Robert Downey Junior strode out to present the visual effects category. Utter exhilaration when they called out Inception.

The Kodak theatre is huge and we'd been seated right at the back so me and my co-winners had to leg it down the aisle to the stage for fear of eating into our moment of glory. After that it's all a bit of a blur.

I remember managing to get through my speech and then being whisked around endless corridors, stopping off for photos and a press call.

We then ended up in a rather plush little suite where I was corralled alongside luminaries such as Stephen Spielberg and Sandra Bullock until we could be taken out on stage for the final triumphant winners' line-up, which rounded off the show.

As I stood on the stage behind the soon-to-be-raised curtain I was struck by just how many Brits were holding golden statuettes. 2011 has to go down as one of the UK's most successful Oscar years ever.

'Golden ticket'

After the ceremony everyone headed for The Governors Ball to dine on mini cheeseburgers and sushi. On the table next to us was Johnny Marr, former lead guitarist of The Smiths who had contributed his incredible talent to the Inception soundtrack. Marr offered to swap a plectrum for my Oscar, but in the end handed it over gratis - what a gent.

The party was glitzy and glamorous, but after about 15 minutes the count of recognisable faces dwindled to almost zero, as even before the main course was served the celebrities made a dash for far cooler events across town.

The Vanity Fair party was the hot ticket and almost impossible to get into with anything less than A-list status. But an Oscar turned out to be as miraculous as Willy Wonka's golden ticket - I just waved it through the limo's window and I was in.

Once inside it really was Hollywood heaven - everyone seemed to be someone.

I felt a bit self-conscious carrying my Oscar around, but I soon found that he attracted the most amazing level of attention from people who must have seen it all before. I lost track of how many people offered their congratulations, but I do remember shaking hands with Elton John and David Furnish and getting a thumbs-up from Jane Fonda.

Finally, I rolled back to my hotel in the wee hours. Luckily Warner Brothers had supplied a driver for the night, otherwise I'd probably still be camping out under a table at an after-party. I'm sure I'll pay for it when I wake up in the morning and I've got an early morning meeting in Hollywood for the new film I'm working on.

But heck, it's a once in a lifetime experience. Something I'll never forget.

Saturday 26 February

More pre-Oscar parties today and a contrast in extremes. We started with a late afternoon reception at the residence of the British Consul-General, Dame Barbara Hay, held in celebration of the large number of British Oscar nominees this year.

The event was an exercise in taste and understatement and, what with the steady rain that had been falling since midday, it was easy to imagine that we were at a posh garden party on a wet day in the home counties, though the towering palm trees rather broke the spell.

Most of the Brit Bafta winners were present and, after a rousing speech from Dame Barbara on the theme of British cinema's current success, for a moment I think we all felt that we were part of some indefinable new UK film movement. But that was probably just the champagne talking and pretty soon everyone was heading out into the drizzly dusk and on to the next party.

Image caption As the Academy Awards excitement builds, the nominees party

Rain. London, as we saw recently, doesn't cope well with snow, but rain is something we can do. Los Angeles, on the other hand, turns into a complete basket case: the streets flood, the traffic jams solid and the sidewalks become treacherous (something to do with the slick concrete they use). As we headed over to the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills for a "gifting suite" party we could see that the same idea had occurred to pretty much everyone else: get under cover, get out of the rain.

The gifting suite is a very LA thing: a big party-cum-advertisement where celebs are enticed to attend by the promise of free stuff. I'd always been intrigued to see what this actually consisted of and thought it might be a bit of a laugh to go along.

This one was being hosted by that international brand of style and taste, QVC, who appeared to have invited everyone in Southern California along for the evening; a jostling sea of limos and other vehicles fought to get onto the hotel's forecourt which, combined with the now-torrential rain, produced traffic mayhem stretching for blocks around the hotel, car horns blaring in a discordant symphony.

The scene that greeted us when we finally got inside couldn't have been further from the Consul-General's party if you'd tried: hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people looking like blinged-up extras from a Sex and the City party scene were milling around under a huge temporary tent that was doing little to keep out the deluge.

On a stage at the back a live presentation was being filmed but what the viewers at home couldn't see was the quagmire underfoot; starlets tottered back and forth in anything-but-sensible killer heels, a muddy disaster never far away.

Among the party-goers there seemed to be only one topic of conversation: "Where do I get my gift bag?" It soon became clear that the goodies had run out hours before and many people started back immediately, desperate to reclaim their cars from the valet parking which still looked as chaotic as when we'd arrived. We whiled away the 45-minute wait for our ride in the hotel bar which, due to its insistence that we pay for our drinks, was mercifully empty.

We then swung over to the London Hotel in West Hollywood where OK Magazine was having a best of British party. I checked in with the guest list to be told that they were full to capacity and I wasn't coming in.

I pushed my nominee status and did my best cut glass English accent (which isn't that great - I'm from Cheshire) and, amazingly, I got in. As I entered I received a slap on the back from one of the King's Speech producers who was just leaving, either as a greeting or a way of saying "good luck, you'll need it in there".

The party was being held by the rooftop pool, which must have seemed like a great idea when it was planned on a warm and sunny day but once again the weather would have none of it and everyone was crammed into a flapping tent with water streaming down its sides.

After half-an-hour and a couple of drinks I left, forging my way through the crowd outside the hotel, who were grumbling about the way that "the talent" had been made to get wet. Rain was clearly no respecter of celebrity.

Thursday 24 February

After a week in London I'm back in LA, and its nose to the grindstone at the Warner Brothers lot where I'm working on Chris Nolan's latest film.

But I'm determined not to miss out on all the razzmatazz that Oscar week brings.

Last night was my first experience of one of the pre-Oscar parties which have become very much a fixture of the awards scene over here.

The top party to get into was Harvey Weinstein's bash at Chateau Marmont on Sunset Boulevard.

The bash was held in part to celebrate the extraordinary success of The King's Speech - but given the guest list was limited to a mere 60 guests, I suspect even George VI would have had difficulty getting a ticket.

Instead I went along to a rather more accessible do that was held by entertainment website The Wrap at the luxurious Four Seasons hotel in Beverly Hills.

Perhaps too accessible: after the obligatory - but mercifully short - red carpet entrance, my guest and I found ourselves jammed into a very crowded restaurant bar full of people checking each other for any signs of celebrity whilst desperately trying to snag a drink from the overworked staff.

You quickly get the measure of your place in the Hollywood pecking order by the calibre of parties you're invited to. But that's LA for you, and it comes as no surprise.

I learned my lesson two years ago when I was nominated for a visual effects Oscar for The Dark Knight, Nolan's second Batman feature.

Stepping out of the limo at the foot of the red carpet, ready for my big moment, I was surprised to discover that a thick velvet rope ran the carpet's entire length, creating two distinct pathways.

Image caption The famous red carpet is rolled out by staff

"Talent?" asked an official.

I explained that I was a nominee for visual effects and was promptly moved "over to the right", where I found myself joining a queue of anonymous suits.

While to my left, on the other side of the rope, a sea of recognisable faces swanned by as flashbulbs popped.

But back to this year and the party, which wasn't a total washout. I managed to meet up with other Inception nominees including Guy Dyas, our brilliantly talented production designer.

I also spotted the great cinematographer Roger Deakins, who shot True Grit, and went over to say hello on the pretext of knowing a friend of a friend.

He was very gracious and told me about his work with Pixar and DreamWorks and how he advised them on the cinematography for Wall-E and How to Train Your Dragon.

It is fascinating to see how the worlds of computer-generated imagery and live-action film-making are coming ever closer together.

Soon the place had emptied to the degree that the previously hard-pressed serving staff were now popping up every few seconds, trying to offload the surfeit of tiramisu that seemed to be the only food left on offer.

Fortunately the free drink kept flowing and, having nowhere else to go onto, we relaxed into the decadent ambience of the whole occasion.

Tomorrow it's down to the serious business of finding a reliable dry cleaner for my one smart suit, which is a bit worse for wear after the BAFTAs.

Tuesday 15 February

Finally, after two days, my Bafta hangover has gone. Free champagne all night - quality, mind you, none of your cheap stuff - it would have been rude to refuse!

I have been nominated for a Bafta twice before, but this time felt completely different.

My first two nods had been great honours, but there'd been no real prospect of a win in either case.

With Inception it looked like we were in with a real chance and my nerves had been steadily building all week.

After getting ready at home (the offers of free hair styling, make-up and jewellery being wasted on a fortysomething bloke who's thinning on top), we wound our way through south London, across the Thames to the Royal Opera House and stepped onto the red carpet.

A huge crowd, undeterred by the inevitable drizzling rain, pressed against the crush barriers, eager for a glimpse of celebrity.

Image caption It was a case of third time lucky for Paul at the Baftas

The paparazzi flashed their cameras as the car doors opened - no doubt hoping to grab a knicker shot of someone famous failing to exit gracefully.

Clearly that wasn't us, and within seconds all eyes and cameras had turned to the next limo in the line.

We walked up the red carpet, sandwiched between Danny Boyle and Gemma Arterton, and once inside joined a swish cocktail reception where I relaxed to the point that I almost forgot why I was there.

But soon enough the master of ceremonies in full regalia ordered us to our places and the show began.

Bafta is a celebration of all aspects of filmmaking, but glamour counts.

Whilst all the nominees were seated in the same part of the auditorium, those in the technical categories are put at the edges at the back, safely hidden from the TV cameras.

At least it meant we didn't have to affect rictus grins the whole evening.

Unlike some other awards shows Bafta doesn't hang about, and within moments of Jonathan Ross's arrival on stage the gongs started coming thick and fast.

It was pretty clear that the evening would belong to The King's Speech, but Inception picked up best sound and production design along the way and I dared to believe that we might really have a serious chance.

Suddenly our category was up: clips of the five movies, representing cumulative centuries of staff hours from the various SFX and VFX teams rolled past in seconds. And then Jesse Eisenberg was tearing open the envelope and reading out... Inception.

Instant elation!

After fighting our way out of our row and a quick handshake with director Chris Nolan we bowled down the aisle and stepped up onto the stage.

At the end of my speech, as I thanked my beautiful wife, the camera cut to a shot of her for the teary-eyed reaction. Only they got the wrong wife.

Image caption Paul (far right) was honoured alongside (from left) Peter Bebb, Chris Corbould and Andrew Lockley

But at least the wrong wife is married to Pete, my co-winner, who hopefully will see the funny side.

One quick backstage interview later we returned - via a very, very long route - to our seats clutching our surprisingly heavy prizes and we happily watched Tom Hooper's King's Speech clean up the rest of the awards.

At the winners' group photo I got to say hello to JK Rowling. As a veteran of three Harry Potter films that was a real thrill.

Then onto a lavish dinner (and more champagne) at the Grosvenor, with Squeeze blasting out their greatest hits at the after party.

Then it was all over and I was back home, very tired but very, very happy.

Bertie, as the children have christened the gong, will be residing on our mantlepiece. (I know you're supposed to keep them in the loo, but we don't have a shelf.)

The buzz even lasted through the 7am school run a few hours later. But now I really do need a sleep.

Monday 7 February

Today we had the first major Oscar-related event, the nominees' luncheon. The key thing about the lunch is that there's minimal press and no TV cameras in the event itself - it's about celebrating all of the film-makers rather than just the stars (or "above the line" as they say here in Hollywood).

Everyone is that bit more relaxed than at the actual awards and you have a chance to mingle with the great and the good of Tinsel Town. Two years ago I was lucky enough to be nominated for my work on The Dark Knight, but I couldn't make it to the lunch as I was tied up on another movie.

Image caption Paul Franklin was also nominated in 2009 for The Dark Knight

My producer Mike Chambers was my lunch guest and as we entered the grand ballroom of the Beverly Hilton we were greeted with a milling throng of smartly-dressed people. It was so tightly packed that, initially, it was impossible to recognise anyone.

However, after a short while I began to spot familiar faces from the visual effects community (which is quite small and always up for a free drink) and said hello to friends from Pixar and some of the other nominated VFX teams.

Eventually I took my place for lunch to find I was seated next to Mark Ruffalo, nominated as best supporting actor for his tremendous performance in The Kids Are All Right.

I always get star struck, regardless of how many celebrities I meet and generally am at a loss for what to say. Fortunately, I remembered that Mark had just been cast as Bruce Banner/the Hulk in the Avengers movie and we talked about motion capture (used to create the animation for creatures such as the Hulk). We also discussed the perils of the unflattering spandex leotards that the actors have to wear.

It's safe territory for a tech geek like me.

Once the starter was over all the nominees shuffled up onto the podium for a group photograph and I found myself jammed in between Geoffrey Rush and Colin Firth. One by one we were called out and given a certificate (as well as a massively outsized nominee's sweatshirt). Everyone got a round of applause but I'm sure that when my name came up most people were saying to themselves, "who he"?

Afterwards we were shown a short film of tips on dos and don'ts for the big night itself presented by Tom Hanks - the basic message was keep it short and don't be boring. You get 45 seconds to thank everyone for 18 months of work and anyone who goes over gets a giant Oscar dropped on top of them.

I could have stayed all afternoon - and I think quite a few did - but my boss, Chris Nolan, was giving us all pointed looks so it was in the car and back to the studio to continue pre-production on our next project. After all, someone's got to keep making movies.

Paul Franklin was Inception's VFX supervisor and is a founding member of FX company Double Negative (DNeg). He is nominated along with SFX supervisor Chris Corbould and DNeg's VFX supervisors Peter Bebb and Andrew Lockley.

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