Oscar History: He was previously nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Editing for 2006’s Children of Men, and also for Best Original Screenplay for 2002’s Y Tu Mamá También.
French Twist: Cuarón and his son Jonás, who co-wrote Gravity, drew inspiration from classic cinema. “We were talking about some European films that we love, like A Man Escaped,” Cuarón says, referring to Robert Bresson’s 1956 thriller about a French resistance fighter imprisoned by the Nazis. “And we thought, ‘Why don’t we try to do a mainstream Hollywood version of that, here they take a minimalistic approach to do something huge?’”
Long Shot: Gravity opens with a bravura 17-minute shot. But Cuarón hopes that audiences are too caught up in the drama to notice. “People should not be aware of these things. What I like about extended takes is just the sense of real time, capturing the moment and trying to take out the artifice of cuts,” he says. “It’s never intended to be a ‘Hey, mama, look, no hands!’”
Buddy System: Before tackling Gravity’s immense technical challenges, Cuarón and his team sought advice from visionary directors such as James Cameron and David Fincher. “Fincher said, ‘This is a great idea. You may be able to do it years from now when the technology is ready,’” says Cuarón. “He was right — we had to invent the technology.”
Up Next: He co-created the NBC supernatural thriller Believe (debuting March 10). —Adam Markovitz
12 Years A Slave
Oscar History: First nomination.
Show and Tell: “Steve was the first to ask the question: Why have there not been more films on the American history of slavery?” says Brad Pitt, who produced 12 Years a Slave and costars as an itinerant worker. “It’s a question it took a Brit to ask.” McQueen, whose parents immigrated to the U.K. from Trinidad and Grenada, thinks it’s still worth exploring. “If we don’t face our past, we as a people will never understand what possible future we have,” he says. “A lot of people in the film turn their backs on slavery and don’t do anything about it. There’s no bravery that needs to happen here by watching a movie, but it’s about acknowledging the most important part of American history.”
Slave Songs: For McQueen, one of the most enjoyable parts of making the film was re-creating the music of the mid-19th-century American South. “I found these recordings from Alan Lomax,” he says. “He went around America during the ’30s and ’40s recording folk songs. I found he’d recorded some of these old slave songs.” While Hans Zimmer wrote the film’s score, McQueen worked closely with composer Nicholas Britell to reinterpret songs from the Lomax recordings.
Up Next: He’s developing an HBO project about a young black man in NYC high society, and is also working on a movie musical. —Anthony Breznican