Friday, October 21, 2016
  • Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016
"Room" Director Continues An Awards Tradition: The Discrepancy Between DGA and Oscar Nominations
Lenny Abrahamson
Lenny Abrahamson earns first Academy Award nod but is not among Guild nominees
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Most years there is at least one difference between the Best Director Oscar and DGA Award nominees. In fact only five times in the 68 years of the DGA Awards have the Guild nominations exactly mirrored their Academy Award counterparts.

This time around, Lenny Abrahamson is in line with that history, earning a Best Director Oscar nod today (1/14) for Room (A24 Films) despite not being one of the DGA Award nominees named earlier in the week. Four of the five directors for the DGA Award and the Achievement in Directing Oscar are in sync this year: Alejandro G. Iñárritu for The Revenant (Twentieth Century Fox); Tom McCarthy for Spotlight (Open Road Films); Adam McKay for The Big Short (Paramount Pictures); and George Miller for Mad Max: Fury Road (Warner Bros.). However, while Abrahamson garnered the remaining Oscar nomination, the other DGA nod went to Ridley Scott for The Martian (Twentieth Century Fox).

On the flip side, if Abrahamson were to win the Oscar, he wouldn’t be aligned with but rather bucking history. Over the past 67 years, only seven times has the DGA Award winner not gone on to win the Oscar. The most recent such occurrence was in 2013 when Ben Affleck won the DGA Award for Argo while Ang Lee scored the Oscar for Life of Pi.

Room garnered a total of four Oscar nominations, the other three being for Best Picture, Leading Actress (Brie Larson) and Adapted Screenplay (by Emma Donoghue from her own book). The film tells the story of a woman (Larson) who’s been in one-room captivity for seven years, since she was 17, and her five-year-old son Jack (Jacob Tremblay) who was fathered by their captor.


Abrahamson earlier shared with SHOOT in a Directors Series profile (10/23/15) several insights into Room, noting that the most daunting challenge was getting the opportunity to make the film to begin with.

“Someone with Element Pictures, a company I work with, said I should read this book ["Room" authored by Donoghue],” recalled Abrahamson. “I was so moved by the novel due in part to the fact that I had a little boy at that point not far from the age of Jack. I could project him into the film. The story was so true, offering the perspective of the hopeful kind of curious boy who I had at the time. It captured that strange, cozy but a little fuzzy world of childhood with its myths, confusion and all at the same time wondrous things.”

But Abrahamson realized that his love of the novel wouldn’t necessarily translate into his being involved in the film adaptation. “I knew persuading Emma to give the book rights to a relatively small independent Irish production company was a long shot,” acknowledged Abrahamson. “The book was getting attention from big companies in L.A. Still I had a sense of the novel and how it worked. I had a strong sense of how it could be translated into a film. I wrote Emma a very long letter as clear and strong as I could make it. She thought it was great, the best thing that they had read about the novel. However, we still had a journey to make. At the time I had made two small, well-received but smaller arthouse films. There might have been a question about me as a worthwhile candidate. I feel fortunate in that she didn’t love anybody else’s pitches which gave me time to make more films that got attention. I then reached the point where they felt more comfortable with me.”

Once he got the gig, Abrahamson faced the inherent challenge of Room, which he described as “what’s it going to feel like to spend half of your film in this very small space? It’s a nice challenge to try to solve, working with Danny [DP Cohen, BSC] and Ethan [production designer Tobman] to construct the room to give us access without cheating—with the camera always inside the dimensions of that space. Though the space is small, it feels like a complete world as Jack would see it.”

The casting of an actor to play Jack was also pivotal. “Finding the right kid was crucial,” said Abrahamson who knew he had done just that with the emergence of Tremblay.

In the big picture, Abrahamson observed, “In one way, this is an escape story. It’s also a liberation story. Once our protagonists escape physically, they aren’t yet liberated. It takes the whole film to set them free. You have to preserve the audience’s attention through the escape, showing in the second half what the protagonists have to deal with after physically leaving the room.”

While the high-profile Oscar nomination now heads his awards marquee, Abrahamson has a track record of industry recognition. For example, his film Frank scored a Best Director nomination at the British Independent Film Awards last year, an Audience Award nom at SXSW, and a Best Director win at the Irish Film and Television Awards. The latter competition also saw Abrahamson win Best Film Director honors for Adam & Paul in 2004, Garage in 2008 and What Richard Did in 2013, as well as a Best Director for Television Award for Prosperity in 2007.

This is the 10th in a multi-part series with future installments of The Road To Oscar slated to run in the weekly SHOOT>e.dition, The SHOOT Dailies, SHOOT’s January print issue (and PDF versions) and on The series will appear weekly through the Academy Awards. The 88th Academy Awards will be held on Sunday, February 28, 2016, at the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood, and will be televised live by the ABC Television Network at 7 pm ET/4 pm PT. The Oscar presentation also will be televised live in more than 225 countries and territories worldwide.

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