Last Monday, Kieran Crilly‘s Facebook wall exploded with ecstatic messages that echoed this one: “A-ma-zing!! Congrats dude!” That’s because the night before, at the 86th Annual Academy Awards, Crilly’s film, The Lady in Number 6, won the Oscar for Best Documentary Short Subject, and Crilly’s friends could not quite believe that one of their own had worked on a movie that just won his industry’s top honor. The film, in which Crilly served as Director of Photography, is an uplifting portrait of Alice Herz-Sommer, a classical pianist and the world’s oldest Holocaust survivor and was considered the favorite going into the awards. Still, when Kate Hudson announced the winner, Crilly was stunned.
Crilly is a cinematographer and producer based out of Montreal, a city where I spent some of the most hedonistic years of my life. I know him mostly in the context of late nights and earlier mornings. But back then he was still a driven filmmaker, and as a member of the Kidnapper Films collective, planted the seeds that led him to the Kodak Theater last Sunday. To see him reach this career pinnacle so early on is both surprising and somehow totally expected. I asked Kieran to take us through his night and what his might mean for the rest of his career. Even though he’s a big deal now, he graciously accepted.
So did you actually get a statue yourself?
Unfortunately no. Only two got handed out for the film. One went to Nick Reed the producer, and the other was for Malcolm Clarke the director. But I definitely tried to take as many pictures as possible with it to completely mislead everyone.
What did you think your chances to win were like going in? Did you read all the forecasts?
I think my attitude towards our chances changed back and forth every day after the nominations were announced. I’m working on a new film with the same director now, so we were forwarding every email and I saw all the forecasts that the producer would send Malcolm, so obviously that was encouraging. But when I got a chance to check out the competition, I couldn’t believe how moving some of those films were. Those stories were pretty amazing: a revolution in Yemen, a hospice run by inmates for inmates, an incredible artist in the desert, and a story of incredible forgiveness. After you see those films and meet those filmmakers, it really makes you wonder how anyone can predict what will happen. But yeah, we were going in with high hopes. Right up until the envelope got opened up, then it was like “Holy shit, we’re going to lose.”
What was walking the red carpet like? A surreal experience?
Are you kidding! It was insanely surreal!! In fact, it was such a rush that I snuck back out and did it a second time!
Describe what it’s like to actually walk the red carpet.
The red carpet is divided between nominees and guests, so if you’re the actual nominee, Nick and Malcolm, you go on one side of a velvet rope and you can interact with the press, and that’s where the big names are. Along with the other Canadians on the team I was on the other side, so we walked next to the celebs, but not along with them. Inside the theatre there was a big cocktail party for about two hours, so in there I met with other people in the industry, but not necessarily what you’d call celebrities. I got to meet and shake hands with one of the biggest cinematographers in the business, Roger Deakins, someone I really admire and look up to. For me, that was a bigger thrill than meeting say Angelina Jolie or Steve Carell. After the awards at the Vanity Fair party there were tons of big names walking around. We took a photo with Bill Murray, my girlfriend met Larry David, and I took a pee next to Bill Hader, but I’m not really someone who goes bonkers around celebrities.
And what’s it like approaching the Kodak Theater? Tight security?
Yeah, they don’t show that part on TV. They block off Hollywood boulevard (is it a boulevard?) for blocks in either direction and you have to drive through about four checkpoints before you even get close to the Oscars area. The LAPD have concrete blockades up, the sidewalks are fenced off, there’s a ton of people on the other side with posters and cameras, screaming every time a car or limo pulls up.
Did you have a flask of booze on you?
Ha, no. But there’s tons of free drinks inside, bars on every level of the theatre, and during the actual show you can get up and leave the theatre during every commercial break. The publicist we had, (little shout out to Dish Entertainment) was pretty awesome. They had us prepared for the whole experience and we brought some snacks in, knew exactly what to expect, and really shepherded us through the night. I can’t imagine going through that week without someone like that to really give you a heads up about every little detail.
What was watching the show like live?
The show itself was really impressive. Basically you’re watching the most professional people in the world put on the biggest entertainment show of the year. I guess the only difference from TV is that you’re taking photos and texting them to friends and seeing them write back “Holy shit that just happened on TV!” Of course, right after our category was announced we all ran downstairs to find Malcolm and Nick and hoist the golden boy. I guess that’s a pretty big difference.
What was going through your head after their name was called?
Um, I think my hand went up to my mouth in shock, and the first thing that happened was actually really awesome. The guy sitting right in front of me was Tom Christopher, the producer of one of the other short docs, Facing Fear, and he instantly spun around and grabbed my hand and shouted “Congratulations!” with a huge smile on his face. It was really that moment that you see on TV where the nominees really are happy for each other and it was really sweet of him. Then I jumped up and hugged the Canadian producer Frederic Bohbot, who was sitting next to me and we shouted and jumped up and down.
What happens when the show is over, is it a nightmare to get out of there?
You wait. Right after the show all the nominees and winners go to a banquet called the Governor’s Ball where they eat, there’s some entertainment and you get the plaque screwed on to the statue. But that part of the night is strictly nominees and winners only, so we hang out outside drinking lattes and waiting till their done to head out to the party. We did try to sneak in to the Governor’s Ball but never even got close, and then ended up outside the theatre! It was a hassle getting back in to get the valet.
And so where did you party after? The Vanity Fair party?
Yeah, we headed to the Vanity Fair party. Basically, the Oscar is like a golden ticket. Whether you’re invited or not, it opens doors. On the way up Sunset Blvd. to the Vanity Fair party, there were barricades and state police, and every time you just stick the Oscar out the window and they’re like “Oh, cool, have a great night!”
What was the party like?
Pretty swanky. They had taken over a parking lot and built a massive series of tents and trailers. It was done up like a big banquet hall, lots of portraits on the walls, big open bar, people walking around giving out food and trinkets, and you couldn’t walk three steps without running into either a celebrity or someone swinging an Oscar.
And is your cell phone blowing up?
Oh dude, texts, emails, instagram, facebook, I’m still working my way out of it.
What do you think this means for the rest of your career?
I think that’s probably the hardest question to answer. Probably easier to answer in a few years, when I can look back at what has it done for my career, right? I mean, I hope that the film is seen by a wide audience, I hope that people enjoy it, and that maybe some of those people want to work with me. I’ve been doing documentary for a long time and I’m really ready to work in some other areas – commercial, creative web content, that kind of stuff really interests me right now. Also I do a lot of producing so I want to continue on that front – hopefully this opens some doors. And directing is something I’ve dipped my toes into before but now I’d like to explore that further. I think I’m going to make a move to Toronto soon so that’s exciting and obviously I’d love to do more in the US. Either that or this is where I peak and it’s all downhill from here, hahaha!
Did you ever expect a nomination might be possible, let alone a win? How did you find out about the nomination?
Well we knew we were shortlisted in the category for the short nomination in December. The Academy released a short list of 8 films and announced that between three and five of those would get nominated. Then on January 16th the nominations were announced. For me that was the biggest anticipation really, because after that no matter what, you’ve got a nomination on your CV, and really that’s a major accomplishment right there. I was in Washington DC shooting on the current film I’m working on, a feature doc about the relationship between the US and China. I was having breakfast with Malcolm, who is directing this one too, and we were watching the TV in the hotel restaurant. They announced all the big categories, but skipped the doc shorts, so we were sitting there waiting for about twenty minutes before our producer Fred Bohbot texted me from Montreal to let us know. It was totally surreal. I think that was the big moment where I had to stop and think about it, holy shit I have to go to LA, I need a tux, I need to figure out how to crash the parties….um, we just got nominated. The win was just too much to really hope for and hasn’t even begun to sink in yet.
The Lady in Number 6 is now available for rent or purchase on Vimeo.