For all the talk of 'The Hurt Locker' being David vs. 'Avatar's' Goliath at this year's Academy Awards, there are decidedly "smaller" films in hunt. Take that other Iraq War-themed film, 'The Messenger,' Oren Moverman's moving portrait of two solders in the U.S. army (Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson) faced with the inenviable task of notifying casualties' next of kin.

While Harrelson is a longshot in the Best Supporting Actor race -- a category all but sewn up by 'Inglourious Basterds' rogue Christoph Waltz -- the film's co-writers, Moverman (who previously co-penned the avant-garde Bob Dylan biopic 'I'm Not There') and Alessandro Camon (a veteran producer who's worked on such films as 'American Psycho,' 'Thank You for Smoking' and Oliver Stone's upcoming 'Wall Street' sequel) stand a better chance in the Best Original Screenplay field, where they're in good company with Quentin Tarantino ('Basterds'), the Coen brothers ('A Serious Man'), Mark Boal ('The Hurt Locker') and the co-writing team behind Pixar's 'Up.' For all the talk of 'The Hurt Locker' being David vs. 'Avatar's' Goliath at this year's Academy Awards, there are decidedly "smaller" films in hunt. Take that other Iraq War-themed film, 'The Messenger,' Oren Moverman's moving portrait of two solders in the U.S. army (Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson) faced with the inenviable task of notifying casualties' next of kin.

While Harrelson is a longshot in the Best Supporting Actor race -- a category all but sewn up by 'Inglourious Basterds' rogue Christoph Waltz -- the film's co-writers, Moverman (who previously co-penned the avant-garde Bob Dylan biopic 'I'm Not There') and Alessandro Camon (a veteran producer who's worked on such films as 'American Psycho,' 'Thank You for Smoking' and Oliver Stone's upcoming 'Wall Street' sequel) stand a better chance in the Best Original Screenplay field, where they're in good company with Quentin Tarantino ('Basterds'), the Coen brothers ('A Serious Man'), Mark Boal ('The Hurt Locker') and the co-writing team behind Pixar's 'Up.'

We caught up with Moverman and Camon, who insist they're firmly in the "just happy to be nominated" camp, just enjoying the ride.

So how does it feel to be Oscar-nominated?
Oren Moverman
: It's really depressing. (Laughs) We were hoping for something good. It's very exciting, obviously.

When you set out make to this project, did the thought of being recognized by the Academy ever cross your mind?
OM:
I personally don't think that we ever dared to think about those things. There were so many steps to actually getting the script done, and getting the movie made, I can't really recall a time when we talked about this.

Alessandro Camon: We knew that the film needed to go to festivals and needed to be reasonably well liked at festivals and by critics, because let's face it, it's not a franchise, it's not a comic book, it's not the easiest film to market. So we knew that festivals would be a good way to launch it, but we did not really think about awards, necessarily. So that was a big surprise.

Do you subscribe to the old notion that you're just happy to be nominated, or will you guys admit that you are determined to win in this category?
AC:
(Laughs) It's funny when you say 'determined to win.' It's interesting because I find myself telling people, because I play sports, and I'm a huge sports fan, and this is not like you are in the final at Wimbledon or the World Cup, where you actually have to go and play. We've written a script, we've done our jobs. So now it's completely out of hands. The determination doesn't really come into play besides the fact that we know full well we are the smallest movie in the race.

OM: Obviously you wish always for the best, and as Alessandro says, no matter what you do, especially in a competitive industry, you want to compete. But I do feel, and every bone in my body feels that in this particular case, it truly is just an honor to be nominated.


Of course there's another similarly-themed Iraq-related contender in the mix in 'The Hurt Locker.' Have you guys ever felt overshadowed by that film?
AC:
I wouldn't say so because again what could you do to compete if you wanted to? All you can do is do the best movie you can. There are two ways to look at it and one way is that movie came out before, and sort of broke the spell and convinced people that actually you can make a movie that has to do with the war and people care about, so you can argue that it opened the door for us. The two movies really couldn't be more different in the sense that they go well together, one is a combat movie, one is a post-combat movie, one is over there, one is over here. I don't think there is any competition on our part.

You hear both films mentioned in the same breath a lot -- in that 'The Hurt Locker' and 'The Messenger' helped reverse that stigma that audiences will avoid Iraq War films at all costs.
OM:
I think just to add to what Alessandro said, in many ways we're very grateful to 'Hurt Locker' because it was the first film to get out there and get the attention and the critical and audience support [for a] subject matter that was kind of frowned upon by the industry. We're very respectful of the film and very grateful that it managed to succeed, and happy for them. I don't know that you can put them together in any kind of category, even in terms of [scale]. They're a small film, but in a way they're a much bigger film than us and they have a definite machine behind them that have been around longer and actually have done very well. When we watch 'The Hurt Locker' and somebody gets hurt, somebody gets blown up, our minds always drifted to 'OK, and now back home, there's another notification going on.' In a strange way, they're companion pieces.

We ran a story last week about veterans being mixed in their reaction to 'The Hurt Locker' and the realities of how war is presented. What sort of reactions did you get from soldiers or veterans on 'The Messenger'?
AC:
We got generally very good reactions. The film was actually supported by the army from the beginning. We asked for their help and advice, and they read the script and said, 'Yes, we want you to make this movie and we will help.' So they gave us access to a base to shoot, and we had a full-time adviser on the set. So we knew that officially the army as an institution was behind the movie. Then we started screening it, and soldiers individually responded to the movie, which I think was a really important thing for us, and a real honor. Soldiers of the Vietnam generation really connected with the film, especially.

Can you guys give us a little insight into your writing process, in terms of how that worked on this project. Were you sitting down writing it together? Were you trading versions back and forth?
OM
: Well, we were sitting down writing it together, apart. Alessandro was in Los Angeles, I was in New York, there was a lot of back and forth. A lot of getting on the phone, going over the script, e-mailing things to each other ... It was a really fluid, organic process. And we also worked with three other directors [Sydney Pollack, Roger Michell and Ben Affleck, all of whom were attached to the project at one time] in developing this script, so our way of working wasn't really adhering to any set kind of rules, it was really just about trusting each other and just trying to make a film that was not political in any way, that didn't have an agenda, and was just very human about the people who lived the consequences of the decision to go to war. I think we shared that agenda and we shared a lot of trust in each other, and I keep saying it and I keep wondering if people believe me or not, but it was a really beautiful, really pleasurable collaboration.

Woody Harrelson is also up for an Oscar for 'Messenger.' Have you talked to Woody recently? How's he feeling about this?
OM
: Woody is Woody. He's feeling great about the experience. He doesn't let himself get carried away with it; he's a very down to earth guy. He's really proud of the movie. He's really happy about all these nominations. I'll let him speak for himself, but I know one of the things he keeps talking about is how great Ben is in the movie. These guys really love each other so he really wants people to be aware that his performance is his performance, but it's really the things they did together that were so good for the film.

Oren, news recently broke that you are lined up to write and direct the Kurt Cobain biopic. Can you tell us anything about that?
OM:
Yeah, Kurt Cobain was the lead singer of a band called Nirvana. (Laughs) That's in negotiation, that's something I'm very interested in, and I'm talking with Universal and Working Title about possibly making that movie. It's not a done deal yet.

CATEGORIES Oscars, Interviews