The many collaborators of Paul Thomas Anderson

When one thinks of the frequent collaborators of famed auteur Paul Thomas Anderson, the names that usually come to mind are acclaimed thespians like Daniel Day-Lewis, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, or Joaquin Phoenix. But one may not initially realize that he has just as many frequent collaborators who work just as hard behind the scenes. So to celebrate the writer/director’s new critically acclaimed film Licorice Pizza, one that AFI declared one of the top ten films of the year, let’s take a look at those who help craft some of modern cinema’s greatest films

JoAnne Sellar & Daniel Lupi (Producers)

Academy Award-nominated wife and husband-producing couple JoAnne Sellar and Daniel Lupi are among PTA’s most frequent collaborators. Lupi has worked on all of his feature films, and Sellar has worked on every film except for PTA’s debut Hard Eight.

Lupi is more of a unit production manager/line producer–overseeing things like the budget, hiring the crew, day-to-day shooting, etc. While Sellar, according to an interview she did with Screen Daily, “Begins at the development stage, continues through production and extends to marketing and release.” She is more of a traditional producing partner who has almost exclusively worked with Anderson. Sellar describes the partnership as one based on trust where “half the time I know what he wants without even talking to him.” This includes Lupi and Sellar helping to facilitate a schedule that allows for reshoots and retakes if Anderson were to need them.

Jonny Greenwood (Composer)

Arguably the most famous of Anderson’s behind-the-scenes collaborators is Jonny Greenwood, the lead guitarist of Radiohead and composer of every PTA film since There Will Be Blood. Greenwood reinvents the wheel for each score, ranging from the abstract kaleidoscope that makes up The Master to the serene and tender arrangements of Phantom Thread.

But how exactly did one of modern rock’s most influential guitarists become a film composer? Well, in The New Yorker Greenwood discussed how he never thought about it until Anderson asked if he could use an old bootleg recording of an arrangement Greenwood made for the BBC, and if the guitarist could write some more music. Similar to the workflow Peter Sciberras described to me while working on The Power of The Dog, Greenwood gets involved with PTA even before there’s a script–even if that means just having conversations. 

It is worth noting that Greenwood’s 2021 as a composer is unrivaled, composing iconic and wholly unique music for Anderson’s Licorice Pizza, Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog, and Pablo Larraín’ Spencer

Keep an eye out for him to potentially squeeze out two Oscar nominations this year.

Robert Elswit (Cinematographer)

Before Anderson started experimenting with cinematography himself, Robert Elswit worked on every one of his films except for The Master. A collaboration with an evolving visual style. Their early works embraced a kinetic and constantly moving camera, undoubtedly influenced by Martin Scorsese, with later films having a calmer style with purposeful and subdued camera movements.

Unfortunately, after Elswit had a much-reported 2019 appearance on the Light the Fuse podcast, it does not sound like he and Anderson will be working together again anytime soon. Elswit described the relationship as a “bad married couple” and said when asked if they will work together again, “I don’t know. Probably not.” Even though it sounds like their relationship has run its course, it was not without highlights. Elswit won his only Academy Award for his work on There Will Be Blood. An experience he looked back fondly on, especially after a screening of it in London accompanied with a live orchestra featuring Jonny Greenwood, akin to the work of Film Concerts Live. Describing the experience on the podcast Elswit said, “For the first time, I was really reacting to stuff that I’d forgotten and then I was a little overwhelmed by it, in a way that I didn’t expect. I was moved by it, shocked by it. It had an enormous impact on me…At the end, half-drunk, the lights come up . . . and I go, ‘You know what, I really did deserve the fucking Academy Award,’ and I’d never felt that before.”

Cassandra Kulukundis (Casting Director)

Starting as a casting associate on Boogie Nights, Cassandra Kulukundis has gone on to cast every one of PTA’s subsequent films. Helping cast some of the film’s most iconic characters, of which, have garnered eight Academy Award nominations and one Academy Award win for Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance in There Will Be Blood. 

A big part of Kulukundis’ job casting Anderson’s films is to find talent waiting for their shot. Katherine Waterson, who starred in Inherent Vice, reflected earlier this year to IndieWire that “...without a doubt, Paul [Thomas Anderson] and [casting director] Cassandra Kulukundis gave me my career. I am forever indebted to them.” More recently Kulukundis helped cast Vicky Krieps in her breakout performance as Alma in Phantom Thread.

She also cast the lights-out ensemble that populated The Master. Kulukundis said to Backstage that the supporting roles in The Master were “the glue that held everything together—the family, the son, the daughter, the mom, and all the followers… So we really want to know that not only do they have the right look but they add to the scene as opposed to drawing [focus].” Two of the film’s ensemble who would go on to have illustrious careers were Jesse Plemons and Rami Malek. Kulukundis described what made Plemons right for the role, he needed to “look exactly like the father and not feel anything tied to the father. So Jesse [Plemons] was just perfect. He’s so solid, and they look so much alike.” And in regards to Malek, she said that “he reminded me of like a Tony Curtis in the middle of this group. He wants Master to be his father; he wants to be part of the family—more so than probably the family wants to be.”

So whether it is casting, producing, composing, or cinematography, a whole lot of work goes into creating the films of Paul Thomas Anderson.

Licorice Pizza hits theaters on December 25. [Image credit: Melinda Sue Gordon/MGM]

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