Oh, Wes Anderson. Some have already gotten to see his latest film, Moonrise Kingdom, and even more will see it as it opens wider this weekend. Without seeing his name on the title cards, it’s easy to spot as one of his projects. The auteur has developed a look and feel all his own – usually constructed by primary colors, detailed set design, Britpop, and Bill Murray.
This Texan who often lives in France is idiosyncratic in his storytelling, but he’s also unafraid to put his personal demons onto the screen (in as twee a way as possible). From Bottle Rocket to Rushmore to Fantastic Mr. Fox, his work is usually ridiculously rich and infinitely quotable.
So here is a bit of free film school (for fans and filmmakers alike) from the son of an advertiser and an archeologist.
Plan Carefully and Plan to Throw Out Your Plans
“I love the feeling of chaos that you feel when you are in India, but a lot of making a movie is about order. You make a schedule, and you try to stick to it, and the better you plan, the better off you are in the end, in most cases. But our approach with [The Darjeeling Limited] was very much that whatever went wrong, we were going to make that part of our story. If the hut was brown, and we left for the evening, and when we came back, the hut was painted blue with flowers all over it because somebody thought that it would be a good idea, that’s the way we were going to use it in the story. That happened. And that is the sort of thing that happens all the time. The bumps in the road can be so peculiar, and that was what we wanted the movie to be about. ”
You Don’t Necessarily Have to Study Filmmaking to Make Films
Anderson speaks often about the books and writing that influenced his life (and elements of life that influenced his career). He doesn’t have a degree in filmmaking. In fact, he earned a degree in philosophy (as if that’s a giant surprise) alongside writing partner Owen Wilson, who he met in a playwriting class.
It’s also not surprising that he took a playwriting class.
But Anderson’s style comes from continued work in filmmaking alongside a base of personal experiences dealing with broad elements like divorce and father issues and specific places like St. John’s School in Houston where he (and Max Fischer) went. His reading has also influenced where he’s filmed (like India) and the types of stories he tells. He’s even based movies off of books that don’t exist.
He’s another example of proof that filmmaking can come from somewhere other than film school.
Your Great Work Might Be a Bomb
Don’t Be Worried That Others Don’t Get What You’re Doing
Even the people on your crew.
“One thing I began to realize when we started doing that movie is that Owen and Luke [Wilson] and [co-star] Bob Musgrave and I, we had our own way of working together. We’d been doing our own experiments, and I’d been making my own shorts, and as we started making Bottle Rocket with other people, I began to realize, ‘I think the way we’re doing things is not quite right, because some of our techniques seem to be getting sort of a puzzled reaction.’
Just the order in which we were doing things sometimes was unusual. On practically every close-up in the movie, I never set it up where the actors could actually see each other. They always had to look at a little piece of tape, which isn’t completely unheard of, but usually directors figure out a way that the actors can look at each other even if someone’s offscreen. By the time James Caan got there, it was all tape, and I remember him being just, ‘Why is this happening?’ And I remember I thought, ‘Yeah, you know what, maybe there’s a way around that.’ There were quite a few moments like that.”
So maybe you alienate James Caan. Getting things done is the key, and sometimes the method might be madness. And sometimes that means Gene Hackman won’t be bemused by how you’re running the show. Press forward and focus on your vision.
“He’s one of my favorite actors. That’s the beginning. That’s how we know each other was from me pursuing him to do Rushmore, which somehow we managed to get him for that. He’s more or less the ideal person to have with you. He’s the best person in the world to have on your side in any circumstances I think, but a movie set in particular.
There are not that many people you can turn to to calm an angry mob. He can do that. If you needed him to do that for you, he could do that. He can just get people together. He’s somebody if you said, ‘There are 50,000 people out there and we need somebody to speak to them,’ he could probably come up with a few words and handle it pretty swiftly.”
Maybe it leaves Anderson open to parody, but if you stand out, people will take notice.
What Have We Learned
Planning is key, but so is flexibility. Bill Murray rules. So do bombs and bewildering your seasoned lead actors.
In the above interview with Noah Baumbach about Bottle Rocket failing, the most striking thing is Anderson’s admission that he was most confident while they were making it. It’s hard to believe considering how confident he seems now – conducting himself with a calm swagger amidst chaos. He’s worked with almost all of the best actors of our time, created lasting movie memories and done it all while appearing never to doubt what he’s doing. Maybe that’s half the battle.
Of course, that kind of confidence is easy when Billy Murray has your back.
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