Wes Anderson looks like a Wes Anderson character. Soft spoken and snappily dressed, he wouldn't look out of place in a lineup with Steve Zissou, Royal Tenenbaum and Max Fischer. When he stepped onstage at the sold-out Paramount theater to introduce The Grand Budapest Hotel to an enthusiastic SXSW audience, he shared the story of another, less successful Austin, Texas screening. Nearly 20years ago, he hosted a screening of his first film, Bottle Rocket, at the University of Texas. When the credits rolled, there were more cast and crew on stage for the Q&A than people in the audience.
In other words, Anderson has come a long way.
The film went over very well with the crowd and rightfully so. The Grand Budapest Hotel is a quintessential Anderson film, his trademark "dollhouse" aesthetic as stunning as ever and his hilarious and melancholic characters just as unforgettable. Following the screening, Anderson, frequent collaborator Jason Schwartzman and music supervisor Randy Poster took to the stage for an extended Q&A with acclaimed filmmaker (and local hero) Richard Linklater.
Linklater kicked things off by asking about the origin of The Grand Budapest Hotel. Anderson revealed that he wanted to write a character based on a friend of his and that eventually became Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes), the rogue protagonist of the film. "We didn't know what to do with it and it just sat around for many years," Anderson said. The character eventually found a home when Anderson decided to write a film inspired by the work of Austrian writer Stefan Zweig. It only took seven years.
The discussion continued into Anderson's aesthetics and specifically, the 1:33 Academy ratio that the bulk of The Grand Budapest is shot in. In addition to being "period appropriate," Anderson said he wanted to capture a specific type of old Hollywood movie: the American screwball comedy that takes place in Europe but was shot in Burbank.
The screening was Schwartzman's first time seeing the finished film and he didn't even try to hide his enthusiasm: "I'm a fan of Wes' movie. It was breathtakingly beautiful and so funny." He then compared it to being almost dead and being brought back to life, which puzzled Anderson.
"Why were you almost dead?" he asked.
After a pause, Schwartzman deadpanned "It was a metaphor that was bad."
Linklater steered the conversation back to Anderson, asking him his ever expanding "film toolbox" and how he keeps adding more ambitious elements to his storytelling repertoire. "I started with an especially small toolbox," Anderson said. "With each movie, I expand it a little bit. Doing [Fantastic Mr. Fox] changed many things about the way I do movies."
When Linklater asked if he now treats his actors like stop-motion puppets, Schwartzman chimed in, saying that Anderson has asked him to do blocking that is only possible in animation. "I can't physically do that!" he joked, admitting that Anderson's "more challenging blocking" looks great on-screen.
Anderson went into depth about how working in stop motion has changed his process: "With stop-motion animation, you edit the movie and then you shoot it. I've started doing that with the live action movies more. We do animatics and prepare it in more detail. For things we don't have the money to do, we figure out a way to do it by not building any set outside of the frame."
He's learned about planning the hard way. "When we were doing The Life Aquatic, the day would end and I'd have a tragic feeling. I would make the movie completely different now. I would do it for half the money. We went $8 million over that movie. Where did we get $8 million to go over? Whose $8 million was it?"
When asked about the deep bench of actors in The Grand Budapest Hotel, Schwartzman spoke up, describing how great it was to stay in a hotel with so many talented people. "It felt like camp," he said. "You walk out of your room and Jeff Goldblum is there! And then eight hours later you're still taking to him about acting. It's a wonderful way to make a movie."
"We don't pay the actors, but we do have a very good cook," Anderson joked.
Here's some cell phone footage of the Q&A itself.
On working with Bill Murray, Anderson admitted that he has no idea why the legendary but elusive actor always agrees to join his films. "Sometimes I get worried," he said. "Does he know when to be here?" On working with Ralph Fiennes, he shared a story reading the script's voice-over narration during scenes to help the actors get their timing, only to the earn his star's wrath. "We wrote this part for him and I love him," Anderson said, "But he's also very formidable and if he wants to frighten you, [he can!] He brings a real charge to the set."
Fiennes' solution to learning Anderson's often complex dialogue? Sheer repetition. But Jeff Goldbum's? "He'll sing [his lines]," Anderson said. "He sometimes has a little piano on his lap and he practices."
When the floor opened up for questions, a fan asked Anderson if he ever considered making a sequel to one of his films. Anderson's answer was surprising: Maybe… but only with one of Jason Schwartzman's characters. "When I think about making a sequel to something," he said, "I think of the films [Jason and I] have done together like Rushmore and Darjeeling Limited. Working with Jason has changed over the years. I got to know him because he just walked into a room 15 years ago and I loved him immediately. I've seen him refine his talent and he's the one I'd want to do a sequel with."
But it's not so easy. "A lot of people own rights and stuff," Schwartzman said.
As the conversation began to wind down the conversation steered back to Bottle Rocket. "It wasn't a movie that went over very well," Anderson said. Linklater called BS: "Everyone loves that movie!" If only Anderson had reached out to him, Linklater said, he could have gotten the Austin film scene behind him. "I guess we blew it," Anderson said.
Today, Anderson takes that failed early screening in stride. "If it hadn't happened," he said with a motion to the venue, "I wouldn't have had anything to say at the beginning of this."
MORE FROM AROUND THE WEB: