HBO Films Directors Dialogues: Wes Anderson - October 10, 2007
NYFF screening of The Darjeeling Limited. (L to R) Jason Schwartzman, Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola. Photo Credit: GODLIS
Wednesday at the New York Film Festival, Kent Jones (KJ), Associate Director of Programming of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, conducted the HBO Film Directors Dialogue with filmmaker Wes Anderson (WA) at the Times Center. After the discussion, a reception was held for the Young Friends of Film. What follows are highlights of that conversation and questions and answers from the audience.
(KJ) You referred once that your latest film Darjeeling Limited (that opened the 45th New York Film Festival) is a dark movie. Your films have always balanced between happiness and sadness. Can you elaborate?
(WA) My friend told me the other day that Darjeeling Limited is about the war. I don’t see myself doing a movie where we can’t try to be funny. I made an unusual, conscience choice to be as personal as we possible can. I hate to think that takes us to a dark place.
(KJ) Was Darjeeling Limited darker than your other films?
(WA) I don’t think of it that way. The film led us somewhere else.
(KJ) What were some of your personal choices on making this film? Why was it set in India?
(WA) We (Jason Schwartzman, Roman Coppola, and I) went to India mainly to write. We took very specific things from our own lives. Jason took things in his life and fictionalized and romanticized them.
(KJ) Is this true in all of your films?
(WA) It’s a natural thing, but in this case, we articulated it together. It was a real adventure for us.
(KJ) Is the way your films are made just as important as the finished product?
(WA) I like to work with friends. That theory finds its way on film. I contract my approach with William Friedkin, who I admire, who creates friction and tension on the set.
(KJ) In an interview, once you said you want to work in a way that the narrative reflects novels. Is that something you began with?
(WA) The way a novel unfolds unlike a movie. Try to overtly stimulate. For example, The Royal Tenenbaums is not based on a book, but I suggested it to be. The movie is the book. I have a filmmaker friend who questions the value of making something original. I hope to do something different. I’m drawn to that.
(KJ) Is there a feeling you go for when constructing a movie? Did you cultivate this idea over a long time?
(WA) It’s a kind of thing I don’t decide. I usually start with locations, even before the characters. It’s an odd thing. It invents a movie that’s different from other movies.
(KJ) How old were you when you’re love of movies began?
(WA) The earliest films I enjoyed were of Spielberg and Hitchcock. Loved the color of Hitchcock’s movies. Watched these movies on Beta.
(KJ) The tagline for your first feature, Bottle Rocket, was “Reservoir Geeks.”
(WA) Anything “geeks” is not wildly flattering. It set up the audience with more violence than we had in store. We would have liked “As good as Reservoir Dogs.”
(KJ) A turn was taken between Bottle Rocket and Rushmore. How do you account for that?
(WA) I was most confident when making Bottle Rocket, but our first test screening was one of the worst in modern history. That night, I had a very different feeling about my talent. My trusted cohorts didn’t even attend. After the screening, Owen Wilson said we should try to go into advertising, but first move into an efficiency apartment. When shooting Rushmore, I gained some confidence back. I was figuring out how I really wanted to do it. Bottle Rocket was more spare. Rushmore goes into more lush places.
(KJ) Since developing your confidence back, you’ve been working with bigger productions.
(WA) People were surprised at how much the budget for Bottle Rocket was. It could have been made cheaper. Rushmore needed the amount of money we spent.
(KJ) Music costs a lot of money, too.
(WA) In Darjeeling Limited, my inspiration for making the film in India was watching Satyajit Ray’s films. He composed most of the music himself.
(KJ) When the NYFF committee first screened Darjeeling Limited, it had different music.
(WA) There was Beatles music. We used the Kinks instead. They were much better. I had used one Kinks song already in Rushmore. My first plan in Rushmore was to use all music of the Kinks. I sometimes worry about repeating myself. If my movies have these links and similarities, you can put them on a DVD shelf together, and that’s ok with me.
(KJ) Your relationship with Bill Murray began with Rushmore.
(WA) In Bottle Rocket, we had James Caan who was great, but at a certain point, we had wanted Bill Murray. We couldn’t locate him. For Rushmore, we thought of someone else. At the last minute, we called Bill’s agent and had a conversation with Bill who told me how Rushmore related to Akira Kurosawa’s Red Beard. It’s never been that easy to get him for another roll since. Not sure he’s even read the scripts for the other films we’ve done together. In Darjeeling Limited, he had a small part. He’s at the beginning of the film chasing a train for a moment. We likened it to Karl Malden in the American Express commercials. Bill’s role is not even a cameo. It’s more like a symbol. He said he’s never played a symbol before. He took this symbol and made it into a character you can feel for.
(KJ) You mentioned at the NYFF press conference for Darjeeling Limited how good it was to work with Jason Schwartzman again.
(WA) He had his own way to prepare for his role. He was also a co-writer, giving him a completely different dynamic. We were better suited to work together than ever before. In Rushmore, he had never acted before. Now he has a precise way as an actor.
(KJ) Tell us about how you shape a frame.
(WA) I stage scenes without lots of cutting. I move the actors around in the frame. The way the anamorphic lens distorts the image has a peculiar property. It has a homemade feeling to it.
Q: Within your creative process, where does visual imagery come into play?
(WA) The idea of setting. In Bottle Rocket, the look of the movie came out of places we were living. In Darjeeling Limited, we went to India to discover it and it became the subject matter of the movie. In The Royal Tenenbaums it had all the things I loved about New York.
Q: Why did you choose India? Did you know it would be the setting?
(WA) I wanted to make a movie about three brothers on a train in India. I had Sajat Ray’s films in mind. Martin Scorsese also showed me a print of The River that made a strong impression on me.
Q: How do you collaborate with other writers?
(WA) I’m the stenographer. Owen and I had many years to figure out how to write. Our mentor was James L. Brooks. Noah Baumbach (co-screenwriter of The Life Aquatic) and I started writing together without planning to. Jason, Roman, and I have been friends for a long time. There was something more focused about it. It was a more emotional enterprise for us. More intense.
Q: Most of your films feature prominently male lead character, but women do have poignant things to say.
(WA) Owen and I talked about making some very strong female characters for a movie. I would like to do better. I want to write a movie with bigger female characters. I liked Natalie Portman’s character in my short Hotel Chavalier.
Q: How long is your process of making a movie?
(WA) Usually three year. Don’t know why. There’s never a script till after at least a year. I’m starting a new film, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, that’s planned for release in November 2009. It took eight years to get where it is now. I do like to spend a lot of time on the scripts.
Q: What do you say for people who criticize your films for being too smart?
(WA) People might think I’m too smart, but I don’t. You can’t focus on people’s reactions. I think about how I’m going to get a scene to work.
Q: The Fantastic Mr. Fox is an adaptation. How is to adapt a book into a film, as opposed to working off an original script?
(WA) It’s nice to have something where somebody already has it mapped out. The source material is only 33 pages long. A lot of it’s set in tunnels. I wouldn’t say my films have been accused of being too plotty. This one has some more plot.
Q: How do you relate to the characters you write for? How do you take personal experiences and fictionalize them?
(WA) When you’re writing, you get very attached to the characters. More or less, every character is a little bit of someone. Draw inspiration from someone I know. Ex) Jacques Cousteau of The Life Aquatic.
Q: How important is the rehearsal process?
(WA) It can be very important. Jason, Roman, and I rehearsed the script for months. We all lived in a house together and rehearsed at night. Work shopping a script is so rarely feasible.
Q: What’s the significance of Jason Schwartzman’s scene in Hotel Chavalier where he’s watching Stalag 17?
(WA) I liked that movie. His character is in a funk. It seemed like a depressing movie to watch alone in a hotel room in Paris. I actually first heard of Stalag 17 from an episode of Magnum PI, so it was more of an homage to Magnum PI than Stalag 17.