Having set films on a train and a boat, how important is location and when does he begin to think about it?
Well, with this one we made the script and then we went on this journey around Eastern Europe and we went to Vienna, Budapest, all around the Czech Republic, and spent a lot of time traveling in Germany and Poland and we were looking for where we wanted to shoot the movie, but for various reasons, especially tax incentives we were feeling like we would end up shooting in Germany. We found something in every country.
Anderson worked with director of photography Robert Yeoman on every one of his films that far (except "Fantastic Mr. Fox"). What kind of aesthetic did Anderson want to achieve?
Usually we might have some rules that we come up with for a certain movie that we’re going to try and adhere to. And 'Grand Budapest Hotel' we had these three different [aspect ratios] that we were going to work with. Sometimes we just try and limit how much gear we’re going to have and how we’re going to go about that. On “Moonrise Kingdom” we had these little kids walking around in the woods together and I don’t want to do that with 60 people. So we made a decision based on the whole movie and that situation. We made a choice based on how tall they were. There are these cameras that you can hand hold—these 16mm cameras that you don’t put on your shoulder, you hold them [underhanded]—and its just a better way to shoot someone who is small, if you’re going to do a lot of handheld shots like we did. So that affected all of [“Moonrise Kingdom”.]
Anderson's shots are very complicated, full of dollies and whip pans and complex moves. Is there anything Yeoman can’t do?
Bob is a great guy, we’ve done every movie I’ve shot together, but I’ve done a lot of work with other directors of photography who are great like Darius Khondji [who shot Anderson’s recent Prada commercial starring Jason Schwartzman], I’ve worked with [“Inside Llewyn Davis” DP] Bruno Delbonnel and some other guys, but Bob is by far, the best camera operator of anybody that I’ve come across. He’s 63 or something now, but he’s still the best at that, the physicality of operating.
The script is so dense—was Anderson aiming for “The Grand Budapest Hotel” to be his most ambitious work to date?
I can’t say I thought about that. Somewhere along the way I knew this was going to be a big undertaking. There’s just a historical element to it, something heavy that I was aware of. And I’ve never had a movie before where there’s this much blood.
There’s the imaginary New York of "The Royal Tenenbaums,” the invented marine life species in “The Life Aquatic,” and now the imagined country within “The Grand Budapest Hotel”—what draws Anderson to creating imaginary worlds?
In a way it’s just to create a space to work in. The real answer is also because I just like to. On one hand, usually the characters I’m writing are inspired by people in real life one way or the other and I’m doing something that relates to my own experience, my own interest, but nevertheless, the dialogue and the writing ends up being not entirely naturalistic—not by my choice particularly. And somehow I feel like it needs its own world to exist in. And then I have a whole group of people who I have worked together for years and that’s kind of what we like to do together: make the place for these characters to do their things. I wanted to be an architect [when I was younger], so there’s some of that.
Aspect ratios, and the unintentional influence of IMAX.
1:33 is what I always thought the [square aspect ratio was], but the German camera guys were very precise about it and they were like, “You have to stop saying that.” I was always told the Academy ratio was 1:33, but it’s apparently a tiny bit wider.
And you know I was thinking about IMAX [which has a similar “tall” not wide format], because depending on where you sit the movie’s [pointing to your line of sight] up there, but it’s also down there which is pretty amazing.
But we never could have done this years ago. Even when we did “Bottle Rocket” years ago, part of the conversation that we had was maybe we can [shoot it in] this Academy ratio, but theaters, but the projectionists… you couldn’t do it in those days. Nowadays, you just say you’re going to do it and you do it.
Anderson may add a helpful tip to the beginning of “The Grand Budapest Hotel” when it hits home video.
You know the beginning of “The Last Waltz”? It has that title card that says, “Play this movie loud”? We made [our own] little title card that says, “Projectionists, please set to 1:85… ” and we did it with different colors. I’m trying to sell this [idea] to everyone. This is not just for the projectionists, this is a thing to put in front of the movie. But it was a real last minute thing that we haven’t added to the movie, but we should do it. We should probably get it in there. Now, we were thinking about using [this title card] for home video cause [the aspect ratios] could be confusing. People could start messing around with [their settings] and mess up the whole movie.
On the inspiration for changing ratios.
First, we were going to do it all Academy [ratio]. And then [we had the discussion], "How do we do it? Are we gonna do some of it in black and white? What's our way of separating this time period from that time period?" And the thing I did with Darius [Khondji, the Prada commercial], we used these Technoscope anamorphic lenses, they're really old and strange, and if you look at a freeze frame, the edges are so blurry, you couldn't identify people. I think they did spaghetti westerns with these lenses, so I thought maybe we could use these lenses again, and make these different parts like they're different movies.
But I will say, when you sign a contract to do a movie, it says "you are obligated to turn this in [in this format]" and when a team of lawyers sees this little rewrite here, it stirs up a lot of trouble. The legal fees just to agree that we were gonna go ahead and do this, they mounted.
The nostalgia of the movie fits the nostalgia of the various film formats.
I've always loved that Academy shape. It does remind me of old movies, even though ours is a color movie, and it's Ralph Fiennes, it's just the fact that you have these shots where we're framed [like this]. That's how I see Humphrey Bogart.
Themes, are they constructed or are they an afterthought?
It's a neverthought (laughter). I don't really wanna think about themes, I wanna think about the experience of the movie. As soon as I reduce it to a theme, once I write that sentence it won't be that great. There's more potential for it to mean something interesting if I'm not forcing it to mean something I've already decided.
But the themes—a man out of time, a golden age that no longer exists, sustaining the illusion of greatness in dark times—are myriad. Is Anderson not conscious of them in the writing?
I think what I'm interested in is what I wanna put in there. If I'm gonna spend however much time it takes to do one of these, it's only gonna be the ideas that I can come up with and my collaborators can come up with, I don't wanna make something that isn't digging into things, I just don't wanna ID them.