One of the most talked about film events during the SXSW Film Festival was the screening of The GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL at the Paramount Theatre with an extended Q&A with Wes Anderson. When it was first announced, it became my most anticipated event of SXSW and I knew the trip would be well worth it! Richard Linklater surprised the audience with hosting the Q&A session which lasted around 45 minutes. The crowd was ecstatic to witness two talented, if not overlooked, director’s share the stage in conversation. Jason Schwartzman and music supervisor Randall Poster were on stage, too.
SXSW was an appropriate venue considering Wes Anderson is from Austin Texas. He rarely makes appearances in the city. Also, he has some passionate fans that fit into the young and hip cinephiles you’d see at this festival. Very few press were allowed guaranteed seating so most had to opt for XXpress passes and wait in line with other film badge holders. With a limited number of passes on a first come, first serve basis, people waited hours in line…for both the XXpress passes and in multiple lines outside of the venue. If badge holders didn’t get in line an hour and 45 minutes before the start time (at a venue that seats 1100 people), they weren’t getting into the event!
The Grand Budapest Hotel is a typical Wes Anderson movie with his trademark characteristics his fans and film lovers adore: the deadpan delivery, consistent snappy dialogue, the always cheeky tone & the pleasant cast all were captured on a grandiose scale. While mixing old fashioned American slapstick with European settings and sensibilities, Mr. Anderson has crafted one of his most layered and best films to date (and this coming off the heels of Moonrise Kingdom). Ralph Fiennes provides such a pitch perfect delivery to Wes Anderson’s style that you hope they form a Martin Scorsese/Leonardo DiCaprio cinematic collaborator bond.
Wes Anderson discussed some of the inspiration of The Grand Budapest Hotel to the crowd who was overwhelmed with the whimsical and light hearted nature of a movie that had thriller-like characteristics.
“This one is sort of a weird mixture,” Wes Anderson said. “About six or seven years ago, my friend Hugo and I wanted to write a movie based on our mutual friend. We started it and made a short story.”
Wes Anderson went on to mention how elements of Grand Budapest Hotel were loosely based on a British friend who isn’t a hotel concierge but share’s a similar personality to the Ralph Fiennes character. Also, it isn’t set in the past. Wes went on to base it on a historical spy as well as early screwball homage.
Jason Swartzman mentioned how much he likes to work with Wes Anderson and awkwardly articulated how Mr. Anderson’s filmmaking is like a breath of fresh air.
“I’m a fan of Wes’s movies so much, and to see it for the first time here in this room, it was breathtaking,” Jason said. “It’s like a nutritious hit of a movie. … It’s like, for me a little, if you were almost dead, it’s just…”
Jason gasped for air to play off the fact that cinephiles feel like they have to gasp for air when they watch a quality movie of substance. It was odd display on stage and even for Wes, but it played very well with the crowd. Wes asked, “Why were you almost dead?” Schwartzman fessed up: “It’s a metaphor that went bad.” The audience didn’t mind.
While in conversation with Richard Linklater, Wes Anderson admitted that his movies build upon one another and cited the underappreciated The Fantastic Mr. Fox that altered his filmmaking style…all for the better. Leave it to another movie making format to change the way a director approaches movies.
“I might start with a small tool box. With each movie I made I have been expanding it a bit,” Wes explained. “Doing an animated movie I feel like we are more prepared…since doing that movie I feel that shooting a movie at the end of the day I much more feel like we got the whole thing at the end of the day.”
Jason mentioned how fun it was to be on The Grand Budapest Hotel set with the colorful cast of accomplished actors.
“It so fun being together. A lot of the actors don’t have scenes together, but it was so wonderful the way Wes set it up. All the actors lived together in the hotel. There’s many people coming and going, but there’s so much overlap of people. I didn’t get to work with Jeff Goldblum, but I got to spend a lot of time with him. It felt like a camp,” Jason said.
Wes Anderson mentioned the challenges of drafting a screenplay with such dense material. He had a lot to work with that required in-depth research to bring a unique story to life.
“We started with research. When I finished the script I had no sense of how we were going to make the movie,” Wes Anderson admitted.
A resource he mentioned was the United States Library of Congress. They had numerous pictures from a “Photo Chrome Collection” (Black and White photos colorized and mass produced). The images helped make The Grand Budapest Hotel more historically accurate.
“It is the Google Earth of 1905,” Wes Anderson joked.
In an engaging conversation with Richard Linklater, Wes Anderson discussed the challenges of bringing a complex screenplay to movie form. Movies he and others on stage mentioned that inspired The Grand Budapest Hotel include 1930’s era films including Lubec, Monte Carlo, and Love Me Tonight as well as Hitchcock movies from the same decade. Wes was focused on the most important element of the movie; the dialogue. He even read the narrated portions on set to cue the actors for their lines.
“In this movie there is a lot of dialogue. Ralph Fiennes does a lot of talking. He recites poetry, and all sorts of things,” Wes Anderson said. “Jeff Goldblum has these big long lines and does the legal stuff. When filming some of the scenes, both of them will be in the corner and working on another scene.”
To the surprise of Wes Anderson, music supervisor Randall Poster admitted that bands covering songs featured in The Grand Budapest Hotel were to collaborate on a soon to be released tribute album. It was a spontaneous decision that Wes Anderson found out on stage. No further information was provided to when it will be made available soon.
The best moment of the evening came when an aspiring high school film director asked when the directors knew they could take on a task of making a feature movie. He became a spoke-person for every recent or aspiring filmmaker in attendance. Wes Anderson offered the students some unexpected advice.
“The most confident I ever felt was when I did my first film which is the one only 9 people came to see,” Wes said. “I can almost think it is an irrelevant thing. You figure you do the best that you can and your emotion about it you have to ignore.”
Wes Anderson spoke about his relationship with Scott Rudin which he said began on Rushmore. He admitted that a producer getting in the middle of everything was a good thing that made a big difference. Mr. Rudin was built in on the next projects going forward.
The 45 minutes were brisk as all four on stage engaged in a lively conversation during the Extended Q&A. SXSW and Fox Searchlight were very savvy to have Wes Anderson in person to promote The Grand Budapest Hotel which seems to be the big limited release hit of the spring. It could garner serious awards consideration next fall and winter! Beyond, the potential success of The Grand Budapest Hotel, bringing Wes Anderson to SXSW was perfect for the film festival!