People In Film | Wes Anderson

Wes Anderson | The Realm of MOONRISE KINGDOM

Wes Anderson on the set of MOONRISE KINGDOM.

Wes Anderson’s MOONRISE KINGDOM tells the story of first love during a magical summer in 1965. Here two 12-year-old kids –– played by Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward – living on New Penzance, a small island off the coast of the American Northwest, try to escape the adult world (populated by such stars as Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Bruce Willis, Ed Norton, Jason Schwartzman, Bob Balaban and Tilda Swinton, among others). For those working on the film, the enchanting and uncannily nostalgic world in which this takes place resides first and foremost in the imagination of Wes Anderson. Co-writer Roman Coppola explains, “Wes had this concept for some time…He had the world and the characters and this feeling.” Indeed, while Anderson, as usual, has brought on board a remarkably talented crew and a team of fine actors, his sensibility touches nearly every element in the film. As the film’s narrator Bob Balaban points out, “Wes makes movies according to his own particular sensibilities. His is not just a talented mind; it is an organized and kind one. He makes movies like nobody else, and he’s not trying to do it to be different; he’s doing it because that’s who he is.”

Wes Anderson | Growing up Creative

A still from Anderson's 1994 short film, Bottle Rocket

Born on May 1, 1969, Wes Anderson grew up in Houston, Texas, the middle child in a family of three boys. His mother was an archeologist and his father was an advertising executive. As a kid, Anderson easily escaped into his own imagination, coming up with scenarios and situations his brothers would act out with him. At St. John’s School in Houston –– which would later serve as the locale for Rushmore –– Anderson created a number of plays, versions of which would find their way into his later movie. At the University of Texas at Austin, Anderson officially studied Philosophy. But in 1989, during his sophomore year, his future really took off when he met Owen Wilson in a playwriting class. The two quickly became great friends, then roommates, and then collaborators on a series of short films. During their last year at school, the two wrote a feature film based on their experiences. They shot it with video equipment they liberated from a local cable access company, and, with Wes directing, Owen, his brother Luke and their friend Bob Musgrave became the film’s featured players. After shooting it, they could not actually afford to cut a feature. So they pared it down to a 13-minute short called Bottle Rocket that they submitted to –– and got accepted by –– the Sundance Film Festival.

Wes Anderson | The Launching of Bottle Rocket

Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson and Bob Musgrave in Bottle Rocket (1996)

After Anderson’s short film Bottle Rocket found its way to Sundance, a loyal group of supporters began to champion the film. Producer Barbara Boyle and writer L. M. Kit Carson got it to writer/producer James L. Brooks, who helped raise the money to reshoot the film as a feature. Brooks remembers vividly his first encounter with Anderson’s imagination: “When I first saw the thirteen-minute video I was dazzled — the language and rhythms of the piece made it clear Wes and Owen were genuine voices. The possession of a real voice is always a marvel, an almost religious thing. When you have one, it not only means you see things from a slightly different perspective than the billions of other ants on the hill, but that you also necessarily possess such equally rare qualities as integrity and humility.” In moving to a bigger budget, Anderson not only changed Bottle Rocket from black-and-white to color, but also secured a part for James Caan, who was excited to join the project after reading the script. While the film wasn’t a box office success, it nevertheless positioned Anderson as talent to take notice of. In 1996, Anderson won the “Best New Filmmaker” Award at the MTV Movie Awards. Martin Scorsese, who named Bottle Rocket as one of his 10 favorite films of the ‘90s, told Esquire that Anderson “has a very special kind of talent: He knows how to convey the simple joys and interactions between people so well and with such richness. This kind of sensibility is rare in movies.”

Wes Anderson | Graduating with Rushmore

Jason Schwartzman, Wes Anderson and Bill Murray on set of Rushmore

For his second feature, Anderson reconnected with Bottle Rocket collaborator Owen Wilson to revisit the world of his youth. As Anderson explained in Screenwriter’s Masterclass: Screenwriters talk about their Greatest Movies, “I wanted to do a school movie for a long time. When I applied to film school, I had to do these two treatments; one was roughly Bottle Rocket and the other was roughly Rushmore… Owen got excited about that too, and we sort of slowly cooked it up.” While certain elements appear autobiographical – the film’s location was Anderson’s actual school, and as he explained “the plays that he [Max Fischer] does were inspired by some plays I did” – Max and his world were first and foremost derived from Anderson's imagination. In the film, Max (Jason Schwartzman) is a poor 15-year-old student at Rushmore Academy with very big ambitions, which include running too many extracurricular activities, falling for a first–grade teacher, Miss Cross (Olivia Williams), and cultivating a friendship/romantic rivalry with a millionaire, Mr. Blume (Bill Murray). The film’s wry comedy, fresh visual style, and original musical choices captured critics' and fans' attention, pushing Anderson to the forefront of American auteurs. Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote, “Rushmore is a comic original. With its dry, throwaway humor and constant stream of chuckles, it creates its own category of stealth comedy.” Others agreed, rewarding Anderson the Best Director award at the 1999 Independent Spirit Awards for the film.

Wes Anderson | The Realm of his Imagination

Ben Stiller, Grant Rosenmeyer, Jonah Meyerson, Gwyneth Paltrow and Gene Hackman in The Royal Tenenbaums

From film to film, Anderson’s imaginative universe seemed to grow by leaps and bounds. His next film, The Royal Tenenbaums, expanded the creative world he’d begun to build in (and from) Austin. In a press conference for that film, Anderson explained, “I'm from Texas, but there were so many novels and movies that are New York novels and movies that were among my favorites, and so I had this sort of –– not quite accurate idea of what New York was like. And I wanted to sort of create some sort of exaggerated version of that imaginary New York.“ The film about a multigenerational dysfunctional family was most certainly lodged in the Upper East Side of Manhattan, but clearly belonged to Anderson’s imagination. As Entertainment Weekly’s Lisa Schwarzbaum explains, “The picture's creative pulse, though, is clearly, brightly, powerfully that of Anderson, a filmmaker whose storytelling style is so fresh, so happily idiosyncratic, and so all-encompassing that it stirs up strong responses from people.” The originality was recognized come award season with an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. His next few projects allowed Anderson to conquer new lands with his same impeccable imagination. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, inspired by the figure of Jacques Cousteau and based on a short story sketch Anderson had written in college, again showcased his distinctive universe. As New York Times critic A.O. Scott points out, the film “goes even further, conjuring an imaginary world that encompasses wild ocean-faring technologies and fanciful species of computer-animated fish.” In The Darjeeling Limited, Wes Anderson moved to India to tell a tale oddly close to his heart. The story of three brothers – played by Anderson favorites Jason Schwartzman and Owen Wilson, as well as newcomer Adrien Brody – was informed by Anderson’s own experience as the middle child of three brothers. But the film's cinematic landscape appears to be a mix of India and the India of Anderson’s fancy. For Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers, “The magically compelling Darjeeling Limited strikes me as the fullest blossoming yet of Anderson's talents as a total filmmaker.” And in 2009, with his Fantastic Mr. Fox, Anderson and Noah Baumbach adapted Roald Dahl’s fable into a furry stop-motion animated tale.

Wes Anderson | Plays Well With Others

Bill Murray leads the cast in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

While Wes Anderson's movies explore the wonder of his own special universe, Anderson doesn’t explore it alone. From the start, he has built up a community of collaborators for his films. He wrote his first three movies – Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, and The Royal Tenenbaums – with his college pal Owen Wilson. In The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and Fantastic Mr. Fox, Anderson joined forces with writer/director Noah Baumbach. And for 2007's The Darjeeling Limited, Anderson worked with Jason Schwartzman and Roman Coppola (with whom he wrote MOONRISE KINGDOM). Anderson told the Guardian, “Writing on my own is not fun for me. With Life Aquatic, Noah and I would meet every day at a restaurant before lunch and we'd stay six or seven hours till dinner. We'd make each other laugh. That's how we got it done." And Anderson has demonstrated a unique talent for showcasing actors, as well as for bringing them along for the creative ride. Owen Wilson has showed up in six of his films. After Jason Schwartzman was introduced in Rushmore, he has shown up in three more films. Likewise actors like Adrien Brody, Seymour Cassel, Willem Dafoe, Anjelica Huston, and Luke Wilson have acted in multiple films. But perhaps the most durable citizen of Anderson’s universe is Bill Murray, who’s appeared in six of the director’s films. In describing Anderson’s style, Murray explained, “He is a guy who uses the things that shock him and touch him in life. Even if it’s a phrase or a sentence that just lands in his ear, it just sticks. …He just remembers great lines, great photographs, great movie moments, great dolly shots, great stuff, and he manages to use them to tell his own story.”

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