Ahead of the release of Asteroid City, Wes Anderson and the stars of the film sit down to chat animatics, collaborations and how to catch a hat.
Wes Anderson doesn’t make a movie without a plan.
The American auteur is famed for a formalist style all of his own. It’s a style that’s inspired TikTok trends and AI trailers alike – shots at 90-degree angles, pastel colours and dry, clipped line delivery.
It’s a style built on manufactured precision, actor and camera moves slotting together like the blocks of a cinematic Jenga tower. It’s helpful, the, that Anderson usually knows what he wants before a single setup.
“Everybody talks about the animatics,” Anderson’s long-term collaborator Adrien Brody says during the film’s press conference.
The ‘animatics’ are like a shot list on steroids. Where most filmmakers are content with storyboards, Anderson, as with most things, goes a step beyond the conventional. A complete animated mock-up of a live-action film, the movie almost seems to be finished before an actor steps foot on the set.
“What is odd is he sends you a version of the movie that doesn’t really need you,” newcomer Tom Hanks says of their collaboration. “I called [him] up and said, “Well, I’m in, but I don’t see how you need anybody to do this now.””
It’s a technique Anderson learnt from the world of animation, first stemming from his 2009 stop-motion classic, Fantastic Mr. Fox.
“All animated movies […] you make this [animatic], and you work from that. And I realize that there were scenes that I had done that I would’ve completely messed up without it,” the Academy Award -nominated director admits.
It’s an exacting standard that doesn’t always translate easily to the set. Jeffrey Wright plays Asteroid City’s resident army colonel in the film.
“There’s a moment where my hand touches the holster, flips up the flap, and grips the weapon. That took about 60 takes. Four hours. But I understood why – it was about trying to find a certain cleanliness to the thing that we couldn’t quite achieve.”
“In the end, we had a prop guy standing to my left, the lens to my right, my body hiding him. I flipped up the flap on the holster, the prop guy put his finger on it, keeps it up. The camera is below his finger. And then I slide my hand down, and it worked.”
But for a filmmaker with such a keen technical sensibility, the process of stitching together a Wes Anderson film is far from clear-cut.
“I remember writing to Wes a little earlier after we had finished the film,” Bryan Cranston recalls. “And I said, “How are you feeling about it?” And he said “I think it might be a really nice poem. I don’t know about a film just yet.”
Despite the extensive prep, that sense of the film finding its feet and going in unexpected directions came in as early as the first day of the shoot. For some, newcomer Hope Davis included, that theatrical direction came as a surprise.
“It [felt] very loose, the way my early days in the theatre felt. We were all jumping around in the desert with air guns in our hands. You know, movie making can be very slow and dull. And this just felt so alive and so playful.”
“Wes wrote one of his more succinct stage directions in the scene where we have our musical number,” Rupert Friend, who plays wisdom-spouting cowboy Montana in the film, tells us. “It just said, ‘They dance.’”
“That was it. We kept saying, ‘When’s the choreographer coming? When’s the rehearsal?’ And it was, ‘Oh, yeah, another time, another time.’ And we got there, and we just had to go for it,” Friend recalls.
“It was an amazing moment. Bill Murray had come to visit set that day, and when I threw my hat in the air and behind the camera, he just caught it. It was just perfect.”
It’s that contrast, perhaps, between rigidity and flexibility that has earned Anderson so many fans over the years. From his fresh-faced debut Bottle Rocket in 1996 to 2021’s The French Dispatch, the combination of aesthetic detail with emotional whimsy has proved intoxicating.
But few collaborators know Anderson better than Jason Schwartzman. Ever since the duo broke out together in 1998’s Rushmore, they’ve been paired at the cinema-hip, reconvening for The Darjeeling Limited, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Moonrise Kingdom, The Grand Budapest Hotel and Isle of Dogs. So, what keeps Schwartzman coming back?
“Over the years, we’ve been through so many different things. It’s fun to come back and to share what you’ve experienced with someone that you know and love. And it’s about going off and having adventures. So, when I read a script like this, it feels like I’m catching up with my friend in a way too.”
Asteroid City will be released in cinemas in the UK and Ireland on 23 June
An Asteroid City Exhibition also runs until 8th July at 180 Studios, 180 The Strand, London. Tickets and information available via: https://www.180studios.com/asteroid-city