Arts & Culture

Wes Anderson Q&A draws fans, cinephiles

Director of ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ skypes into IFF screening from dinner party

By
Senior Staff Writer
Friday, April 18, 2014

Film director Wes Anderson participates in a Skype Q&A with students as part of the Ivy Film Festival following a screening of his new film “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”

The tinny ring of an outgoing Skype call was just about the only noticeable sound Wednesday evening in a silent but densely packed Metcalf Auditorium. But when the face of famed film director Wes Anderson materialized on screen, the audience suddenly burst into thunderous applause.

The interview, hosted by the Ivy Film Festival, followed a free screening of Anderson’s most recent film, “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” at Avon Cinema.

There were a few hiccups — audio glitches made Anderson’s responses difficult to understand at times, and the interview length, initially scheduled for one hour, was cut in half because Anderson was at a dinner party.

Still, the crowd loved him. Before answering each question, Anderson paused and cocked his head to the side, gathering his thoughts while the audience waited with bated breath for his response. Various remarks sent the audience into peals of laughter, applause or snaps.

“All of us were so starstruck,” said Pia Brar ’15, an IFF programming staff member who attended the event. “He’d say the simplest thing, and everyone would just start giggling like silly schoolgirls.”

Oakley Friedberg ’17, an IFF industry staff member, reached out to Anderson and coordinated the event. Friedberg had met Anderson on several occasions because his parents, both in the film industry, have worked with him in the past, he said.

The interview was mostly composed of prepared questions, which IFF members drew from responses to a student questionnaire. Because many of the questions were similar, IFF members categorized and rephrased them “so that they would encompass the range of what people were asking,” Friedberg said.

Many questions focused on Anderson’s creative process. Anderson said he stresses the importance of planning to “pre-visualize” his films but added that his approach is neither deliberate nor self-analytical.

“I never think about themes, but I like to hear what other people suggest are the themes,” he said. “What I want to do is make an experience, a story and a world that has life in it and a group of characters that can be interesting. I like to have something abstract about it.”

Anderson encouraged aspiring filmmakers to “follow their instincts” and not to cave into commercial pressures.

“Sometimes it’s better to make something in a simpler, more economical, smaller way than (raising) more money, because this can interfere with it,” he said. “Just make what want you want to make one way or another, and that will lead you somewhere.”

A particularly memorable moment occurred when Friedberg asked about the origins of his films’ storylines. In response, Anderson beckoned a fellow dinner guest into the conversation: Hugo Guinness, his co-writer for “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” The two filmmakers demonstrated a playful, familial camaraderie as they toyed with the laptop angle and volume settings.

Stories begin with characters, Guinness said.

The characters “came from our friends,” Anderson added. “We decided we’d like to write a story based on a real person.”

But Guinness disagreed. When asked to elaborate, he stated, “the subconscious” is the origin of character development. Following this, he wagged his fingers in goodbye and stepped off screen, his exit accompanied by raucous applause.

“Wes was clearly very excited about talking to us. It wasn’t at all awkwardly formal, and I knew it would be like that, but I was still relieved,” Friedberg said, adding that Anderson’s engagement with the audience served to humanize his legendary status.

Tathya Abe ’16, who attended the event, echoed this sentiment.

“It was nice to demystify the idea of ‘the’ Wes Anderson because his characters are so avant-garde and different and unique, and he’s just a really relatable guy,” Abe said. “It’s nice to see that such an ordinary human can make something like that.”