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How They Did It: 5 ‘Grand Budapest Hotel’ Oscar Nominees Break Down a Pivotal Scene

How They Did It: 5 'Grand Budapest Hotel' Oscar Nominees Break Down a Pivotal Scene

Remember the scene when Zero (Tony Revolori) reads in the newspaper that Madame D. (Tilda Swinton) has died and rushes back into the hotel to tell Gustave (Ralph Fiennes)? On the surface, it seems like a minor moment, yet it’s the turning point in unraveling Gustave’s happy life in Wes Anderson’s fairytale ode to romance and opulence between the World Wars. We get the lowdown from five of the six nominees (minus costume designer Milena Canonero, who did an arty Eastern European retro look). Watch the “We Must Go To Her” clip below:

Production Designer Adam Stockhausen: “It’s a fun scene because it really shows all the different parts that we used to make the hotel. It starts in a location at a newsstand, which actually is a little street in Görlitz, and then it goes out to our vehicular miniature and then the front of the hotel, which is another set build on location. And then into the lobby, which is our main location build. And then into the big hallway outside of the suite, which is another set right behind the lobby. And it shows how we get to cut back and forth and the miniature gets spliced together with other views of the hotel.”

Stockhausen adds that the scene is also a great example of Anderson’s meticulous craftsmanship, preparing it all as an animatic with The Mill. “On the page it’s just: Zero gets a newspaper, sees the news about Madame D., runs to the hotel and tells Mr. Gustave,” the production designer continues. “And it became this huge journey through all these different sets and locations and the miniatures and pieces. And that’s how you can go from this open-ended question to this carefully-designed sequence.
“And the newspaper was one of the key pieces and involves a photo of Tilda (I think that was the very first thing we did, actually). And then the newspaper was one of the last graphics to be completed. So it really bookends the whole film.”

Cinematographer Robert Yeoman: “The lobby interior was a little tricky for us. Above the framing there was as skylight, which created the ambient light. But because we were in Germany for the winter, it was light until about 9:00 in the morning until 3:00 in the afternoon. So I would put a giant silk above the skylight and bounced a lot of lights into that to recreate that kind of ambience that comes through the skylight. So we essentially made a set from a lighting standpoint that we could shoot at any time.

“Often times it was snowing and to match it we had this thing called snow candles, which is like burning paper that a guy had in a little bucket. It swung around and looks so much like snow that it was difficult to tell what was real and what was the stuff that we made.”

Editor Barney Pilling: “It’s almost innocuous in scale compared to the other bits. But when you scrutinize the scene, it really lifts the lid on what it takes to put even the smallest thing together for Wes. The first shot is as natural a shot as you can get. We were in the middle of snow season so we didn’t need to do a snow down or do much visual effects. What you see is what you get there because Görlitz is a wonderful place. We did a bit of wire removal. After that we go straight into the trademark Wes dolly move.”

The following shot gives us a window into how Anderson likes to build his world, according to the editor. “The ornate pink archway is actually a cafe in Görlitz, so we green screened that and set about picking how we built the surrounds for them and made it seem more bedded into a believable station of sorts. Then the second unit team made a chocolate box, if you like, of architectural elements around Görlitz. It’s in the town and shooting 35 mm film and I really think it helps add that authenticity that Wes strives for in every frame.”
Pilling says the miniatures were called “maxitures” because they weren’t that small. “This piece of track that the funicula rail is traveling on is probably 15-feet long and the train itself is perhaps two-foot-tall. And Adam and the art department turned a shabby, derelict department store into one of the most opulent hotels of the 1930s. And I think here we had so many options of Tony running. He got his workout that day. He just ran up and down, up and down, we tried it this way and that way at every angle. The only other notable thing was the newspaper itself. It has the typeface of the time but if you look at the wide shot, every one of those articles was written by Wes himself (very detailed, some of them extremely funny).
“Even as an editor, Wes was more specific with me about the sound design and that fled through to the wonderful work that Wayne Lemmer did. He said I should check out Ernst Lubitsch’s “The Shop Around the Corner” and Jacques Tati’s films, none of which I’d seen. He was way ahead of the game in terms of how he used sounds for comedy and very specific things that told stories off-screen.”

Makeup Designer Frances Hannon: “I did the research how Tilda should look, aging her teeth and eyes and the makeup and hair. Mark Coulier applied it for me and I made her up on top, using my mother as a bit of a reference point for the wonky lipstick and how a lady of her years makes herself up. The hair was perfect, a combination of the plumpness of Toulouse-Lautrec, the style of John Singer Sargent and the waves of Queen Mary. We discovered that Tilda’s great grandmother was painted by Sargent, which was an amazing coincidence. I always think to get to an end result, you take many different points.” 

Composer Alexandre Desplat: ” Even when the score sounds happy, there’s this little pain sometimes and I think that’s what we tried to capture, especially in this kind of scene. There’s a theme all along the film with different orchestration. The idea was that we wouldn’t use a string orchestra so instead we had balalaikas of different sizes to create the chords, the agitation that strings could bring to the music. The only elements that we brought from classical sound is a brass group of musicians. It allowed us to give some weight to the war times that the main characters are going through, a Hitchcockian sense of danger and suspense, but always alternating like a metronome with the balalaikas and cimbalom to bring a light, bouncy, little sound.”
In particular, Desplat uses the B flat minor key. It’s like gypsy music reminiscent of Django Reinhardt that has weight without being heavy. “It fits perfectly the films of Wes, especially this world where war and dictatorship are present,” he adds. “The music goes back and forth, like the themes of the movie. But there’s a lot of dialogue and if you’re not careful, if the instrumentation is too thick, you can’t hear the dialogue. And because of the transparency of the balalaikas, the zithers and the cimbalom, you can hear both the music and the dialogue.”

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