THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL
Opening the Grand Hotel
The extensive planning of the film began with finding just the right location
for the Grand Budapest. Since the hotel goes through several shifts, from its
heyday as a celebrated spa resort in the early-30s, to falling under fascist
control, to an almost uninhabited Communist-era construction in its decline,
Anderson and his team hunted for a location rich with both the character of
Europe and also a good deal of visual flexibility.
The search started with Anderson perusing the archives of The Library of
Congress, which holds a large collection of photocrom images from the era of
classic European travel. But after scouting some of the resorts in the photos,
and discovering most to be torn down or too extensively renovated, Anderson
chose to shoot in no hotel at all. Instead, he discovered an unexpected kind of
back lot: a vast, turn-of-the-century department store smack at the intersection
of Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic, in the UNESCO World Heritage town of
It turned out Gorlitz had far more to offer than just the department store,
including architectural influences from the Gothic and Baroque to the
almost-modern curves of Art Nouveau. "Gorlitz has so much character in all its
buildings that we realized we could pretty much make the entire movie there,"
Many of the film's key props were made by local artists and artisans in Gorlitz,
including the Courtesansau chocolat, made by local baker Anemone Muller-Grossman,
Monsieur Gustave's signature pinky ring, and the porcelain pendant that Agatha
wears. Propmaster Robin Miller notes: "It's a beautiful little town, but it's
basically a historical town. They don't have all the things we're used to
having in a city, all the support systems. But one day, I happened to be
walking by this little porcelain shop, and I saw there were these beautiful
hand-painted porcelains in the window. I walked in, and I saw they did this
wonderful delft blue on these little pieces, and I thought 'Here it is, we've
found it.'" As it turned out, the artist, Heidemarie Klinger, had been trained
in nearby Meissen, a town world-famous for its porcelain manufacturing.
Many locals even turned up in the film themselves. As Dawson explains:
"Another thing that was nice about working in a small town is that we got to
know many of the people and started putting them in the film. So the guy who was
the waiter at the restaurant one night would be an extra in a scene the next
Not only did Anderson and his team build their sets inside the empty
department store, but they also set up their offices and workshops there,
forging an entirely self-contained world that kept cast and crew inside the
universe of Zubrowka.
The design of the film emerged from the collaboration between Anderson and
his production designer, Adam Stockhausen. Stockhausen, who previously worked on
THE DARJEELING LIMITED and MOONRISE KINGDOM, and recently designed Steve
McQueen's 12 YEARS A SLAVE, knew this film would be a creative experience unlike
any other. "We worked across these tiny, beautiful, little towns, and being
there you become immersed completely in that world," he says. "It became a very
To design the hotel's interior, Stockhausen started thinking about it in
connection with the character of Gustave. "In trying to figure out the physical
space of the hotel, I felt it had everything to do with Ralph's character,"
Stockhausen explains. "The space reflects him through its color palette and
style. We wanted the entire structure of the hotel to feel like an integrated
whole with the storytelling. It was a big challenge, and a very large and
Stockhausen outlines some of the creative steps that went into crafting the
lobby: "First, there were endless amounts of research into what hotels looked
like in the time period, and then the details that really spoke to us began to
bubble up to the surface, and we'd say, 'That stairway's incredible, that
elevator door's incredible' or 'that concierge desk is incredible.' And as those
pieces started to gel into a shape, pretty soon we could say, 'OK, this is
starting to feel like our hotel.' Then we worked on the right relationships of
doors and hallways and spaces to get the action to move properly. Wes likes to
shoot in complex camera moves, so the physical space really had to line up. We
ended up building the 1960s version of the hotel first, and then we shot
backwards, peeling away layers to expose the earlier period hotel within."
Almost all the other locations were found in Gorlitz and the immediately
surrounding areas - from the Check-point 19 prison location in nearby Zwickau,
to the Mendl's shop and Kunstmuseum in Dresden, only an hour away - with one big
exception. Anderson and Stockhausen ultimately decided to create the hotel
exterior as a beautifully elaborate miniature in the workshops at Babelsberg. It
was also there that they built and filmed much of the cable-car and ski-chase
sequences, building miniature models in the workshop and then moving them
outdoors to be shot under natural light - often pushing a camera on wheels
through real miniature trees - allowing a greater feeling of naturalism than
you'd normally achieve with a model. For the widest shots in the ski chase, the
characters themselves were created using stop-motion animation. And
to help with this process, Anderson enlisted several of his old colleagues from
FANTASTIC MR. FOX.
As Stockhausen notes, "very often a scene that you would assume is all pieces
of the same location actually gets broken apart into one main location, a bit of
stop-motion animation, a matte-painting, a piece of a miniature, and some other
location. And so it's an incredible challenge to try to figure out how all that
stuff goes together - and it's way beyond just me. It's this whole team of
people trying to make sense of it and make it all work and fit together. It's a
heck of a challenge and an awful lot of fun."
Another long-time Anderson collaborator on the film is cinematographer Robert
Yeoman, who has shot all of Anderson's live-action features. Yeoman was
immediately excited by the story's shifting time periods and the opportunities
that provided. "For the 60s version of the lobby, we floated this giant
fluorescent ceiling," he explains. "It was much more monotone than the 30s
version, which had warmer colors and a lot of practical lights and a beautiful
skylight overhead. That had a much more open feeling." Another idea that
Anderson and Yeoman came up with was to shoot the different time periods in
different aspect ratios, using anamorphic widescreen for the 1960s, then
switching to a more square 1.37:1 format for the 1930s, typical of that time
period, and moving to 1.85:1 for the scenes closest to the present-day. About
working in the 1.37 format, which is used for much of the film, Yeoman says:
"It's not as wide, but you have more up-and-down, you see ceilings a lot more,
and it's a little bit looser. It's very different from what we've done before,
and I think both Wes and I really had a lot of fun dealing with this format."
Designing the costumes for the film was legendary three-time Academy Award
winning costume designer Milena Canonero, who was eager to reunite with
Anderson, having worked with him previously on THE DARJEELING LIMITED and THE
LIFE AQUATIC. Canonero was particularly excited by the way the film invokes a
historical setting but allows it to be played with. She explains: "What I like
about the movie is one can really be quite elastic and free in the way one
interprets the time and the period. It's a memory. It's a story told by
somebody, to somebody else, who then is going to write about it. So it's not
just a straightforward flashback story at all. And I think that's quite
interesting creatively." One influence she found was Austrian symbolist painter
Gustav Klimt, whose paintings partly inspired the look for Madame D.
Canonero is often noted for the thoroughness of her approach and her
incredible attention to detail. As Anderson explains, "She isn't just working
with me to design the costumes, and working with her crew to execute the
costumes, she is also doing something else which is sort of making characters."
This comprehensive approach extends all the way to the background actors. As
Canonero explains: "For me, it's like a painting. You look at everything, you
don't just focus on the principals. So to be able to do even the minor
background extras - that makes sense and is very important. I couldn't do it
Frances Hannon, who has worked with Anderson as far back as RUSHMORE,
designed the hair, makeup and prosthetics for the film. She describes some of
the smaller details that went into creating a sense of character continuity
between time periods: "For Zero, who's played in the 30s by our young boy and in
the 60s by F. Murray Abraham, we kept similarities between those two with their
hair. Jude Law has the younger moustache shape of Tom Wilkinson. It was just
very simple like that, and I think it worked really well. Small details, but the
'less is more' works well on this film." On the other end of the spectrum was
the work she did on Tilda Swinton to transform her into an 84-year-old. "It's a
look she's never had before," Hannon notes. "She was full of prosthetics: arms,
chest, neck, back; a wig that went on for miles, contact lenses for cataracts,
the teeth of an old lady, ear lobes. There was nothing left out."
Six-time Academy Award nominee Alexandre Desplat developed one of his most
unusual scores - one played entirely without traditional orchestral instruments.
Instead, he brought in a host of Central European instruments, including
balalaikas and the cimbalom, a type of hammered dulcimer common to Eastern
European gypsy music. He flew in a 50-member balalaika-orchestra from Moscow for
the final recording.
"We've tried to capture the sounds that are in our subconscious from Middle
Europe, from the Moldavian cimbalom to Alpine horns, as well as yodeling, monk
songs and the balalaika," he explains. "It's a mix that can be soulful, haunting
and fun - and cover a range of emotions, from light to dark. We used the same
musical vocabulary you would with a classical orchestra but the sound is very
Desplat says that Anderson fosters an atmosphere of experimentation. "We do
things together that neither I as a professional composer nor he has ever done
before," he muses. "I try to find the sound, the melodies, the rhythms that
match what is onscreen but are based on things we don't see: the past or the
future of the character or their inner emotions. When I sit down with Wes, we
explore all of that."
When production wrapped, Anderson dove into the cutting process with editor
Barney Pilling. Pilling, whose films include QUARTET and AN EDUCATION, had not
worked with Anderson previously but was intrigued by the task. "THE GRAND
BUDAPEST HOTEL is a wonderful prism of storytelling," he comments. "It spans
three different eras and is mostly set in a wondrous pre-war era that lends a
dramatic context to everything. To me, it's also about the filmmaker's memories
of classic movies of that time. And I was really struck by the scale of it,
which is more epic and ambitious than Wes's previous movies, which made it
As he watched the footage, one thing struck Pilling: "It's amazing how
beautifully planned it all is," he says. "Very little is left to chance in terms
of the shots, and Wes also creates an animatic of the entire film, so he comes
to the editing room with incredible preparation. Since this story was born in
Wes's head, these guidelines for how to deliver his vision were very helpful,
and it was a joy to edit."
Pilling sees the film as both continuing Anderson's cinematic language and
also expanding it. "You see a lot of Wes's distinctive signatures: the whip
pans, the complex dolly shots, the stunning grip work, but the composition is
also different, particularly because of the aspect ratio he and Bob Yeoman were
working in. There are also some huge action sequences, so the way the film was
shot complements that."
Pilling especially enjoyed seeing Anderson stand back and take in the whole.
"Wes has a very pointillist approach to filmmaking, where he works very closely
with these little dots of the story, and in the editing process he gets a chance
to step back and see the whole picture," he explains.
Throughout it all, Pilling was especially moved by Fiennes's performance.
"Ralph's mastery of the language and his physical ability to work with the
movement of the camera is incredible," he says. "The camera is doing a lot of
big moves, all choreographed to happen on certain words and certain inflections,
and Ralph had the ability to marry his performance to the technical timing
demanded by that. He also gives the story a kind of grounding where at times it
can be taken very seriously, and it can be very emotional, but is also very
funny. And then he and Tony make such a charming, adorable pairing - and that
becomes the beating heart of the movie."
Anderson puts his own words to the connection between the two central
figures: "I think when Gustave meets Zero, he recognizes probably someone
somewhat like himself," Anderson says, "somebody who is paying a bit more
attention than other people and isn't just going to do his job well, he's
actually interested in the whole thing and that there is this potential there.
He sees a spark in him."
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