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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 Gorlitz.

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," Dawson explains.

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 day."

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 special journey."

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 complicated set."

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 otherwise."

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 different."

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 doubly exciting."

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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