Shooting The Oscars’ Most Centered Movie: The Precision Filmmaking Behind “Grand Budapest Hotel” (2022)

By Hugh Hart6 minute Read

Wes Anderson’s go-to cinematographer Robert Yeoman has nearly 20 years of experience capturing painstakingly composed scenes for the famously meticulous director. But the duo’s work on The Grand Budapest Hotel took precision-tooled moviemaking to an entirely new level.

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Nominated for nine Oscars including Best Cinematography and Best Picture, The Grand Budapest Hotel dazzles the senses like a “twelve-layer wedding cake,” as Matt Zoller Seitz puts it in his new picture book The Wes Anderson Collection: The Budapest Hotel.

Yeoman, who’s filmed every one of Anderson’s live-action features dating back to 1996’s Bottle Rocket, spoke to us from his Santa Monica home about how he used whip pans, tape measures and framing from the 1930s to shape the rigorously madcap world of The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Shooting The Oscars’ Most Centered Movie: The Precision Filmmaking Behind “Grand Budapest Hotel” (1)

Front and Center

Like Stanley Kubrick, a devotee of “one-point perspective,” Anderson gravitates to shots with perfectly centered focal points. “I’ve practiced those kinds of shots so many times it’s become sort of second nature for me,” says Yeoman.

Here’s how it works. “In the morning, before Wes arrives, I come onto the set and place the cameras,” Yeoman explains. “I have the camera assistants take a tape measure from each edge of the matte box in front of the camera and go to the corner of the room to ensure that the camera is perfectly centered. When Wes gets to the set often the first question is, he’ll look at me and ask, “Are we in the center?” So then I can say for example, ‘Yes we are 22 feet and eight inches from that corner, and 22 feet and eight inches from the other corner. For us, that’s pretty standard practice.”

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Toughest Shot: The Whip Pan

Yeoman injected the hotel’s formal behavior and elegant couture with antic energy through frequent use of the whip pan. It’s a tricky maneuver that requires Yeoman to swing the tripod-mounted camera from one face to another, making sure to “land” on the new subject with absolute stillness. “The idea was to keep the rhythm of the scene very quick when the characters are speaking much faster than they would in regular life,” Yeoman says. “Unlike doing one specific shot of somebody without the camera moving, and then doing a separate reverse shot to show the other actor in the scene, the whip pan ties everyone into the scene because you’re doing it in a single shot.”

Case in point: a climactic hotel chase sequence. “There’s this gun battle on the top floor of the hotel where we see Edward Norton and Owen Wilson running towards us, then I whip pan over to Adrian Brody coming down another hallway, and then I whip-pan over to Ralph Fiennes and Tony coming out of an elevator, and I whip back to Owen and Edward Norton. So basically I’m doing a complete 360 and each shot has to be centered exactly on that one doorway or hallway that people are coming out of.”

To complicate matters, Yeoman and his camera were perched on scaffolding four stories high. “It was a little scary being up there,” he says. “If you look closely at that shot, you’ll see there’s a little bit of movement, which is the scaffolding wobbling back and forth because I was literally swinging around the camera on a tripod so quickly. That was one of the most difficult shots I pulled off.”

Shooting The Oscars’ Most Centered Movie: The Precision Filmmaking Behind “Grand Budapest Hotel” (2)

Group Portraits

In keeping with the formal period it depicts, Hotel draws inspiration from posed group portraits photographed in the 1930s. Yeoman says, “Wes did research at the Library of Congress and found these old black and white pictures of people in hotel lobbies which had been hand-colored. He was fascinated by that process and early on we explored the idea of making the whole movie look like this early version of Kodachrome, hand-tinted photography,” says Yeoman. “In the end Wes decided to go a more traditional route, but those old photos influenced the way we framed some of those scenes.”

Shooting The Oscars’ Most Centered Movie: The Precision Filmmaking Behind “Grand Budapest Hotel” (3)

Sticking to the Storyboards

On most previous collaborations, Yeoman has relied on Anderson’s hand-drawn storyboards during pre-production but Hotel and its predecessor Moonlight Kingdom, the director used motion graphics animatics to rough out the narrative before filming began. “These are crude cartoons where Wes did all the voices of the characters,” Yeoman says. “It gave us a pretty good idea of what the camera needs to do and where the actors will be in the frame.”

During production, Yeoman recalls, cast and crew referred to the animatics whenever they got stuck. “If we ever got to a point on set where we weren’t quite sure what we wanted to do, Wes would pull out the iPad and we’d look at the animatic and just go with that.”

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Shooting The Oscars’ Most Centered Movie: The Precision Filmmaking Behind “Grand Budapest Hotel” (4)

The Beauty of a Boxy Frame

Yeoman shot Hotel on 35 millimeter film, but the movie’s most radical homage to old-school cinema is informed by Anderson’s decision to set the contemporary portion of the film within a contemporary 1:85 frame–185 percent wider than it is tall–shift to the super-wide 2.40 Cinema-Scope screen for the 1960s segment, then frame the core 1930s-era story in the square-ish 1:37 Academy ratio common to black and white movies made 80 years ago.

“I was a little nervous, but I came to embrace the box-like frame,” says Yeoman, who took an Anderson-curated crash course in old motion pictures including 1932 classic Grand Hotel and Ernst Lubitsch‘s sophisticated comedies. “I watched how the directors and cinematographers handled groups of people and did their close ups. That became part of my visual vocabulary.”

The constraints of a box-like frame inspired fresh thinking from Anderson and Yeoman. “It’s a lot easier to get five or six people into a shot when you have a wide frame. Working with the narrow Academy format, we were constantly pushing people closer together or finding different places the characters could be within the frame. When Edward Norton pops out of the floor in the prison, his head is at the bottom of the frame and all these soldiers are standing around above him. You could never do that in a 2.40 aspect ratio.”

Shooting The Oscars’ Most Centered Movie: The Precision Filmmaking Behind “Grand Budapest Hotel” (5)

By Winter’s Light

Shooting The Oscars’ Most Centered Movie: The Precision Filmmaking Behind “Grand Budapest Hotel” (6)

Filmed over the course of 50 frigid days in Germany, the Hotel production posed difficulties for Yeoman when it came to lighting. “The biggest challenge throughout the movie was the fact that there was such a narrow window of light,” he says. “We basically had natural light from 8:30 in the morning to about 3:30 in the afternoon. I had to re-create that light in the interiors and make it feel natural and real. The hotel lobby, the prison, the spa in the beginning of the film–those were very large areas to light, so those shots were probably my hardest takes.”

Not that Yeoman’s complaining. “The exteriors were very cold and even the interiors, like the prison, hadn’t been heated for years. But I think the fact that we were in this picturesque little city in eastern Germany near the Polish border in the winter, in the snow–when you combine that with Wes’s amazing script and the crew and the cast, which was fantastic–all those elements came together to create this fairy-tale-like story.”

Collaborating With an Autuer

Yeoman has worked with far more improvisational directors including Paul Feig, for whom he shot Bridesmaids . Being part of a movie like The Grand Budapest Hotel takes a different set of muscles, Yeoman says. “Wes has a very specific idea about how he wants things to be. He’s worked out this very cohesive world where everything from the props to the wardrobe to the cinematography is very carefully controlled and I think that’s one reason why his movies are so special: everything emanates from him. There’s room for personal creativity and input, but in the end, everybody’s there to make that world Wes envisioned as great as it can be. That’s a different style of filmmaking, for sure.”

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What is the resolution The Grand Budapest Hotel filmed? ›

Anderson and Yoman decided to shoot in 1.37:1 format, also known as Academy ratio, for scenes set in 1932. They did a lot of research on the work of Ernst Lubitsch and other directors of the period to make sure they were true to their compositions and mise-en-scene.

Where was the shooting location for Grand Budapest Hotel? ›

The interior of The Grand Budapest Hotel was shot in location in Gorlitz, Germany. The art department utilized the abandoned structure of an old department store, the Gorlitzer Warenhaus, as the frame to build out both versions of the highly stylized hotel.

Is The Grand Budapest Hotel a realistic film? ›

The Grand Budapest Hotel is indeed fictional. The glorious pink building's exterior is a model. Its lobby was set up in a vacant department store in Gorlitz Germany, inspired by the Grandhotel Pupp in Karlovy Vary.

Was The Grand Budapest Hotel shot on film? ›

Cinematography. Yeoman shot The Grand Budapest Hotel on 35 mm film using Kodak Vision3 200T 5213 film stock from a single Arricam Studio camera provided by Arri's Berlin office.

What is the point of The Grand Budapest Hotel? ›

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” is about the spiritual heritage and the political force of those long-vanished styles—about the substance of style, not just the style of his Old World characters but also, crucially, Anderson's own.

Is Mendl's bakery real? ›

Because this tiny shop provided the real-life filming location and setting for the fictional Mendl's Bakery in the Wes Anderson film "The Grand Budapest Hotel." I'm a huge movie nerd and an even bigger Anderson fan, so paying this place a visit was a real no-brainer. It's located in the outskirts of town.

Is The Grand Budapest based on true story? ›

The screenplay, written by director Wes Anderson, was inspired by the life and work of Austrian author Stefan Zweig, especially his novella, Twenty-Four Hours in the Life of a Woman, his novel, Beware of Pity, and his autobiography, The World of Yesterday.

What hotel was used in the movie hotel? ›

Although the film was based on the The Roosevelt New Orleans, much of the film was filmed at the Royal Sonesta in the French Quarter.

Where is the Maltese Riviera? ›

Għajn Tuffieħa (Maltese for 'Apple's Eye', also known as Riviera) is located on the north-west coast of Malta, behind a small village called Manikata. Unlike nearby Golden Bay, Għajn Tuffieħa Bay is less accessible but almost looks untouched by man, with natural beauty all around you.

Is The Grand Budapest Hotel a feel good movie? ›

The Grand Budapest Hotel is not exactly a feel-good movie. At times it is wistful and melancholic, for the (illusion of a) civilized world “sustained with a marvelous grace” by Gustave came to an end eventually—succumbed to war and diseases.

What should I watch after The Grand Budapest Hotel? ›

28 Movies Like The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) On Kanopy
  • Victoria, 2015. ...
  • Captain Fantastic, 2016. ...
  • The Look of Silence, 2014, 2015. ...
  • Ex Machina, 2015. ...
  • A Man Called Ove, 2015. ...
  • What We Do in the Shadows, 2014. ...
  • Nowhere Boy, 2010. ...
  • Laurence Anyways, 2012.

Is Grand Budapest Hotel a mystery? ›

Budapest then switches to Zero's story, a fast-paced murder mystery that he and his former boss Gustave work to solve to prove Gustave's innocence after he was framed. It could easily be disorienting, but Anderson's deftness and remarkable control leads the viewer through almost effortlessly.

Does The Grand Budapest Hotel use stop motion? ›

The great and grand genre-forging director himself, Wes Andersen, maker of stop motion milestone “The Fantastic Mr. Fox,” included a stop motion ski scene sequence in his recently released live action movie “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” What cutting edge creative wouldn't delight in working on a Wes Andersen movie?

What is Wes Anderson's best movie? ›

  • #1. Moonrise Kingdom (2012) 93% #1. ...
  • #2. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) 93% ...
  • #3. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) 92% #3. ...
  • #4. Isle of Dogs (2018) 90% #4. ...
  • #5. Rushmore (1998) 90% #5. ...
  • #6. Bottle Rocket (1996) 85% #6. ...
  • #7. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) 81% #7. ...
  • #8. The French Dispatch (2021) 75% #8.

Who killed the old lady in The Grand Budapest Hotel? ›

Zero has also met with Mr Kovacs, who explains that a deposition was given by several members of Madame D's family, that Gustave had secretly entered the mansion, and poisoned Madame D with strychnine.

Who tells the story in The Grand Budapest Hotel? ›

We flash back to The Author as a young man (Jude Law) — now narrating the story off screen — on that 1968 visit to the then decaying Grand Budapest, where he meets an unscrupulous, elderly man named Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), the hotel's owner and one of the richest men in Europe.

Why does Agatha have Mexico on her face? ›

Seriously, did you look at it? When Gustave says that she has an "enormous birthmark the shape of Mexico over half her face," we think he's just being cleverly descriptive, if a bit rude. However, upon closer inspection, we see that her birthmark is, very literally, in the exact shape of Mexico.

What happened at the end of The Grand Budapest Hotel? ›

Zero's wife Agatha died due to illnesses and diseases caused by the hardships of that time period. So why does Zero keep a distance from The Grand Budapest Hotel? In memory of his lovely wife, as it's the last connection he has with his dear love. The movie ends here with the Author never returning again.

How much did it cost to make Grand Budapest Hotel? ›

What year is The Grand Budapest Hotel set in? ›

In 1932, in the glorious days of the Grand Budapest Hotel, Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori) is hired to work as lobby boy under the command of the legendary concierge M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), who becomes his friend.

Is Wes Anderson in his movies? ›

Wes Anderson

Who is Monsieur Gustave based on? ›

Ralph Fiennes "M. Gustave" On Set Movie Interview | ScreenSlam

Did Grand Budapest Hotel win an Oscar? ›

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Who inspired Wes Anderson? ›

Wes Anderson

What movies have been filmed at the Grand Hotel? ›

Filming Location Matching "MGM Grand Hotel - 3799 Las Vegas Boulevard South, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA" (Sorted by Popularity Ascending)
  • Rocky III (1982) ...
  • Vegas Vacation (1997) ...
  • Pardes (1997) ...
  • Wonderland (2011) ...
  • Dean Martin Celebrity Roast: Dean Martin (1976 TV Special) ...
  • Chokehold (2019 Video)

What is unique about Hotel Monteleone? ›

This classic New Orleans hotel bar is the city's only revolving bar. For decades, it has lured guests in to take a spin on the 25-seat, bright circus-clad Merry-Go-Round.

What hotel was used in the film Some Like It Hot? ›

Filmed at Hotel del Coronado in 1958, “Some Like It Hot” showcased the talents of Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon while also highlighting the hotel's assets – a spectacular sun-drenched silhouette of Victorian architecture, the perfect backdrop for the film's 1929 setting.

Are Maltese considered Italian? ›

1 The perception of most educated Maltese was that Malta was a Latin country only sixty miles away from southern Italy. Culturally and geographically most Maltese considered themselves to be Southern Italians.

What race lives in Malta? ›

Malta's population is composed almost entirely of ethnic Maltese, the descendants of ancient Carthaginians and Phoenicians as well as of Italians and other Mediterranean peoples.

What are Maltese people called? ›

The Maltese (Maltese: Maltin) people are an ethnic group native to Malta who speak Maltese, a Semitic language. Malta is an island in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. Included within the ethnic group defined by the Maltese people are the Gozitans (Maltese: Għawdxin) who inhabit Malta's sister island, Gozo.

What aspect ratio is the French dispatch? ›

The French Dispatch follows a similar line as The Grand Budapest Hotel - this film is presented in two different aspect ratios - 2.39:1 and 1.37:1. The listed aspect ratio is 1.85:1 but the image hasn't been reframed to fit your screen.

How does Wes Anderson use symmetry? ›

As the video essay below lays out, the director's focus on symmetry is also a key part of how his films are edited. The video focuses on three techniques that Anderson uses to imbue the edits of his films with a sense of balance: (1) identical shot types; (2) blocking and staging, and (3) pacing and timing.

Is Boy with Apple a real painting? ›

It's only a McGuffin in the end – it's actually been painted for the film by artist Michael Taylor – but Boy with Apple is a fiction within a fiction that pays delicately knowing homage to the art history of old Europe.

What time period is the Grand Budapest Hotel? ›

Movie Info

In the 1930s, the Grand Budapest Hotel is a popular European ski resort, presided over by concierge Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes). Zero, a junior lobby boy, becomes Gustave's friend and protege.

Why is French Dispatch cropped? ›

Speaking with, cinematographer Robert Yeoman said it was because this particular aspect ratio was “used in many of the French films that inspired” him and Anderson; it also helped to “enhance the feeling of the time” they wanted viewers to sense while watching.

What is the meaning of The French Dispatch? ›

The French Dispatch Is A Nostalgic Love Letter To Journalism, Artistry, & Their Intersection. Overall, Wes Anderson is paying tribute to a bygone era of journalism and the art of crafting such a lovable publication. Anderson gives equal focus to the writers of the articles and the artists they're profiling.

What camera was used for French dispatch? ›

With film, when you slap the slate, everyone's attention is really there. The disadvantage is that we shoot [Kodak Vision3 200T] 5213, which is [ISO] 200! We shot on that stock for all the color scenes, and we used Kodak 5222 [ISO 250] black-and-white stock for all the black-and-white material.

What film techniques does Wes Anderson use? ›

Anderson has been noted for his extensive use of flat space camera moves, obsessively symmetrical compositions, knolling, snap-zooms, slow-motion walking shots, a deliberately limited colour palette, and hand-made art direction often utilizing miniatures.

Why does Wes Anderson use symmetry in his films? ›

Anderson is renowned for using symmetry in his films, which creates a sense of harmony and balance. While pleasant to watch, this kind of composition also contributes to the fanciful, beguiling appearance of his films. In almost every shot there is this symmetry.

What is Wes Anderson's style called? ›

What is the Wes Anderson Style? Wes Anderson's style can be summed up as this: Direct-directing. Wes Anderson is the most direct director in popular cinema today, but his films are simultaneously idiosyncratic and relentlessly detailed.

How much was the painting in The Grand Budapest Hotel worth? ›

In the film the painting is described as 'priceless', although as far as I am aware, it was never actually valued. I suspect it would be more than I got paid for it! Another MacGuffin, the Maltese Falcon statuette, recently sold for over two million dollars, so who knows? “Where the painting is now, I couldn't say.

Who owns boy with the apple painting? ›

artist Michael Taylor

Why does Agatha have Mexico on her face? ›

Seriously, did you look at it? When Gustave says that she has an "enormous birthmark the shape of Mexico over half her face," we think he's just being cleverly descriptive, if a bit rude. However, upon closer inspection, we see that her birthmark is, very literally, in the exact shape of Mexico.


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