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Wes Anderson - Director, 'RUSHMORE'

As part of his cross-country publicity tour, I got a chance to interview Wes Anderson, director and co-screenwriter of the new comedy, 'Rushmore'. Hidden like an agoraphobe in his huge yellow tour bus with huge black letters spelling out the title of his new film, I interviewed him with a small panel of local reporters (OR) in the dining area of the bus. During the interview, he tells me that the character of Max is not really based on himself, but by the way he's dressed and the way he acts, he's Max through and through. Take the Rushmore blazer off Max and you'll find a thin blue sweater, brown corduroy pants, hip Elvis Costello glasses, neon green socks and red New Balance sneakers, just like Wes.

OR: How'd you get the name 'Rushmore'?
WA: Um...Well, we thought that the school of the movie should have a really American-kinda name because the story seems like a kind of...a very American kinda story about someone who's kind of driven, inventive and...We just felt it was American. And that's a very American name.
PS: The role that Bill Murray plays is kinda like the role he always has played: the guy who doesn't really care what other people think about him, he goes about his day however the hell he wants to. But in 'Rushmore', there's just that much more to his character, and it's probably one of the reasons he just got nominated for a Golden Globe. I particularly love Bill Murray; how was it like working with him?
WA: Well, we had a great time with Bill Murray. He signed on; he was one of the first people who got involved with the project. And he kind of, he...shows up in Texas by himself, he doesn't have an entourage or anything like and he kind of joins in with the group. And I've always been a huge fan of his, so we had a really good time.
OR: Did the name Max Fischer have anything to do with Bobby Fischer?
WA: Not deliberately, you know. It was something we were kinda conscious of, but that's not actually where it came from. It came from the area. It was somebody we knew named Max Fischer, and we liked the sound of it. But maybe it was subconscious or something.
OR: Where did you come up with the character of Max Fischer?
WA: Well, I think it came from...the plays that he does were inspired by some plays I did. But the rest of it is something that Owen [Wilson] and I just kind of...It started out as being a sorta less extreme version of that character; and the more we worked on it, the more intense it became. It became that he does all these clubs, and the plays are huge, that he's just kind-of unstoppable.
PS: Your collaboration with Owen: I went back last night and I watched 'Bottle Rocket' again and loved the very quirky, very off-beat humor between you two. How do you guys go about writing? Is it you and Owen, one-on-one, sitting down and writing and you changing anything when you're shooting?
WA: We change some things when we're shooting, but this one we stuck pretty closely to the script. And mostly, the way we write is we talk about things a lot for some time and then we start trading little scraps of paper that we've written ideas and scenes and parts of scenes on, and hand those back and forth and kind of re-write them, and eventually comes the script.
OR: I've seen a lot of articles using the word "Wes-thetic" to refer to your aesthetic, you know. What is "Wes-thetic"?
WA: I don't know, exactly. It probably...I mean, maybe it's just the kind of characters we write about and maybe there's a sort of style that's kind of consistent between the two movies. There are certain consistent things about the way they're shot, sort of design ideas. But really, it's probably just sort of instinctive stuff, just the way it automatically happens. I mean, I know that the characters we write tend to be, their behavior tends to be something a little beyond reality. Some of the things they're doing are a little crazier. Like robbing a book store -- which is something that happened in 'Bottle Rocket' - would very rarely happen in real life, but it's kind the world of the movie it makes sense. So we want to make the world where it can make sense and then make the performances totally real within that world, that sort of unreal world.
PS: You mentioned that you used to write plays and - among other things - Max does the same. How close are you two? Was that you back then?
WA: Well, just the plays. The rest of it's pretty much invented.
PS: Were these as outrageous as Max's?
WA: Yeah, they were strange.
[The group laughs.]
OR: Why Touchstone and not Miramax?
WA: Miramax wouldn't give us the money that we wanted. We had a certain idea of how the movie should be made and this guy Joe Roth at Disney was the one who kind of stepped up and gave us the [money]. I mean, it was the perfect way. That guy really supported us - Joe Roth - and he let me have just total autonomy with the movie, which was what I wanted. And we still have a great budget, and we have the support of a studio releasing it and all that kind of stuff, so we think it was a good situation.
OS: It wasn't Touchstone that did 'Bottle Rocket', was it?
WA: No, Columbia did 'Bottle Rocket'.
OR: Was the subtle humor intentional or did it just happen?
WA: Yeah, I think so. It's just, the sense of humor, it's our sense of humor. That's just maybe the way that it kinda plays. 'Cause a lot of it is stuff that we think is funny, like behavior of people in real life and that kind of stuff. I mean, things that we think are funny in real life we try to incorporate.
OR: Reviewer Bill Chanbers wrote that "this movie 'Rushmore' is anything but predictable and nothing less than brilliant...a comic masterpiece that would win Best Picture in a perfect world. Just thinking about 'Rushmore' reconfirms my faith in modern cinema." What do you think about that? What do you think he means by "a perfect world"?
WA: Who's Bill Chambers?
OR: He's a reviewer. I believe he was at Sundance.
WA: At Sundance, well. I don't know, I'd like to meet the guy. And the question was how do I respond to that? Well, my film won't win Best Picture in this world. I believe that it'll be '[Saving] Private Ryan', if I'm not mistaken. But I don't know. It's kind of hard. You can't really talk about awards and things. Whatever you say, you can say something self-deprecating or you can say something false-confident or whatever it is. But regardless, it's like somebody else's thing. It really has nothing to do with how I work in the first place. It has more to do with like publicity and that kind of stuff.
OR: Do you see yourself doing things like this in the future? Comedies?
WA: Well, the one we're working on now is set in New York and it's kind of in, it's in a little bit of the same vein. The characters are different ages and it's a whole different setting and all that kind of stuff. But the kinds of characters and the kinds of problems they have are not dissimilar from the ones in 'Rushmore'. And so, I think there might be a sort of consistent voice among the movies.
PS: Jason Schwartzman: Is he a newcomer?
WA: He's never been in a movie before.
PS: And he's terrific. Where'd you find him?
WA: We had a casting director in San Francisco who met him at a party, and so he arranged for him to come and audition, and so he auditioned.
PS: So was he easy to work with? Was he natural?
WA: Yeah, yeah, yeah. He's very good.
OR: How do you handle his on-screen kiss? How many takes was-
WA: That was one take. That was actually not in the script. In an earlier version of the script, it was there, and I had told Jason about it, but I had changed it, in the script. And he really wanted to do it, he really wanted to shoot that. So after we did a few takes without it, then he was really saying, "I really wanna do the kiss." So we did one, and that was what I used, in just one take.
[Wes' phone rings]
WA: Hold on. Let me get this.
Here, Wes answers the phone. We're kept waiting for nearly ten minutes as Wes talks to Joe Roth, the chairman of Walt Disney Studios. I guess that's a good excuse. Eventually, he comes and sits back down in front of the 'Rushmore' poster strategically hanging from a wall.
BW: I particularly enjoyed the shot where he flicks off the headmaster. I just wanna comment I really enjoyed that shot, I thought that was-
WA: That was supposed to be something else. Originally in the script he was going to burn the blazer in that scene, and the headmaster was going to see him burning his blazer. But then I decided I wanted to have him wear his blazer for a longer period of time. I wanted him to wear his blazer until he becomes a barber. So then we came up with [the regular bonfire]. He was going to be burning leaves and flip him off. And that scene we had to really scramble to get together. The sun was going down and it was dark and we had to light it for day. And the headmaster shot in the window is actually a nighttime shot that's all lit to be daytime. It was kind of a weird, spooky moment on the set, too. Also, when the leaves were burning, the smoke would get blown by the wind, so he'd be standing, and all of a sudden he'd be just engulfed in smoke. And so, I would yell for him to go to the other side of the pile of leaves. But when he would go to the other side of the pile of leaves, there was a bench, that then had to move, also, because it was balanced with leaves in the middle, bench on the one side, him on the other. So he would move, and I'd keep rolling. So on the dailies you see: smoke come at him, he runs over here, two people run out, carry the bench over here, and then as soon as it happens, the wind changes and the smoke comes back. And this prop guy had to keep running in and spraying stuff on the fire.
OR: How much input did you have on what went on the soundtrack? Is that someone else's responsibility or-
WA: No, that's mine...I plan that stuff out before we shoot, so I try to play a lot of the songs during the scenes. If it's a scene that doesn't have dialogue, then we'll play that during it, the track. And if it does have dialogue, then we'll sometimes play a song, then cut it right before. So it's kind of setting the mood on the set.
OR: I'd like to comment that that's what stood out in the movie for me was how the music interplayed with what was happening in the movie.
WA: Yeah, well good. Thanks.
OR: Is it true that 'Peanuts' was an influence? Charlie Brown and Linus--?
WA: Yeah, yeah. Kind of on the characters and the way that that's sort of a self-contained world: you don't ever see the parents. It's like in some other reality. It's a cartoon, so it's not going to be very real anyway. But there's sort of a strange style to it that's's a peculiar world that it's usually set in. I mean, there is no outside world. The field where they take the football, the spot where she does the little psychiatrist session. There's only like a few little...there's no city, anything. There's no world outside of it. And that's the sort of thing we tried to do with both these movies, just make 'em in these very sorta self-contained worlds.
OR: Was the Vietnam play difficult to shoot?
WA: Well, it was fun to shoot, but very complicated to shoot 'cause there's lot sof explosions and things like that. And the tricky thing is that you do a take, and it's an hour and a half if you wanna do another take. But the thing to so is rehearse it a lot so you've really got it exact, so that when the time comes to do a take, and fire off explosions, hopefully it's as right as it can be. It's tricky, cause we had to shoot the whole play in one day, and that's a lot to shoot in a day.
OR: Mason Gamble: how old is he?
WA: Eleven.
OR: Okay. He uttered a few kind of, racey, terms. Did you have to take him aside and explain what a hand job is? Did you have to explain that type of stuff to him?
WA: No. Eleven, they already get it.
BW: What I particularly liked about the film was how you made the love between the girl and Bill Murray and Jason Schwartman. You know, at times, you almost wanna cry because Jason's getting his heart broken so badly, yet he's only fifteen. That's what I really enjoyed about the film, how you made it where it's almost Bill and Jason are really having a fight-
WA: Yeah.
BW: You've got it in this comedy way, but you have the love-
WA: We wanted them to be sort of equals, him and Bill Murray. And that was sort of one of the missions of it, we had to make that meaningful.
OR: Could you tell us one great funny anecdote from the shooting?
WA: Um, well, I don't know if there's any funny ones. That's a tall order. But, there was a day when Bill Murray gets attacked by bees and that was a kind of tricky thing to shoot, because there are hundreds and hundreds of bees in the room and when I walked in there, everyone had on these beekeeping outfits and masks and everything. And the sound guy had the thing on so the bees wouldn't get into his mouth. And then I realized Bill's gonna come in there and he's just gonna be wearing a bathrobe, so that wasn't gonna be a good thing. So I took off my beekeeping stuff and out cameraman took off his beekeeping stuff. And they were spraying smoke and stuff and the script supervisor got stung. But it was good. Bill, he's not really scared of bees, so it worked out OK.
OR: Did Bill get stung?
WA: Bill? Oh he didn't get stung at all. Only the script supervisor got stung.
OR: You majored in Philosphy at the University of Texas.
WA: Uh-huh.
OR: Did you fit in filmmaking while you were at college?
WA: No, I didn't do any film stuff when I was there. But I was making some little films when I was there; I did some documentary stuff, and that kind of thing. And I was writing, but I didn't study film. I did read a lot of film stuff in the library, they had a really good library at the University of Texas. And I learned a lot of kind of important stuff about filmmaking from reading about it.
PS: There's only so much you can learn through books. Did you learn along the way during 'Bottle Rocket'?
WA: Well, no, I made a lot of shorts. And I think you can learn a lot from the books, but you can't learn it unless you know what it really means practically. So you gotta combine making films, watching films, and listening to other filmmakers, reading about films, for it to all make sense in a way that's really gonna teach you how to do it. And editing films is like a key thing you have to know about. You've got to figure that stuff out of you're really gonna be fully-formed. And be able to make a movie where you don't need a lot of support. When you're making a short, you gotta kind's not gonna be somebody else who's gonna be able to hold it together. You might have a good cameraman or something like that but, especially in situations like that, you can't rely on anybody to help you make it work. You've got to have it really figured out.
PS: You had a pretty substantial budget with 'Bottle Rocket', it wasn't a pennies and nickels project. How did you get it...your first film? Did you show them your shorts?
WA: Well, yeah, we had our shorts and we had our script and it was just this guy, Jim Brooks, and his partner Polly Platt, and they wanted to make the movie and they happened to have the right kinds of influence to get that done.
PS: Polly Platt was married to Bogdanovich, wasn't she?
[Am I the king of name-dropping, or what? Dammit, that slipped!]
WA: That's right, yeah.
OR: So Jim Brooks has been an important influence for you...
WA: Yeah, Brooks was very helpful to us.
OR: As a last question: there was something on a bulletin board as to whether or not the soundtrack would come out. Is it?
WA: Yeah, it's out...right now, I think. Just come out.
OR: Kind of confused about whether it would be of the songs or Mothersbaugh's music.
WA: It has both.