What's Wrong With Wes Anderson?

A decade after Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums, Generation Y's anointed auteur tries for a comeback with Fantastic Mr. Fox.

Why?

"I guess it's because of books and movies and I love the theater and the idea of the theater," he says, "So that appeals to me more. Owen likes the ocean ... Owen has a really nice way with the ocean and the sea."

Anderson tells me that throughout filming of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, the entire cast and crew would be intensely focused on a scene until, inevitably, something just off camera distracted them — Wilson splashing around in the sea.

"It's like somebody who gets up and walks out of the classroom and you can look out the window and he's outside climbing a tree or something," Anderson says. "Owen would end up in the water, you know, in almost any circumstance."

Anderson now lives in Paris, an event that, like his move to New York, was less planned than just happened. He had been in Europe promoting The Life Aquatic and wound down the tour in Paris for a few days. Meanwhile, his friend Schwartzman ended up in town shooting Marie Antoinette. After a while, Anderson moved in with the Rushmore star for a couple of months.

"Then, I got my own apartment and it kind of went from there," he says. "I didn't leave Europe for a year and a half. I didn't come back. I was supposed to go away for two weeks on this trip and I didn't come back."

I wonder if the choppy waters his picaresque, big-budget Cousteau send-up was navigating back home encouraged the exile, but Anderson says it was simply a matter of wanting a new experience.

"For me, in France, I'm a foreigner all the time. If I'm walking down the street and I turn a corner that's not familiar to me, it's like going to a movie or something," he says. "I feel like I'm on an adventure and seeing something new."

Anderson has a measured, folksy way of telling a story — even when he's reading from cue cards, as when he introduced Fantastic Mr. Fox at the sold-out AFI screening by reminiscing about "the last time I was in this famous movie palace."

It was in 1996 for a midnight showing of Independence Day, July 3 turning into the Fourth. "You could tell this movie was going to be a hit," he deadpanned. "There was a lot of excitement. And unlike tonight, we paid money for our tickets. I don't think it was any more crowded than it is now and I personally would like to believe that there is at least as much excitement here at this moment, at least for me. ..."

It was impossible to tell whether or not he was poking fun at something — Independence Day, the American Film Institute, himself. He went on to thank lots of people involved with the production of the film. Pointedly, he left out his director of photography, Tristan Oliver, who, along with animation director Mark Gustafson, had been quoted in an October 11 Los Angeles Times piece blaming Anderson for tension during the Fox shoot.

"He made our lives miserable," said Gustafson.

"I think he's a little sociopathic," added Oliver. "I think he's a little OCD. Contact with people disturbs him ... he's a bit like the Wizard of Oz. Behind the curtain."

Any way you slice it, an animated film done entirely in stop-motion — an exacting process that employs puppets, figurines and microscaled sets that are moved in tiny increments and shot frame by frame to simulate movement — is going to be a bitch. Anderson also insisted his animators refrain from using their favorite tool, computer-generated imagery. In other words, every shot in Fox was built from scratch. But the real issue for Gustafson and Oliver was that Anderson rarely set foot on the studio floor during principal photography. Instead, he called the shots from his Paris apartment via a system that allowed Anderson and his editor, Andrew Weisblum, to look through some 30 cameras on the film's London set remotely from their computers.

In effect, principal photography was directed via e-mail and phone.

Tension between a strong-willed director and his crew on a long, complicated shoot (more than a year in production) isn't exactly news. Still, having two key collaborators go on the record with their grievances is uncommon, and the Times piece seemed to be pleased that Anderson was being thrown under the bus.

The controversy was then aired on a fanboy site called The Rushmore Academy — The World of Wes Anderson. Oliver posted twice apologizing for "a couple of careless, flip remarks" that he says were taken out of context at a press junket, and stating that he has nothing but "the utmost respect" for Anderson. He also asked that the death threats stop.

For his part, Anderson says he initially misjudged how the movie would be made. His original plan was to write the script, record the actors' voices, work with the production designer to create the sets and puppets, draw some pictures and plan the shots. Then, he would hand the project off to the animators, who would send him back the shots.

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