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Capone talks to Wes Anderson about working with animals like Clooney and Streep while making FANTASTIC MR. FOX!!!

Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here. From he first came on the filmmaking scene with 1996's BOTTLE ROCKET, Wes Anderson has been one of the more analyzed and idolized writer-directors working today. He's also one of the few with a recognizable style--from his opening credits to his camera angles to his music choices. Even with his latest work, the stop-motion animation joy FANTASTIC MR. FOX, Anderson has found himself changing the type of actors that he's working with (puppets you can pose) without sacrificing vision. In many ways, the film is not that different than his 2001 feature THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS--both are about a dysfunctional family working its way through crisis. His mainstay Jason Schwartzman is still on hand as Mr. Fox's son Ash, a rebel cut from the same cloth as RUSHMORE's Max Fischer. Sorry, I don't have parallels for Anderson's two most recent works, THE LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU or THE DARJEELING LIMITED, but that dysfunctional family things still seems to hold true for those as well. From the book by Roald Dahl, FANTASTIC MR. FOX is Anderson's most accessible work by far, if only for the fact that most stable-minded children will probably love its humor and irreverence, not to mention the old-school animation. I was fortunate enough two years ago to sit down with Anderson (along with Schwartzman) to discuss THE DARJEELING LIMITED, and, later that night, do a great Q&A with the pair before an energetic and inquisitive audience. So it was great to chat with him again after he'd been through the animation experience he was just beginning the last time I saw him. Enjoy Wes Anderson…
Capone: Good to see you again. Wes Anderson: I remember that Q&A very well from two years ago. It was a nice time. Capone: It was a wonderful screening, great interview, good crowd. The perfect storm of element. At the time, I remember that you were just getting this one going, and I think at that point you'd just determined that Henry [Selick] couldn’t do it. WA: Yeah, Henry was done. Right after that was when we really dug in, but we were all set up at that point. We were poised to set to work. Capone: I remember Jason knew he was in it, but he probably knew that early on. WA: He did. I wonder how long he had known by then. Gosh, I don’t remember. Capone: He was bragging about that, but don’t know if you had certainly announced any of the other actors at that point. I’m sure you knew some of them, like your brother would maybe be in it. WA: Yeah, I don’t really even remember. I know by then we had designed a prototype of the main puppet, but basically everything else that we had to make came after that, and we hadn’t recorded anybody yet either. Or maybe we did… I wonder if… you know, around the time of the Venice Film Festival was when we first kind of started doing our recordings or we planned to do our first recordings. Maybe we did have most of the cast by then actually, now that I think about it. Capone: YI think I remember at the time you probably did, because I remember at the time that Cate Blanchett's name came up as being in this, although she apparently ended up not being able to and Meryl Streep took her place. WA: That might’ve been. Cate Blanchett I had talked to even before then and it didn’t seem like it was very practical, because she had already launched her theater company work in Australia, and it seemed like she was going to be there most of the time she wasn’t acting in a live-action movie. Capone: Do you love the idea that kids will come and see this movie and learn all sorts of bad behavior about thievery. I just think that’s a wonderful thing, because I could see kids really getting into this. WA: Yeah, I think that Dahl… Our goal when we were writing it and every step of the way was to try to make it Roald Dahl, to make our version of Roald Dahl and to always say “How do we think he might’ve done it” and to try to imagine we were Dahl as the point of view of the movie. Dahl consistently lacks a deep respect for any kind of authority figure. Capone: [Laughs] I wrote down “anti-establishment.” WA: Exactly! And I think he encouraged that, freethinking, you know. The other thing is I kind of feel like some kids might learn about Latin, which I would like to think will happen. [Both Laugh] Capone: Let’s hope so, yeah. Of course the idea of a children’s story set in the world of agriculture seems very British to me. I’m not talking about cows and chickens and things, this is about like old school farming, yeah. WA: Yeah absolutely. You know, it’s kind of a can of worms that we opened up, because I was always interested in British-ness of it, but not to the degree that I didn’t want to cast George Clooney and Bill Murray. Capone: You have got these very American actors playing these parts. It’s a great sort of meshing though, so it works. WA: And the movie has done very well in England, in fact. It’s already opened in England, but there still are a lot of people that say, “Why are the villains British and the good guys are American?” That then becomes a whole thing, and for us it was more like we’d make a combination that… Rather than doing the cliché of English villains, we thought we would do something that’s not the way you would normally do it, which is make the animals American, because have written a dialogue that is American, but still have it be kind of a anglophilic movie, with the sensibility. Jarvis Cocker, his character is not a bad guy. Anyway, I don’t know. [Both Laugh] Capone: I’m sure this comes up in every interview, but it is fascinating for those of us who understand a little bit about how animation happens--both the recording of the voices and the actual animation style--that the idea of recording out of doors must have driven your sound people completely berserk. WA: I can tell just the way you phrased the question suggests to me that you know more about it than I did before we started, because really my thing was “Okay, so now what do we do? Do we start animating or do the voices first? Okay!” Then I thought we would do voices, and so it was like “I guess we will need a farm, because it mostly happens on a farm.” There was one reference, which is the CREATURE COMFORTS films, and those are like documentary. Those are literally interviews that they go in and whatever noise is on there, they figure out something. That was a definite inspiration for this style of recording, and the other thing was I thought it might be nice if everybody was together. We wrote part of the script at Gipsy House, at Dahl’s house… Capone: Oh, wow. WA: DARJEELING LIMITED we wrote in India. We finished the script in the Himalayas, and we made a point of shooting on a real train rather than in a studio. Capone: That like method writing. WA: Right. It is like method writing. I like undertaking processes where we go on locations or an adventure together, so this was a way to make it a group adventure, to record the voices for a week and that everybody would get to know each other, play the scenes together, and there were some things… Well there is one particular thing that happened that would not have. It was an accident… Part of the thing also is in a situation like this, maybe it opens us up to good accidents happening, even though it also protects us from the possibility of having really good recording. But one thing that happened, for instance, we were doing this scene where at the end of the movie they see this wolf, so we were on the edge of these woods and there’s a meadow and then a hill on this farm in Connecticut, and George Clooney and Jason and my brother and our friend Wally [Wallace Wolodarsky], who plays Kylie, they are all there and they are acting and we start to do the scene… It’s late in the day, it was a very nice atmosphere, and we are figuring out “Okay, so you guys are looking over here” and the soundman, who was a movie soundman just booming it like a movie… I was like “Who’s going to be the wolf so they can watch, just to have something to look at?” And Bill Murray is standing there with his hands in his pockets, and he’s not in the scene and he jogged up the hill. We all watched him jog. He went a long, long way away until he was very little, and then we were like “Okay, you come from there.” He did the scene and he played the wolf so wonderfully. It was mesmerizing for everybody and it really affected the way the guys were doing the scene, and it was very moving and just kind of great, and then I took out my phone and started filming him with my phone. In the end, we brought that to England to the animators and they imitated Bill Murray’s performance. The animator who did that shot copied Bill Murray’s performance and his movements. It almost feels like Bill had been practicing this--I'm not 100 percent sure he didn't. But at any rate, we wouldn’t have had Bill Murray’s unaccredited performance as the wolf if we hadn’t been all together doing this on this farm. Capone: So did you film the sound-recording process as well as record it? WA: No, not really. Our producer Jeremy, every now and then would be getting things, but it was more like “Let’s get some pictures for publicity.” I just felt like “Right now, it’s just about hearing it.” In fact, I think it was fine that way, because what ends up happening is the animators and all of us and the editorial team and the storyboard gang, we all listened to the performances and then use our imaginations taking the inspirations of the actors, and so it adds a different step. That’s kind of nice, whereas if it was really just duplicating what they have done, it’s a different process. Capone: I meant just film it for your own amusement or because so often when actors are doing animation voice recording, they will be acting out the scene in the booth. WA: We did, but not enough. It’s one of those things, too, where afterwards I say “I wish we had filmed this,” but when it’s actually happening it’s like “No, everybody come on and just let the actors focus.” My brother did a documentary when we were making RUSHMORE, and he cut a reel of me just [putting his hand in front of the camera movement] going like that to him over and over and over throughout the whole process of the movie, but we did get some of it. Capone: The funniest thing about getting all the actors together for this is that that’s the beauty of today's animation recording, that you don’t need to have all of the actors there at once, so they can each come on their own schedule. But the idea that you have to get them all together just cracks me up. They all had to schedule it like a regular live-action movie. WA: We did. The only thing is you can work very quickly when there are no pictures, where on a movie you are rushing to do five pages in a day or something, with this you are rushing to get 30 pages in a day. We did go back, and the thing is after getting these initial sections, then it became a part of all of these actors’ lives for the next two years, because I would write a new scene or have something where there would be something else I would like to try and we would say, “Can I get you for anytime Thursday or Friday?” They’d go into a sound booth somewhere, and I would be on the phone, so it was then filled out by things like that. Capone: Let's talk about the look, because it is a rough look. There is no doubt that it is stop motion, there’s no smoothing of the edges. I love that you can see the animator’s "fingerprints," when the hair shifts mysteriously or the fabric in the clothes moves. I love that that’s all there. Combined with the color choices of the sets and backgrounds, it feels very natural Why was it important to you? WA: Yes, right. I think because the only animation I have done before is with Henry on LIFE AQUATIC and those were really…. I had my ideas for the things, but those really were things where when it came to actually animating them, Henry went off, did it, and sent it back and I said “Okay, good.” This was a completely different thing. This took over my life for a year of photography and a year of prep and it’s a much more involved thing. But what drew me to stop motion in the first place is that immediacy, those textures, and the fact that you can sort of see how the illusion is being created. You can tell somebody is touching it and the charm and magic of it comes out of the fact that you can sort of see what it is. It’s inanimate miniature objects and somebody is making them seem alive. I feel like I haven’t gone through the evolution that somebody like Henry has, where you can make that more and more sophisticated and smooth and perfect, so I wanted the kind of roughness and there are some very basic choices we made that I think enhance that. For instance, animating on ones or twos and basically did the whole thing on twos and having fur and using cotton balls for smoke and saran wrap for water and using techniques like that, that they can certainly do them in a more refined way now, and we kind of went another way, and that’s part of what appeals to me about stop motion, I guess. Capone: Would you ever tackle something like that again? WA: I would, because by the time we got.. We had a rough first chapter of shooting the movie, because I had thought it was going to be like LIFE AQUATIC where we get all of this stuff prepared, and I send it off. And then as I began to realize I was never going to be happy with it if I weren’t involved to the degree I wanted to be involved. It became frustrating for everybody because they were not used to it, but we figured out a system to do it and really the key thing was this computer system, this VPN [Virtual Private Network] system where I could look through each camera, so at the most there were 30 units, and I could just bounce from unit to unit. The thing that happens with a movie like this is everything sort of gets scheduled and everybody has their deadlines, and it’s going to happen, whether you are there or not, it’s going to happen, and so my thing is “How do I make sure each thing is happening, and I get to say "You know what? I have an idea, I would like it to be like this. And this thing, can we make it a bit different?” I have to try to keep my eye on every single thing, so I can get a chance to add something to it or modify it and that was the whole thing. Once we had a system to do that, it became… It’s all consuming and it takes every second of everyday for the whole process, but it worked and it was fun. I feel like I would like to do another movie that way, and we would start out with this system, and I have a whole group of people now who are comfortable with working with that way. Capone: As always the music choices are inspired. People were talking a lot about the heroes and villains use at the beginning, but I was struck by the use of the song “Love” from the Disney ROBIN HOOD. Were you just looking for fox references at that point, or did you just like that song? WA: I think it was… The Disney ROBIN HOOD is the fox reference and the song, the “Oo-De-Lally” song that’s in ROBIN HOOD, that song kind of inspired our Jarvis Cocker song, and so I had a little musical connection to it already, and then I was also interested in music from children’s movies and children’s television. We have Burl Ives and we have Davy Crockett… Capone: The Burl Ives is perfect. He adds this narrative quality to anything he sings. WA: He would have been in it, if he were alive, I’m sure! And I feel that with Davey Crockett, that hat could be Mr. Fox. Capone: I was going to say, I did get the fox tail in the mail. That was. [Laughs] WA: You did! Good. Capone: Wes, thank you so much! WA: I hope I didn’t ramble too long. Capone: You rambled just right. I have a million questions about this film, because it’s such a wonderful tribute to all stop-motion movies, especially The Brother’s Quay works. WA: That’s one of my definite inspirations. Those movies are about stop-motion, the subject matter, and that was one of the things that turned me on to this a long time ago. Capone: It was wonderful, and I can’t wait to see it again actually. WA: Sounds good. Capone: I’ll follow the story and know the story already, so now I can just look at everything in the background and enjoy the depth that you created with those sets. WA: I was trying to get it where Jason and I might be able to do a thing like we did last time, for Jason to come here. I had hoped to do it on this visit, but everything is just happening now Capone: You are a busy man. Well, it was great seeing you again. Thanks! WA: Thanks again. It was good to see you. Bye.
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