Though he has yet to win an Oscar (despite seven nominations, and counting), Wes Anderson is largely considered one of today’s most influential filmmakers—and a true auteur. It takes just a few seconds to recognize a movie as being Anderson’s… and not only because Bill Murray is probably playing a key role in it. Between his talent for dialogue and his distinctive aesthetic, Anderson has carved out his very own moviemaking niche. To celebrate the artist’s 50th birthday, here are some things you might not know about your favorite Wes Anderson movies.
1. Bottle Rocket started out as a 13-minute short.
In 1993, Wes Anderson and his University of Texas at Austin classmate Owen Wilson made their filmmaking debut with Bottle Rocket, a 13-minute short that made its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. The project—which the pair co-wrote together and Anderson directed—was meant to serve as a calling card for their talent behind the camera, and they had planned to cast established actors in the lead roles. But when the budget wouldn’t allow for it, Wilson stepped in as one of the leads—and enlisted his brother Luke along with him.
In 1996, a feature-length version of Bottle Rocket was released—but bombed at the box office. In the years since, it has gained a large critical following.
2. Rushmore Academy was the director's Alma Mater.
Wes Anderson sent location scouts across the United States and Canada to find the perfect high school to shoot Rushmore. He was having a tough time trying to find the school, until his mother sent him a picture of his old high school in Houston, Texas: St. John's School. Anderson thought it was the perfect location to make the movie.
3. The primary story for The Royal Tenenbaums came from Wes Anderson’s parents’ divorce.
Though it was partly inspired by real life, Anderson admits on the DVD commentary for The Royal Tenenbaums that the film itself ended up being very different from his own personal experience. Still, some small details remain, such as the fact that Ethel Tenenbaum is an archeologist, and so was Anderson’s mother.
4. A single image inspired the story for The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou was inspired by a single image Anderson had of seeing the inner workings of a boat cut in half. The vision ended up in the final movie and was created using a massive set that measured 150 feet long and 40 feet high.
5. A piece of fruit helped Owen Wilson maintain his limp in The Darjeeling Limited.
To ensure that his character maintained his limp in The Darjeeling Limited, Owen Wilson stuck a lime in his shoe.
6. Anderson visited Roald Dahl's gypsy house, and wrote much of The Fantastic Mr. Fox there.
To complete his adaptation of Roald Dahl’s novel, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Anderson immersed himself in the author’s whimsical world. He stayed at Dahl's home in Buckinghamshire, England, and wrote much of the script there. “You can see his hand at work at this house," Anderson told Collider. "There’s a gypsy caravan in the back that he bought from a family of gypsies that were traveling through there ... We in fact modeled some bunk beds in the movie on this gypsy caravan. The room where he wrote is kind of carefully modified just how he wanted it. He wrote not on a desk but [on] a roll of cardboard that’s taped up that went across his lap with a board with pool table felt on it ... and an electric heater that’s mounted on two kind of untwisted coat hangers that he could slide forward and back to control the level of heat ... There’s a real personality there.”
7. Moonrise Kingdom was the first time Anderson worked without Owen Wilson.
In 2012, nearly 20 years after both Anderson and Wilson made their filmmaking debut with the Bottle Rocket short, Anderson directed Moonrise Kingdom—which he co-wrote with Roman Coppola. It was the first time that Wilson wasn’t involved in an Anderson project in some capacity.
8. Bill Murray wanted to make Rushmore for free.
Once Bill Murray read the screenplay, he wanted to be in the movie so badly that he considered appearing in it for free. Murray ended up working on Rushmore at scale with the Screen Actors Guild day rate minimum for smaller indie film projects. Anderson estimated that Murray made about $9000 for his work on the film.
9. Wes Anderson has a cameo in The Royal Tenenbaums .
It's the filmmaker's hand that stamps the library card of the book at the beginning of the movie.
10. Tilda Swinton spent five hours in the makeup chair each day for The Grand Budapest Hotel.
Turning Tilda Swinton into 84-year-old dowager Madame D. was no easy task. It took five hours a day to achieve the final result. ”We’re not usually working with a vast, Bruckheimer-type budget on my films, so often we’re trying a work-around,” Anderson told Entertainment Weekly. "But for the old-age makeup I just said, ‘Let’s just get the most expensive people we can.”
11. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou was inspired by Jacques Cousteau.
Anderson was also inspired to make the movie because of one of his childhood heroes: Jacques-Yves Cousteau, the popular oceanographer and adventurer. Many of the details in the movie mirror Cousteau’s real life. The character of Zissou was originally supposed to be named “Steve Cousteau,” and besides being an ocean-documentarian like the fictitious Zissou, Cousteau also had a research vessel named the Calypso (Zizzou’s is the Belafonte), which, like Zissou’s ship, had a mini-sub, a gyrocopter, and a research balloon. Cousteau's crew wore red knit caps and uniforms, and his son Phillipe was tragically killed in a plane crash.
12. Using the word “cuss” in place of actual cuss words in The Fantastic Mr. Fox was Anderson’s decision.
To keep the movie family-friendly, Anderson and co-writer Noah Baumbach replaced actual cuss words with the word cuss. “The cuss thing was as simple as it’s a PG," Anderson told Collider. "At the very beginning of talking about writing this, we were [here in Los Angeles] and kind of came up with that thing and it was probably that we had some line that we couldn’t say. We said, ‘How can we? This is funny this way. How can we do this?’ Then it just started to expand from there. At a certain point in the process, there was probably twice as much cussing in it as there is in the end."
13. Moonrise Kingdom co-stars Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman had never seen a typewriter.
Want to feel old? It wasn’t until filming Moonrise Kingdom that the movie's two young stars, Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman, had ever encountered a typewriter in real life. “Fran [McDormand] had a lot of fun with that,” Hayward said. “She couldn’t believe it. She showed me that the keys are in the same place as now [on computers].”
14. Rushmore Upset Francis Ford Coppola.
Director Francis Ford Coppola owns a winery, and when he first saw Rushmore, he was upset with Anderson because he used Coppola’s chief Napa Valley wine rival during Max's post-play celebration. (It probably didn't help matters that Coppola is Schwartzman's uncle.)
15. Margot's wooden finger in The Royal Tenenbaums was intended for a character in Rushmore.
Rushmore's Margaret Yang was supposed to have had the digit blown off in a science experiment, but it was scrapped and later included in The Royal Tenenbaums.
16. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou’s Team Zissou uniforms were a nod to Star Trek.
Besides the Cousteau influence, the now-famous blue polyester Team Zissou uniforms were also inspired by the uniforms worn by the characters on the U.S.S. Enterprise in the original Star Trek TV series.
The costumes were created by famed costume designer Milena Cononero, who is best known for working with director Stanley Kubrick on A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, and The Shining. She also worked with Anderson again on The Darjeeling Limited and The Grand Budapest Hotel.
17. Wes Anderson used his own suit fabric for Mr. Fox.
Anderson was so dedicated to making Mr. Fox come alive that the director even lent the character his own suit material. He told Rotten Tomatoes, “The reason I used the material from my suit was that I really liked it, and I thought he’d probably like it too. I just thought corduroy might be good for Mr. Fox!”
18. Ben Stiller was cast as Chas Tenenbaum because he was an early fan of Bottle Rocket.
Ben Stiller liked Anderson's debut movie so much that he cast actor Owen Wilson, who played Dignan in Bottle Rocket, in The Cable Guy, which Stiller directed. Stiller and Wilson have, of course, gone on to collaborate on several films since then.
19. Raleigh St. Clair, Bill Murray's character in The Royal Tenenbaums, is based on noted neurologist and writer Oliver Sacks.
Anderson was a big fan of Sacks’s four-part documentary from 1998 called The Mind Traveler.
20. All of the undersea creatures in The Life Aquatic were created using stop motion animation.
All of the undersea creatures in The Life Aquatic were done using stop motion animation, and were created by legendary stop motion director and animator Henry Selick who is best known for directing The Nightmare Before Christmas. Selick and Anderson were originally going to re-team after The Life Aquatic on Anderson’s own stop motion animated film Fantastic Mr. Fox, but Selick dropped out of the project to direct his own animated feature, Coraline.