In the independent film world, Wes Anderson is a rarity. On the basis of a short that screened at the Sundance Film Festival in 1993, Columbia Pictures ultimately put up $6 million for Anderson’s first feature “Bottle Rocket,” which was released in February.
“It was a complete career-starter,” says indie producers’ rep John Pierson, author of “Spike, Mike, Slackers and Dykes: A Guided Tour Across a Decade of Independent American Cinema.”
Of course, Anderson did not pull this coup off single-handedly. He and collaborator Owen Wilson, who co-wrote and starred in “Bottle Rocket,” got a little help from writer-director-producer L.M. Kit Carson (“Paris, Texas”). A friend of Wilson’s family, Carson encouraged the duo to lengthen their film short from eight to 15 minutes and opened some doors for them.
After its debut at Sundance, Carson made sure that the extended short found its way to Barbara Boyle and Michael Taylor (“Phenomenon”), who became “Bottle Rocket’s” executive producers. Boyle and Taylor in turn showed it to Jim Brooks, Polly Platt and Richard Sakai of Gracie Films, who produced the tale about a trio of upper-middle-class underachievers who aspire to a life of professional crime.
Nearly a year after the film’s release, Anderson, 27, is a little philosophical. The grosses from “Bottle Rocket” were negligible despite good reviews. “It didn’t quite get the studio push,” says Anderson, who noted that creative exec Michael Costigan was a strong supporter of the film. “But I guess that’s what everybody says when their movie doesn’t make any money.”
Still, it’s not every day that a rookie gets to play in the World Series and Anderson learned a lot from his experience. For their next project, Anderson and Wilson have decided to work with New Line Cinema, which they believe has the marketing expertise to handle a film with an indie sensibility.
“Jim Brooks gave us the only chance we had to make ‘Bottle Rocket.’ We couldn’t have gotten it done without him,” Anderson says. “His contract was with Sony Pictures so there was never any question about what studio would produce the movie. “This time we talked to a couple of different places. (New Line head of production) Mike DeLuca seemed to have a real affinity for what we’re talking about.”
Anderson’s project with New Line is called “Rushmore.” Set at a boys prep school in the East, it tells the story of a 15-year-old’s budding feelings for a local elementary school teacher. The pic also explores the youth’s friendship with a tycoon who is a benefactor of his school.
As was “Bottle Rocket,” “Rushmore” will be a collaboration between Anderson and Wilson, whom he met at the University of Texas in Austin, where Anderson earned a bachelor of arts in philosophy degree in 1991. The pair made their first film together in college after getting into a dispute with the landlord of the house they were renting.
“We stopped paying rent and ended up moving out of the house in the middle of the night because he wouldn’t do repairs on the windows,” Anderson recalls. “We ended up resolving the conflict by making a 20-minute documen-tary about him. It was called ‘Karl Hendler Properties,’ which was the name of his company.” The $350 budget for the film was provided by Hendler.
The son of an advertising exec and a former archaeologist, Anderson started making Super 8 movies as a child with his older brother Mel and his younger brother Eric. One of their most memorable projects was “The Skate-board Four,” a three-reel, nine-minute film that Anderson made when he was 12 years old.
While living in the infamous house owned by Hendler, Anderson started writing the script for “Bottle Rocket” in 1990 with Wilson. With the help of Wilson’s older brother Andrew, the two started filming in 1992. In addition to Owen Wilson, the pic featured the youngest Wilson brother Luke and Bob Musgrave, who both appeared in the full-length theatrical version.
“We thought we were making a feature film but we ran out of money after six days and it became a short,” Ander-son says. Andrew Wilson, who produced the short, showed it to Carson, who met the Wilson family when Owen and Andrew’s father, Bob, was running a local public TV station.
In addition to “Rushmore,” Anderson, who is repped by Jim Berkus at UTA and managed by Barry Mendel, also is working on a Western for Jim Brooks at Gracie Films.
Although he moved from Texas to Los Angeles in 1994, Anderson has spent the past six months in New York writing the script for “Rushmore.” The writer-director believes Gotham is more conducive to scriptwriting than L.A.: “And besides, my girlfriend lives in New York.”