What does it take to get nominated by the Academy in the areas of production design, costume design, as well as hair and makeup — not to mention cinematography and editing?
If you take Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel” as an example, it takes a love letter to a bygone era that never really existed except in the minds of the filmmaker, his characters — and the artists who crafted its eccentric, meticulous look and its rich visual mix of historic reality and storybook whimsy.
Most of the film was shot in and around Görlitz, a town in eastern Germany on the Polish border, more than 200 kilometers from the nearest major production facilities in Berlin.
“Wes almost wanted it to be like we were a repertory company landing on the moon and rediscovering creativity in that place,” says set decorator Anna Pinnock. “We had to do a lot of sourcing locally, which I think really added something to the film, because we were looking in unusual places, like in people’s attics in villages.”
The bulk of the filming took place in the defunct department store Görlitzer Warenhaus, which depicts the titular spa resort — located in the fictional Alpine Republic of Zubrowka — in two distinct eras: the age of pre-World War II splendor and the period of late-’60s Iron Curtain decline.
The film’s offices were on the top floor, and production designer Adam Stockhausen transformed the store’s atrium into the hotel’s lobby, with portions walled off to create other hotel sets, as well as the work spaces for the various crafts departments.
For longshots of the exterior, the art department built a 14-by-7-foot miniature at Studio Babelsberg in Potsdam.
As is traditional on an Anderson film, wardrobe and makeup were not given trailers in which to prepare the actors. “Wes likes to keep it in a very contained space, so he can visit very easily and the actors can come and go without any difficulties,” says hair and makeup department head Frances Hannon, who’s worked with Anderson on four films, beginning with 1998’s “Rushmore.”
Hannon developed a shorthand with costume designer Milena Canonero on two previous Anderson films, 2004’s “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou” and 2007’s “The Darjeeling Limited.”
Some things could go unspoken, but, “of course, we talk about color all the time,” Hannon says. “Because, for example, one wouldn’t want to make (Ralph Fiennes’ character) Gustave a redhead and then give him a purple suit.” For the elderly women romanced by Gustave, “every blonde hair on their heads was chosen to be the right shade to work with their costume colors.”
Members of the hair and makeup crew were generally not allowed to step onto the set to touch up their handiwork, which ranged from a vast array of wigs and false moustaches to Harvey Keitel’s body tattoos and Saoirse Ronan’s Mexico-shaped facial birthmark.
“Once you finish your work, the artist become Wes,” Hannon says. “He doesn’t want the interference breaking into that make-believe world.”
Anderson made an exception with Tilda Swinton, allowing Hannon on the set to dab away the sweat caused by the elaborate prosthetic makeup that transformed the now-54-year-old actress into the wealthy 84-year-old widow Madame D.
The task of aging Swinton was headed by prosthetic makeup designer Mark Coulier, who won an Oscar for turning Meryl Streep into British prime minister Margaret Thatcher in 2011’s “The Iron Lady.” It took more than four hours to apply the 11 silicon prosthetics and Hannon’s various wig pieces on Swinton.
Although Coulier had six to seven weeks to prep, he never got to test the completed makeup on Swinton with the hair and costume during pre-production. The test day was the first of Swinton’s three days on the film, during which they got shots of her lying dead on the floor and in a coffin.
“There’s a certain benefit to having some kind of spontaneity happen on the day,” Coulier says. “Sometimes things can get labored. You can do a test makeup months before something shoots, and people would pick holes in it and you have to re-sculpt it.”