I'm pretty sure that just as this amusing little trailer satirizing the iconic style of director Wes Anderson was made available to the public, filmmakers were asking, "How did they do that?" Many have tried to replicate Anderson's aesthetic -- and many have failed. So, what did the filmmakers of the SNL spoof trailer, The Midnight Coterie of Sinister Intruders, do in order to capture Anderson's signature cinematic sensibilities? Alex Buono, SNL's DP, explains just how they did it.
First things first -- here's the parody trailer, just in case you haven't seen it yet.
As Buono explains in his blog post, they knew it would take a lot more than utilizing the accessible things, like the color palette, symmetrical compositions, and slow-motion walking shots to skillfully and accurately parody Anderson's films. The team would have to deconstruct not only the artistic side of the films, but the technical side as well. That means, figuring out how to light, compose, dress, and shoot every shot. Buono begins with their first difficult task: finding a location.
Since finding a location similar to the very stylized spaces found in The Royal Tenenbaums or The Darjeeling Limited, Buono knew they'd have to build a set. However, keep in mind that this wasn't just a Wes Anderson spoof -- it was a Wes Anderson spoof -- with a coterie of sinister intruders. It was spoofing horror films, too.
Finding a location for the external shots was relatively straightforward; they used a Naval surgeon’s house that "looked more like a haunted French chateau." However, with the limited space of SNL's offices, Art Director Andrea Purcigliotti and director Rhys Thomas had to find another location option in which to built the set:
Steiner Stages in Brooklyn – a premiere sound stage facility — is located within the Brooklyn Navy Yard, which also contains a bunch of disused Naval Officer residences: boarded-up, overgrown, condemned old mansions. Not exactly the back lot at Universal Studios but perfect if you’re looking for a spooky old cabin in the woods.
Because of the sheer size of the house, as well as the need to cast long shadows to capture that horror look, Buono had to call in some pretty heavy artillery, including an 80' condor lift with two Arri T24 fesnels. Buono goes into a lot of detail in terms of what he used and how, but one technique he mentions was inspired by what he thought Anderson's DP uses:
In addition to this pre-rigging, I knew I would use a large soft bounce source as the main keylight for most of the scenes on stage. To my eye, that’s how I think Wes Anderson’s DP, Robert Yeoman, lights many of their scenes. I used a 2k open face bounced into an 8×8 unbleached muslin. Using an un-bleached muslin creates a warmer look than a bleached muslin, more like the look of a household lamp.
It's fairly common knowledge that Anderson prefers to shoot film, using 35mm for all except Moonrise Kingdom, which was shot with Super16, and Fantastic Mr. Fox, which was shot in digital. Furthermore, he loves to shoot with anamorphic lenses, specifically a 40mm.
The team used an Alexa Plus, with a set of Vantage Hawk V-series lenses, specifically: 40mm, 50mm, 75mm, 100mm and 135mm. Just like Anderson, they ended up using the 40mm on 90% of the shoot, giving the image that signature cylindrical distortion found in Anderson's movies.
Whip-pans & the "Paper Plane" shot
In order to get those whip-pans, Buono used a Scorpio 2-axis remote head, as opposed to a fluid head, on a Fisher10 dolly. This let him to set limits on the pan and tilt wheels, which allowed him to repeat the pan move correctly every time. In order to get the "paper plane" shot, Buono simply mounted the plane to a handheld camera.
Alex Buono shares so much information about the making of the parody trailer, giving an inside look at how the folks at SNL do things. (Well, they do them well.) Buono also dedicates a large chunk of his article to explaining exactly what shooting anamorphic entails, as well as some misconceptions about it. So, be sure to give it a thorough read!
What do you think about Alex Buono's behind-the-scenes article? What did you find helpful? Let us know in the comments.