November 10, 2013

How to Make a Wes Anderson Spoof: BTS of 'The Midnight Coterie of Sinister Intruders'

MidnightCoiterieI'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 Intrudersdo 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.

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.

Lighting

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.

Shooting

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.

Camera/Lenses

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

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.

Link: How We Did It: SNL - "The Midnight Coterie of Sinister Intruders" -- Alex Buono

Your Comment

18 Comments

I wouldn't even dare try to imitate Anderson's style, not just because I feel that I'd probably never live up to it (especially in a narrative sense) but also because I feel that it's important to develop your own style and vision. His great inspiration to those of us still trying to find an original vision and style. That's not to say that I condemn these guys, as it is a parody, and there's no harm in that.

November 10, 2013 at 11:03PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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You do realize this is not a bunch of wanna-be's filmmakers making a parody to put on youtube, but a group of working professionals who were paid to make the parody by NBC--or maybe not...

November 11, 2013 at 10:31AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Sneaky

For the most part, my response was to this line "Many have tried to replicate Anderson’s aesthetic — and many have failed." Comprehension skills go a long way.

November 11, 2013 at 5:55PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Kyle, you also gave no context as to who you were directing the "that's not to say that I condemn these guys" line. Seemed pretty misleading to me, too.

November 15, 2013 at 7:27PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Ben

Kyle, I think you missed the point of what a parody is trying to achieve...
Alex Buono seems to be ridiculously dialed at replicating movie/commercial styles for parody purposes. It's insane how the sets, costumes, camera movements, looks and colors are so expertly replicated all within the tiny timeframe they have to work with.
http://www.alex-buono.com/work/

November 11, 2013 at 1:49PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Liam

I think you are the once misunderstanding me. Read: "That’s not to say that I condemn these guys, as it is a parody, and there’s no harm in that."

On the contrary to what you are saying; I love this parody!

November 11, 2013 at 5:52PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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i'd make the argument that for beginning film-makers, there's no harm in trying to re-create the looks of filmmakers you admire no more than it is for beginning artists to begin by copying other art, or writers emulating the writing styles of their heroes, or musicians learning how to play music written by others they like. It's all part of the process in figuring out exactly what your style actually is. Some might get mired in this process (witness the bazillion cover bands), but the ones that have vision, will eventually take from these exercises the pieces that fit them and add to it the things that make them unique.

November 14, 2013 at 5:13PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Shane

Swell.

November 10, 2013 at 11:31PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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darknessdarkness

It's so impressive what Buono and his team managed to acomplish in such a narrow time frame. That was a hugely informative article and a great read as well.

November 10, 2013 at 11:42PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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claude riban

Is the answer to the headline shoot wide and have Owen Wilson? Because that would be my first guess. :-)
/Now read your piece. Good call on the Hawks.

November 11, 2013 at 4:42AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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marklondon

anyone know how to watch this if your not in the US?

November 11, 2013 at 5:45AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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matt

November 11, 2013 at 8:41AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Lou

thanks!

November 11, 2013 at 10:55PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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matt

vimeo, youtube, ...

November 11, 2013 at 10:21AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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citizen

The Play is a murder mystery thriller where a famous theater group in Kolkata is ravaged when the members of the group gets killed one by one in a span of one night. Only three of the members survive. The task of finding out the truth falls on one member, but the answers the member was looking for are not the answers the member will get. Will the truth kill the member or just make the member even stronger. Find out as The Play begins.

November 11, 2013 at 9:03AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Quite ironic they choose to emulate a director who is the king of derivative filmmaking.

November 11, 2013 at 6:23PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Fresno Bob

THIS is the kind of NFS article (and the link to the full article) that I appreciate. I can only read so many product reviews and blurbs on the latest camera updates. I'm not continually investing in new cameras, but I am continually learning and improving my filmmaking skills. This one has specific, detailed info that I can actually start applying to my work immediately. Keep up the good work guys!

November 15, 2013 at 3:40PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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gregsonfilm

I'm new to filmmaking, and so excited to learn from Alex in person! http://www.vs2.mzed.com/overview-trailer

June 29, 2015 at 8:17PM

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Amanda Killingsworth
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