March 16, 2014

Wes Anderson Filmmaking 101: Learn the Subtle Ways the Director Pulls You into His Films

When watching a film that's well-made, it's easy to forget that it's built from the ground up. This is especially fascinating when considering the quirky universe of Wes Anderson, who designs, builds, and captures every one of his films to meet the standards of a precocious perfectionist. Thanks to this Vimeo Staff Pick mini-documentary by Paul Waters, we get to peek inside the sometimes subtle, sometimes overt methods Anderson uses to craft his characters, sets, and shots.

Thanks in part to great information, fun animations, and helpful shot diagrams, Paul Waters' short documentary on Wes Anderson received the coveted Vimeo Staff Pick. It gives a thorough biography of the director that sets the stage for deconstructing his stylistic approach to making his films, which are often described as filmed stage plays.

Waters highlights several aspects of Anderson work. Costuming and set dressing has always been a crucial part of his films, and one great takeaway from that is that you can really add depth and efficiency to your storytelling by creating dimensional characters and sets through costuming and set design. Anderson is also known for picking music that communicates a desired mood, often using music from the 60s and 70s to capture a vintage musical aesthetic. And finally, the cinematography in Anderson's films is playful, kinetic, and, like I said before, is designed and choreographed like a play. This short doc, through animated shot diagrams, shows you how Anderson pulls off the shots that they don't teach you in film school.

Take a page from Wes Anderson's book (or a bunch) -- a master of visual storytelling -- remember how important the role of costuming, set decor, and music play in your film. Everything in a film tells a story, whether we know it or not, but unless we intentionally design and build those parts, we have no control over what stories they're telling.

What did you think of Waters' short documentary? What aspects of Wes Anderson's work would you want to know more about? Let us know in the comments below.

[via Paul WatersVimeo Staff Picks]

Your Comment


I used to really like Wes Anderson, but it seems as though he has become a victim of his own standards. His visual style does not evolve at all. As this documentary points out, he utilizes the same style of music, the same shots and the same fonts for everything. Wes plays it safe. He found a formula that people like and he has been afraid to deviate from that for quite some time. One could argue that when an artist develops a highly identifiable, stylized look to their art, they are more memorable. And I think Wes has excelled at this. He basically painted the indie film scene and sparked a trillion rip-off artists in doing so. I like his work a lot. He's done an amazing job. But his style has become boring and predictable. My favorite artists continue to take risks, change genres and evolve. Wes writes great stories, and his elaborate set design is second to none, but his direction has become extremely formulaic and repetitive.

March 16, 2014 at 6:01PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


March 17, 2014 at 3:41PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM

Matías Goinheix

Looking for the "thumbs down" button.

March 21, 2014 at 4:53PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


He found a formula HE likes, not everybody else. I know a lot of people who don't like his style.

July 17, 2014 at 3:35AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM

Chest Rockwell

Watch Bottle Rocket and then Grand Budapest Hotel. He hasn't changed his style but he's refined it quite a bit. I don't think many honest artists change their style - it's who they are.

July 17, 2014 at 6:15AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


Sorry, but this is really weak and presents nothing new. For great WA analysis, check out the video essays by Matt Zoller Seitz (here's the one on Rushmore:

March 16, 2014 at 6:41PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


Relax Rob, it's a primer. If you watch through to the end, it is noted that this is just a small brush, albeit a competent one, on the "World of Wes Anderson"; you are encouraged to discuss his work further. I did enjoy the link that you posted, but keep in mind, this is not meant to be a film by film examination. At the same time, I appreciate anyone with an opinion, and I thank you for watching, and for your feedback.

March 16, 2014 at 10:37PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


Very good to hear you appreciate people with opinions, and not to worry, no excitement was generated.
Nothing at all wrong with your video Paul, it is everything you say it is: competent, a primer, a "small brush" effort. None of this passes for the NFS standard (that I have become used to, at least), NFS sifts through the constant stream of content being produced to highlight great (often "must watch") material that is relevant to filmmakers. It is one of the best sites around for us. As I said in my original comment, there is nothing new here and that is the problem.

March 17, 2014 at 9:50AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


Nothing new to fans of WA but what about up and comers who don't know much about his work but were curious about him? This is a filmmaking website and there are no "standards" as everybody is subjective. Every article doesn't have to cater to every single person. You read the ones that grab your attention and the ones you are truly interested in. I appreciate every post that every writer puts and some of them I don't read and some I do as they pertain to me or are some sort of knowledge that cn only strengthen my skill set as a storyteller.

March 17, 2014 at 5:19PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM

Brad Watts

Thanks Brad, You make my point.

March 17, 2014 at 8:15PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


I have to agree as well Brad. I am new to all of this and although I am a fan of WA, I didn't know any of this. I appreciate the video and that the guy took the time out to provide further insight of the Mise-en-scène of WA films. I'm glad this is one of the articles that does not go above my head.

March 20, 2014 at 9:53PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


I thought this was pretty cool. It's very interesting seeing a style of a filmmaker broken down to it's most basic elements. It might be a little simplistic but it's almost like a primer for learning to shoot something to look similar to an Anderson film.

March 16, 2014 at 9:35PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


Thank you for this thoughtful article and for sharing this short!

March 16, 2014 at 10:54PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


Of course, Paul! Thanks for putting out great content that we can all learn from.

March 16, 2014 at 11:34PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM

V Renée
Managing Editor

I appreciate how Wes Anderson creates a distinct world in his films, one that conceptually reminds me of how early Disney Films were their own unique universe, visibly outside of the orbit the other Hollywood movie studios. It's not necessarily a world I seek to visit with regularly (I find many Wes-ism's cloying), but I admire his creativity, singularity of purpose and his ability to follow through on a unique vision and very specific aesthetic.

March 17, 2014 at 10:48AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM

Marc B

Very well put.

March 22, 2014 at 9:07PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


Wes Anderson is the Micheal Bay of Art Movies, seriously there's nothing there but some nice looking shots filled with unbelievable acting, characters, and situations.

March 17, 2014 at 11:13AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


I agree. It seems so simplistic yet it's so amazing.
But seriously don't be pumping Micheal Bay's tires. Even if you have watched far more of his films then Anderson's.

March 22, 2014 at 9:17PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


Concise and well-done. Really liked the animation. Thanks for sharing!

March 17, 2014 at 10:26PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM

Juan Augustus

He's almost 45, hardly young enough to be a "precocious perfectionist".
I am really sick of his ham handed style. which essentially amounts to every single shot being centered on horizontal and vertical axis, and a lot of bright colors.
Kubrick and Kurosawa of course utilized those same stylistic cues, but in moderation.

To borrow an example from a muic theory course I took once;
if you play a melody in all 5ths its sounds nice and harmonically powerful, but relatively flat.
The same melody with modulations between the 5th interval and 3rds & 4ths (and an odd 7th) will sound much more dynamic and beautiful.

March 21, 2014 at 12:29PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM

Russ D

Back in the day, when I used to collect comic books, especially Spider-Man, there were certain artists whose work I liked better than others ... and some artists that I didn't like at all. I liked the Spider-Man of Ditko and Romita (Sr.), even though I was introduced to Spidey via Ross Andru's version, which wasn't bad, but not that good either. However I would always cringe when I saw the style and name of Gil Kane in relation to Spider-Man stories ... or of anything else for that matter.

But I liked the constancy, the familiarity of Ditko's and of Romita's work. And as much as I liked Jack Kirby's art for some subject matter, he was horrible at drawing Spider-Man, and thankfully he was kept from doing him very often.

I used to read Kurt Vonnegut's novels, and loved the fact that I could count on a particular kind of writing style, even though the subject matter would vary.

I enjoy the music of Pink Floyd, and Fleet Foxes, and Enya on similar levels, because so much of their music has a familiar flavour -- a comfortable familiarity, all the while not one of contempt.

Wes Anderson, and Stanley Kubrick are two of my favourite filmmakers. Both of them have a familiar world they've created, a world into which we are given the opportunity, even the pleasure, to take a look inside. Their world operates on their rules.

Salvador Dalí also had a particular world that people could count upon visually.

There is no reason for Wes Anderson's style to "evolve".
It's fine just the way it is.
If I could pick one filmmaker to hang around with and to work with, it'd be Wes Anderson.

March 21, 2014 at 5:13PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


Really interesting-- I teach high school video production and I'm always trying to find current, interesting videos to show them and help them. We've discussed WA overhead shot use so this will be fun! If only I could show one of his movies in class!!

March 22, 2014 at 1:24PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


Unlike Wes Anderson pulling me in, the voice-over pulled me out.

June 16, 2015 at 5:47AM