Interview: Matt Zoller Seitz And THE WES ANDERSON COLLECTION
Matt Zoller Seitz is an acclaimed film and television critic. His current roles include editor-in-chief for rogerebert.com and television critic for New York Magazine. He has just published The Wes Anderson Collection, a filmology-turned-chronological insight into an epic conversation, and a journey into Anderson's auteur sensibilities and influences - from the original short, Bottle Rocket through to Moonrise Kingdom.
The book itself has received rave reviews and is a must for fans of Anderson's cinema and style. I had the great opportunity to shoot some questions off to Matt about the book and the director and despite his busy schedule he graciously provided some fantastic answers.
ScreenAnarchy - When did your love for Wes Anderson films begin?
Seitz - My love for Wes Anderson's films started when I came across his short film Bottle Rocket. This was during the period that I was viewing shorts that were going to play the USA Film Festival in Dallas, where I was working as a young alternative press film critic. I was immediately captivated by how confident and assured Wes' style was, and even more impressed when I found out that he was about my age, maybe 23 or 24 at the time.
He and his collaborators, Luke and Owen Wilson, struck me as incredibly talented and people who were likely to have long careers ahead of them. The prospect of writing about people like that at the beginning of their career was incredibly exciting and I ended up writing three pieces about them for that newspaper.
I stayed in touch with Wes after that, communicating with him here and there over the next couple of decades. This book is the ultimate result of all that.
What is your favorite Wes Anderson film moment?
It's really impossible to choose! I guess the short list would include Margot getting off the bus in The Royal Tenenbaums, Max Fischer offering Herman Bloom the choice of medals in Rushmore, or the last fifteen minutes of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (KB's note: all great picks).
The tracking shot through the train in The Darjeeling Limited that ends with the tiger in the bushes is also up there.
What is the most interesting or funny thing that Wes Anderson said during this project?
The most interesting thing that he said many times, in various iterations, is that he is very much concerned with details and with control. He goes into every movie, indeed every scene, looking for 'accidents'. I got the impression that part of the reason why he builds such meticulously constructed contraptions is that on some level he is looking for these accidents and maybe trying to create situations where they are more likely to occur.
How long have you been planning The Wes Anderson Collection? Was the book an immediate thought after your video essay series?
The book actually came about as an indirect result of having done that original video essay series The Substance of Style. My editor at Abrams Books, Eric Klopfer, wanted to do a book about Wes Anderson, and thought I might be a good candidate based on that video series.
The idea going into it was to make a book that was either an adaptation of the video series, or something somewhat like it. Bringing Wes into the process occurred to us somewhat later and it took a long time to get him to say yes.
Will you consider an addendum for his future releases? Perhaps an additional video essay or e-book add-on?
Yes to both. Abrams and I have talked about doing a second edition, if Wes wants to participate, or possibly releasing additional supplements as new films come out. As for a follow-up video series, I just did one! It's got the same title as the book, The Wes Anderson Collection, and it ran in seven parts at rogerebert.com.
The style is vital to Anderson's films. What were your initial drafts of the book like, or did you always envision these twee and incredible illustrations?
Actually I never imagined illustrations. That was my editor's contribution; the notion of bringing in illustrators to create original images that were in the spirit of Wes Anderson but not directly from the films.
Since the release of the book there have been a plethora of facts about Wes and the actors proliferating around the Internet. Are these included in your book?
I'm not sure which facts you mean exactly, but people have latched onto certain factoids that were in the book that maybe are not common knowledge, such as the fact that Bill Murray was paid about $9000 total for his acting in Rushmore (KB's note: that was one of the facts).
How did you capture the tone and pace of the book in your discussions with Wes? I assume he approves all of it?
Wes likes the book very much, although he did not participate in the creation of it, beyond giving me that interview and helping us secure access to certain materials that might've been impossible to get otherwise. The book is as much a personal vision for me as Wes' films are for Wes. I think that's part of what makes the match of author and subject work well. They're coming from a similar place, I think.
What was the hardest part of this project?
There were two things that were difficult about this project. One was fitting the writing and editing and layout of the book in with my regular duties as a writer for various publications. The other difficulty was securing certain images for the book which involved negotiation with studios, something I'm not good at but luckily I know people who are.
Is there any other film-maker you are eager to bring to life in this vivid and sprawling manner?
I would love to do a book in the same spirit, but about somebody else with a very strong personal style. That's ultimately what this book is about - not Wes Anderson alone, but the evolution of an artist's style over time, with Wes Anderson serving as one example.
The Wes Anderson Collection is available now from all good bookstores both on and offline.