Movie sets are fractious places. Most participants have an ego, a few have gross points and everyone has an opinion. Disagreements are famously common, but whatever goes on behind the scenes, however loud it may get, it's an acknowledged rule that when the press turn up everyone smiles, professes respect for their co-workers and pitches that release date.
Somehow, on the set of Wes Anderson's stop-motion animation adaptation of Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr. Fox, that rule became optional. When journalist Chris Lee of the Los Angeles Times visited the London set, crew members deep into a complex, time-consuming shoot went on the record to unload on the director. The problem? He was permanently in another country.
“I've never worked on a picture where the director has been anywhere other than the studio floor,” declared director of photography Tristan Oliver; “he made our life miserable,” added director of animation Mark Gustafson.
Indeed, Oliver had just got started. “I think he's a little sociopathic. I think he's a little O.C.D. Contact with people disturbs him. This way, he can spend an entire day locked inside an empty room with a computer. He's a bit like the Wizard of Oz. Behind the curtain.”
Anderson didn't want to relocate from Paris to London for two years, so a system was devised where digital files where sent to him and he responded with detailed e-mails and sometimes simple recordings of himself acting out what he envisaged. It's certainly true that other directors on similar projects, such as Tim Burton with Corpse Bride, were often absent during long shoots, but this appeared to call into question the definition of a director.
A nonplussed Anderson found it was a major talking point, overshadowing a highly anticipated production that boasts the vocal talents of George Clooney and Meryl Streep, and which opens in Australia on January 1, 2010. He refused to comment on some of Oliver's remarks, not wanting to enflame debate, but he was unequivocal about the lack of fundamental difference in being in London or Paris while he evaluated an image.
The filmmaking ranks boast no shortage of famous peccadilloes, but being controlling at arm's length is certainly an odd one. Anderson's films, such as The Royal Tenenbaums and The Darjeeling Limited, are immaculately crafted, tiny worlds where the depth of design is apparent, but in this instance he's begun to resemble his most beloved character, Rushmore's brash, demanding Max Fischer – constantly setting matters in motion but quite unaware of the bemused reaction he draws.