If you were watching “The Grand Budapest Hotel” in a theater last spring and were concerned about the black bars on the top, bottom, or the sides of the screen, you’ll be relieved to find out that was intentional. “Each of those aspect ratios was created in order to just visually represent a time period,” says cinematographer Robert Yeoman of his latest collaboration with director Wes Anderson, which takes place at various times in the 1930s, 1960s, and 1980s.
Listen to Yeoman’s recent Oscars Q&A podcast with Gold Derby below.
To tell the decades-spanning story of legendary concierge M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), some visual playfulness was required. “We shot Academy — which is 1:37 — for the 1930s section, which was the standard format at that time,” the DP explains in our exclusive audio interview.
“We were trying to capture the same time period visually by using that format. The ’60s was done in anamorphic, which is a 2:35 or 2:40 format … at that time, a lot of movies were shot in widescreen as a reaction of Hollywood to try and get people into the theaters because of television. The ’80s was shot in 1:85, which is kind of a standard format that people have been using from the ’80s up until today. Wes felt like this was a great way to kind of visually represent the differences in time.”
Shooting in Hollywood’s standard format of the past presented new challenges for the duo, Yeoman reveals. “The Academy format was not something that Wes and I had really shot much before, so it took a certain amount of getting used to and a certain amount of exploration. At first I was a little bit cautious with it, but Wes certainly wanted to push the limits of compositional possibilities.” The film is filled with unconventional framings that have become Anderson’s trademark, giving audiences “something that you might not have seen back in the ’30s.”
Yeoman has shot all of Anderson’s films with the exception of the animated “Fantastic Mr. Fox” (2009). Together, the two have created a distinctive visual style that has continued to develop over the years. “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is the director’s most financially successful film to date and is on the cusp of becoming a major Oscar contender. “I think it’s a little more accessible than some of his movies,” admits Yeoman. “Part of it is the character of Gustave that he created with Ralph Fiennes: people like Gustave, they laugh and go through the whole journey with him. I think it goes back to a great location, a fantastic script, and an amazing cast. The combination of all that made the movie a bit more accessible to everyone.”
Despite a handful of critic’s award nominations for “Moonrise Kingdom” (2012), Yeoman has never been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Cinematography. That may change this year as he’s currently ranked in fifth place with odds of 12/1, in a category dominated by last year’s winner Emmanuel Lubezski for “Birdman” (odds of 13/8). Check out the full interview below for more on how he crafted the visual style of the film.
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