News and culture through the lens of Southern California.
Hosted by

Bob Yeoman - Wes Anderson's secret weapon

A scene from the
A scene from the "The Grand Budapest Hotel."

Listen to story

Download this story 4MB

The Wes Anderson movie, "The Grand Budapest Hotel" is up for nine Academy Awards this year, including Best Achievement in Cinematography. The nomination goes to Robert Yeoman - who's been behind the camera for nearly 50 feature films, including all of director Wes Anderson's live action films. 

"I grew up in Chicago... and uh, I always loved movies as a kid. I started out as a young kid watching Jerry Lewis comedies and I went onto action movies... And in my town on Friday nights all of the kids would go to the local theater... We saw Hitchcock movies... They always had a profound influence on me..."

He says that it wasn't until he went to college did he figure that he could possibly make a career out of working behind a camera. Eventually, he met up with Wes Anderson.

"Wes wrote me a handwritten letter, which I still have... and he had been a fan of a film I had shot, "Drug Store Cowboy." And he contacted me and said, "I wrote a script, 'Bottle Rocket'" and would I read it, and if I liked it, would I come in and meet with him. And I read the script... I thought it was great and I went into meet him and he was a young kid who looked like he was a high school student. Kind of a skinny guy with big glasses... But you know, we just kind of hit it off. We seemed to agree on a lot of things... We seemed to be kind of on the same wavelength. And he hired me and I guess that was a great decision for me."

And it was that fruitful relationship that helped develop the signature Wes Anderson look, because as a cinematographer, Yeoman's behind the scenes helping craft it all.

"Well, Wes and I go to all of the locations beforehand and we talk very extensively how we plan to shoot the film. And he generally has very specific ideas. Sometimes he's not quite sure how he wants to shoot. And I'll throw ideas at him and he might say, 'Yeah, that's great,' or 'No, I prefer to do that.' And he has a lot of references, pictures, books, music and I just immerse myself in these references as best I can so that by the time we start shooting, Wes and I are so on the same page that everyday when I go into work I know pretty much what we're going to be doing."

But how did "The Grand Budapest Hotel" differ from Wes's other films like "The Life Aquatic?"

"I think it was a little bit larger canvas... but this one I think part of it has to do with... after he did 'Fantastic Mr. Fox' he came to kind of embrace the world of miniatures and stop motion animation. So, he incorporated some of that into our film. There's some miniature work there... Certainly the ski sequence... there's a lot of kind of miniatures and stop motion going on there. And he found this incredibly beautiful little city in Germany... and it's very picturesque... And we kind of set up camp there and we just discover all of these amazing old buildings and really cool locations all within close distance of our hotel. And being in the wintertime, even though it's difficult to work in January... I think just the snow gave it a magical quality. And I think the combination of that location and the wintertime and the miniatures and all of the other elements that we had gave the movie a storybook like quality to it. Which I think more than any other film that we worked on, I feel that has it going for it." 

Yeoman joins Alex in the studio to talk about his first Oscar nomination ever.