Wes Anderson’s World: How ‘The French Dispatch Designer’ Created It

This is the story about production design “The French Dispatch”The first appearance was in Issue below the Line of ’s awards magazine.

When Adam Stockhausen first read the script to Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch,”He saw the potential for trouble in its unique structure. The film is an anthology of sorts, a series of stories that take place in different locations and are only tied together by the fact that they’re being written about in a New Yorker-ish magazine called The French Dispatch — which, for a production designer, meant that he would have a LotsThere are many things you can design.

“My first reaction was sort of a slight panic, just because the scale of it and the scope of it was evident on the page,”Designer whose other works include the new “West Side Story,” “12 Years a Slave”Anderson movies “The Grand Budapest Hotel”(for which he was awarded an Oscar). “Isle of Dogs”And “Moonrise Kingdom.” “The first step was just trying to wrap my arms around the complexity of the thing.”

Stockhausen was able begin with “The Cycling Reporter,” a prologue of sorts featuring Owen Wilson delivering a tour of the fictional French town of Ennui-sur-Blasé. “It was a great place to start,”He stated, “because all the stories connected through the town.”

His frames of references included films such as “The Red Balloon”Jacques Tati’s work, and Hollywood movies about France. “Irma la Douce.” He also turned to the 19th-century street photographer Charles Marville, who documented neighborhoods before they were torn down and replaced by grand boulevards during Haussmann’s reconstruction of Paris. 

French Dispatch design

The film was shot entirely in the small town of Angoulême in southwestern France, with some existing buildings serving as locations and an abandoned factory turned into a prison for a story starring Benicio del Toro as an inmate who paints and Lea Seydoux as a guard who becomes his muse. “We would walk around the town and find options for specific scenes,” Stockhausen said. “Where’s the spot where the kids on Vespas arrive at the café, and we see them from a high angle up the stairs? The boom shot from the mob quarter where people smoke is missing. Where’s the gutter where water floods out when the city is waking up? 

“We’d talk about them and then walk around again and debate some more, and they would gradually lock into place.”

However, the town was much more than a location for exterior sites. “This was not going to be a satellite location town where we’d shoot the rest of the movie in Paris or at a major studio,” Stockhausen said. “We were going to locate entirely there, and the factory outside of town became our movie studio where we could build sets.”

Those sets included the French Dispatch magazine’s artfully cluttered offices, which were inspired by James Thurber’s illustrations of the New Yorker offices and filled with suitable items by set decorator Rena DeAngelo. “She found and discussed every single one of those objects and pieces of furniture with Wes,”He stated.

French Dispatch office - exterior
Searchlight Pictures

The exterior of this office building (As mentioned above) is the film’s most iconic look, because it’s featured in the movie’s posters and its opening sequence. “The lower three stories of the building are fairly real, although we put false fronts on all the buildings,”He stated. “I think it was a driving school and a little internet café and stuff like that, and so we false-fronted on it. And then the top story and the sign is all done as a miniature composited in.”

But that’s not the only bit of fakery in the scene. “The two buildings on either side of the foreground are really interesting because they’re not anywhere near full-size,”He replied. “They’re sort of quarter-size, maybe. And we had to build them and put them on these crazy rigs so they would be six feet up in the air and twisted at angles you wouldn’t believe. The lens was eight feet high and had to be tilted at least 11 degrees. The same tilt was required for our buildings, and then a slight taper.

“It was quite a process, and it had to be set up overnight, because of course it was in the middle of a bus stop. The town was happy to let us do it, but they said, ‘OK, but set it up in one night and get it out the next day.”

You can find additional photos and designs here.

French Dispatch story wall - sketch
Searchlight Pictures
Wes Anderson's World: How 'The French Dispatch Designer' Created It
Searchlight Pictures

Above, Adam Stockhausen’s design for the story wall in the office, and a scene in that office.

Wes Anderson's World: How 'The French Dispatch Designer' Created It
Searchlight Pictures
Wes Anderson's World: How 'The French Dispatch Designer' Created It
Searchlight Pictures

Another design for the office and a scene featuring Owen Wilson, Bill Murray, and Wally Wolodarsky in the messy office.

Wes Anderson's World: How 'The French Dispatch Designer' Created It
Searchlight Pictures

Timothée Chalamet and Frances McDormand in a street scene that makes use of leftover props from other scenes in the film.

French Dispatch street scene
Searchlight Pictures

A street in Angoulême, equipped with a newsstand selling the French Dispatch.

Learn more at the Below-the.Here is the line issue.

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