Early Shorts From Famous Directors: Wes Anderson

It’s hard to name a more famous visual style than that of Wes Anderson (Fantastic Mr Fox [2009], Moonrise Kingdom [2012], The Grand Budapest Hotel [2014]). Pastel colour palettes, obsessive frame symmetry and horizontal tracking shots have become almost monopolised as Anderson signatures. These identifiers are seen as a necessity for any Anderson film. Yet Bottle Rocket (1994), a black and white short shot in 1992, shows that these trademarks are a late edition to Anderson’s filmmaking style.

Bottle Rocket, written with class mate Owen Wilson, portrays a group of young Texans plotting a series of robberies. Whilst sharing an apartment, Anderson and Wilson attempted to have their landlord fix a faulty window. After repeated refusals, the pair broke into their own apartment and reported the ‘crime’ to the police. Although their plan was uncovered, the real-life event became a vital source of inspiration for the film.

Although visually different from Anderson’s later style, there are many elements of Bottle Rocket that have become far more pronounced throughout his filmography. For example, the dialogue between the characters has a distinct politeness, delivered with a dead-pan, off-beat pacing that pervades all Anderson’s signature dialogue. Furthermore, the focus on theft, particularly the planning phase of crimes often form important scenes in Anderson’s films. 

The short was successfully received at its showings at Sundance Film Festival, leading to funding for Bottle Rocket to be made into a full-length feature. The extended Bottle Rocket (1996) however, was a dramatic commercial flop, making just $560,000 back on its $7 million budget. This failure arguably forced a change in Anderson’s approach to filmmaking, leading to the development of the signature style we know today. 

Similar Early Shorts:

Quentin Tarantino (1987) My Best Friend's Birthday

Darren Aronofsky (1994) No Time

Jim Jarmusch (2004) Coffee and Cigarettes