A stop-motion animation movie about Japanese dogs banished into exile and the court of an eccentric 18th century British queen don’t seem like immediate bedfellows, but today’s Fox Searchlight panel suggested that both films have a certain resonance with today’s political landscape. Speaking of Wes Anderson’s Isle Of Dogs, producer Jeremy Dawson revealed that the film’s topicality, regarding the scapegoating of minorities, only grew as filming progressed.
“That kind of political aspect of it [initially] started as a plot device,” Dawson told Deadline’s Nancy Tartaglione. “But as we were making the movie – and this movie took like half of my lifetime to make – it started to get more relevant, as things politically, all over the world, were starting to pop up. So, to start with, it was maybe accidental. But then, as we started making the movie, some of those ideas started strengthening within the movie, because we were feeling like they were important themes to be talked about it.”
Head of Puppets Andy Gent surprised the audience by bringing in two of the main hero puppets – a boy and his dog – neither of which could have been over a foot tall. Was that a challenge for Anderson’s DoP, Tristan Oliver? “Yeah,” Oliver laughed. “I mean, it is a challenge, but I’ve been doing this for 30 years, so it’s sort of my daily bread to do that. The biggest challenge is actually giving Wes the look that he’s used to having in the live-action environment, which is basically a very wide lens, super deep-focus look, which is very difficult with models because we’re working with the camera 20 cm in front of the character. I’m forever contacting Wes and saying, ‘Y’know, we just can’t do this,’ and he says, ‘Just do it.’ So we’ve come up with a way of doing this, which I won’t reveal because I’d have to kill you. But there is a way to bend physics.”
Yorgos Lanthimos’s film The Favourite was then introduced with a clip from the film, in which star Olivia Colman’s character, the batty Queen Anne, throws a ferocious tantrum in front of a terrified page boy – the perfect embodiment of a film in which the female characters wield all the power and get nearly all of the laughs. “He was such a lovely boy, I felt awful,” said Colman, ruefully. “But it was fun.”
For Lanthimos, seeing such strong female characters were a big part of the film’s appeal. “First of all, I was surprised to discover a story like this, about women with such immense power at that point in time,” he said. “It’s rare to see in a film. So I was immediately intrigued. It was very interesting for me to show the relationships between these complex women, and show how their behavior, their decisions and their relationships would affect the fate of a whole country. We were aiming to create these women in a way that you would be intrigued to watch them, wonder about them and want to know more about them.”
Although Lanthimos’s female-centric intentions sounded noble enough in the era of #MeToo, his means of getting there were somewhat unusual: during the two-week rehearsal process, the director made his cast play party games, reciting their lines while hopping across carpet squares and tying each other – literally – in knots. “For a couple of days, we were saying, ‘Why are we doing this???’” admitted Colman.
“But we ended up loving it – we were being so idiotic in front of each other that by the time we started filming there was no embarrassment at all. We all knew each other and had laughed a lot together, because we’d seen each other being silly.”