Oscars: See How an Old Department Store Became a 'Grand Budapest Hotel'

Watch an exclusive making-of video; plus director Wes Anderson and his design team reveal how they found the perfect location for the awards contender, which continues to rack up noms

This story first appeared in the Dec. 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson's whimsical tale of friendship, loyalty and murder set in a fictionalized European spa town, required a very special environment for the film's centerpiece, a luxurious hotel that transitions from its 1930s heyday to wartime occupation and 1960s communist austerity.

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"We did a lot of research wandering around in Central Europe," says Anderson. "We went to Budapest and Prague and Vienna. We traveled all around the Czech Republic and Germany and Poland, too." The film's aesthetic came from that "thought-gathering" process, he says. (He also was inspired by colorized turn-of-the-century images from the Library of Congress' Photochrom Print Collection.)

Anderson's longtime cinematographer Robert Yeoman went along on that European trek. "We found the city of Gorlitz in Germany, right on the Polish border," says Yeoman. "It had an abandoned department store with five floors, an atrium and a beautiful skylight." The store became the set for the hotel's main interiors.

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Production designer Adam Stockhausen, who flew in to work on the $25 million film fresh off 12 Years a Slave, went from 105-degree Southern plantations to a frigid winter in Germany. He says the biggest challenges were the department store's scale and its landmark status. "Acres and acres of scenery went into creating this hotel, plus we had the pressure of keeping it untouched."

Set decorator Anna Pinnock says Gorlitz offered a few treasures, "but there was very little on-site for us in town." She scoured Saxony rental houses and shops, as well as the collection of DDR-era furniture at Studio Babelsberg in Potsdam. For hair and makeup designer Frances Hannon, wigs, prosthetic noses and fake teeth had to be flown in from the U.K. and elsewhere. And with most of the busy ensemble of actors -- including Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe and Harvey Keitel -- showing up just a day before their scenes, Hannon and other artists had to improvise. To prepare Keitel's character's bald skullcap, "I had to have Harvey's head cast in America and sent to England," laughs Hannon.

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Nearly the entire film was shot in Gorlitz. (The prison scenes were shot in Zwickau, and the front of the pastry shop in Dresden -- both nearby.) The cast and crew of about 20 stayed in one hotel. "Most of our locations were a 10-minute walk from our hotel," says Yeoman. "At night, we'd all have dinner together -- it was a family thing." (Watch a featurette from Fox Searchlight on the making of the film, which is exclusive to The Hollywood Reporter, above.)

Filmmaker Anderson and production designer Stockhausen decided to render the facade of The Grand Budapest Hotel with a detailed miniature.

 

An old department store in Gorlitz, Germany, became the film’s key set and housed most of the shoot’s production offices on its top floor.

 

The front of Mendl’s Patisserie was shot on location in a shop in Dresden. The film’s pastel confections were realized with help from a Gorlitz pastry chef.

 

Over just one weekend, the set had to switch to the grandeur of the 1930s from …

 

… the stark 1960s. Stockhausen built the ’60s lobby inside of the ’30s interior shell, noting, “It was a little bit nerve-racking. It was hard to really get a sense of how the space was going to work.”

 

The old Gorlitzer Warenhaus provided huge interior spaces for the film’s titular hotel.

 

Director Anderson (center) found a disused prison that allowed the production to drill a hole through a concrete floor for the film’s escape scene involving the hotel’s concierge and a prison gang. “You could cheat it, but doing as little cheating as possible is the fun part of working with Wes,” says Stockhausen.

 

Costume designer Milena Canonero says that “Ralph [Fiennes, center with Tony Revolori] liked the idea that the clothes of his character should be neat and sharp, even when in prison.” (Fiennes’ Gustave is jailed on suspicion of murder.) To offset Germany’s dark winter, Yeoman (second from left) brought in about 40 HMI lights.

 

Tilda Swinton’s embodiment of 84-year-old Madame D. was aided by prosthetics, cataract lenses and red lipstick deliberately applied askew. Hair and makeup designer Hannon (behind her) says the look is partly based on her own mother: “Even now, she still puts on her lipstick without a mirror.”

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