Anatomy of a Scene: 100+ Filmmakers Like Wes Anderson, Tim Burton & Ridley Scott Break Down a Scene from Each of Their Films

Of all the tech­no­log­i­cal inno­va­tions hap­pen­ing around me as I grew up in the 1980s and 90s, none excit­ed me more than the DVD direc­tor’s com­men­tary. Yes, LaserDisc diehards, I know com­men­tary tracks did­n’t begin with the advent of DVDs, but they unques­tion­ably came into their own as a form on that for­mat. A promis­ing-enough direc­tor’s com­men­tary — one fea­tur­ing a fun­ny film­mak­er, or one full of fas­ci­nat­ing sto­ries, or one wonky enough to get as deep into the nuts and bolts of the craft as time allowed — could by itself con­vince me to rent or even buy a disc, whether or not I cared for or had even heard of the movie itself.

And so I found it a bit dis­may­ing that, as online stream­ing began to dis­place disc-watch­ing as the home-the­ater tech­nol­o­gy of choice, direc­tor’s com­men­tary tracks — or com­men­tary tracks by any­one else, for that mat­ter — looked like a soon-to-be thing of the past. But as we’ve learned, espe­cial­ly this cen­tu­ry, tech­nol­o­gy tends to open a win­dow when it clos­es a door. At the New York Times, inter­net video has opened anoth­er win­dow onto the mind of the mod­ern film­mak­er with Anato­my of a Scene, a series of clips that each take just one scene from a film and have the film’s direc­tor explain in depth, DVD-com­men­tary-style, what went into that scene.

At the top of the post, you can hear Wes Ander­son, a direc­tor long known for his mas­tery of a cer­tain aes­thet­ic, explain some of the tech­niques that make up that aes­thet­ic as he and his col­lab­o­ra­tors used them in The Grand Budapest Hotel. Below that, Tim Bur­ton, who grew famous using an equal­ly dis­tinc­tive but whol­ly dif­fer­ent visu­al vocab­u­lary from Ander­son­’s, talks about a scene from Big Eyes, his film about the life of painter Mar­garet Keane. Keane’s paint­ings fea­ture heav­i­ly in the back­ground, which gives Bur­ton the oppor­tu­ni­ty to talk about how they cap­ti­vat­ed him in child­hood: “I found them quite dis­turb­ing, and the col­or schemes were quite lurid” — and so he explains how those lurid col­ors pro­vid­ed the col­or scheme for the movie itself.

The direc­tors of Anato­my of a Scene tend to talk about their recent films, and in recent years we’ve seen a fair few high-pro­file Hol­ly­wood movies deal­ing with out­er space and the worlds beyond Earth: Christo­pher Nolan’s Inter­stel­lar, for instance, whose scene of its astro­nauts hurtling into the great unknown pro­vides the mate­r­i­al for its Anato­my of a Scene video. Rid­ley Scott, always a stim­u­lat­ing com­menter, has also done one on The Mar­t­ian, his own lat­est space movie which came out this year. Scott talks over the scene where his film’s astro­naut, marooned and seek­ing any tool of sur­vival, digs NASA’s Pathfind­er out of the Mar­t­ian sands, about how, as “one of those prim­i­tives who can actu­al­ly draw,” he sto­ry­boards every­thing in detail: “By the time I start the movie, I’ve kind of ‘filmed’ it on paper, and when I get there, it gives me the con­fi­dence to feel free to allow the actors and every­body else to do their thing.”

But Anato­my of a Scene does­n’t just invite house­hold names. I used to live in Los Ange­les and still keep up with movies that exam­ine the city, and so I found fas­ci­nat­ing indeed their video with Dan Gilroy on Night­crawler, my favorite Los Ange­les movie of this past year (maybe along­side Paul Thomas Ander­son­’s Thomas Pyn­chon adap­ta­tion Inher­ent Vice, a scene from which also gets anat­o­mized). The Times has put togeth­er over a hun­dred of these videos, all of which you can watch at their Anato­my of a Scene page or on Youtube. They’ve includ­ed scenes from the work of such auteurs as Olivi­er Assayas, Noah Baum­bach, Richard Lin­klater, and Lukas Moodys­son (as well as scenes from such, er, oth­er sorts of pic­tures as Zack Sny­der’s Man of Steel). If the com­men­tary is dead, well, long live the com­men­tary.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

John Lan­dis Decon­structs Trail­ers of Great 20th Cen­tu­ry Films: Cit­i­zen Kane, Sun­set Boule­vard, 2001 & More

Moviedrome: Film­mak­er Alex Cox Pro­vides Video Intro­duc­tions to 100+ Clas­sic Cult Films

Direc­tor Robert Rodriguez Teach­es The Basics of Film­mak­ing in Under 10 Min­utes

Film­mak­ing Advice from Quentin Taran­ti­no and Sam Rai­mi (NSFW)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­maand the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future? Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

by | Permalink | Comments (1) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (1)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • Steven Levy says:

    Sur­prised that you did­n’t men­tion the series on which the NYT inter­views are undoubt­ed­ly based: Pre­miere Mag­a­zine’s month­ly fea­ture, “Shot by Shot” in the 1980s and 1990s. I had the luck to do a few of them, my favorite being the Coen broth­ers for “Miller’s Cross­ing.”

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.