Website Logo

Nach Objektiven, Artikeln und Hilfe suchen

Blog Points of view

The Cinematography of Wes Anderson and Robert Yeoman ASC - straight shooting imagineers

By: The Cooke Team  |   3 Lesezeit



Over the years the films of Wes Anderson have become a style unto themselves. With intriguing narrative threads, star-studded casts and off-beat visual styling the visionary director has a cornerstone on this style of filmmaking – he can dictate the rules and anyone else doing it quickly comes close to imitation. 

Hallmarks of his work are plentiful – tableaus, extended tracking shots, symmetry, whip pans, vivid colours, zooms and deep focus, to name but a few. 

Cinematographer Robert Yeoman ASC has collaborated with Anderson on all of his live action features so far, nine in total, as well as some of his short films. Together they mix real-world elements with a theatrical suspension of disbelief in a whimsical way. 

Yeoman’s beginnings 

Robert Yeoman ASC, who goes by Bob, was born in 1951 in Northern Pennsylvania, USA. He grew up in Chicago and recollects being “kind of a sports guy as a kid.” From his early years he had an admiration for films, taking pictures and reading. With more limited avenues of entertainment than are available today, going to the movie theatre was a big event and Bob has very fond memories of meeting with friends in the cinema on Friday nights to “get away from our parents!”. Spaghetti Westerns, Alfred Hitchcock movies and ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ captured his attention from a young age but despite this he never dreamed of becoming a filmmaker – instead there was a kindling interest in becoming a short story writer, which Bob considered to be the perfect artform. 

He enrolled at Duke University (class of 1973) with aspirations of becoming a doctor, his first semester was in pre-med but after spending lots of time in labs he concluded it wasn’t for him. Bob remembers drifting along in this period of his life, not quite sure which path to take. “I took all kinds of different classes, still a little lost in what my career path would be.” 

Thankfully he’d still maintained his childhood interests and he entered a short story contest at Duke. “I remember writing it and thinking I was James Joyce or something, and then I’d get up the next morning and read what I’d written and think ‚this is the worst, most cliched thing ever.’” He shifted his academic focus to psychology, which he feels was probably the most useful thing he officially learnt in relation to film production; understanding personalities and working with people being such an important component in making a film. 

The cinema club at Duke proved to be the place where Yeoman found most inspiration. It showed European cinema, including The French New Wave and Bernardo Bertolucci, but it was a striking British film that had the most impact. Bob drove over to Raleigh, North Carolina one weekend and saw Stanley Kubrick’s ‘A Clockwork Orange’ – it was a life-changing experience. “I was just so amazed by this film and what they did, and I remember driving back to Duke and thinking ‚I really want to get involved in this – I don’t really know anybody or how to do it, but this is something I really want to do.’” 


4D resized
A Clockwork Orange (1971, Director: Stanley Kubrick, Cinematographer: John Alcott BSC)
4B resized
4A resized
‘The Conformist’ (1970, Director: Bernardo Bertolucci, Cinematographer: Vittorio Storaro ASC AIC)

Invigorated and with a dream to pursue, he enrolled at the University of Southern California, USC, in Los Angeles (class of 1979). The film school environment gave him opportunity to explore multiple crafts, from directing to sound – and of course, cinematography. “I kinda found that I was good at cinematography, and it’s something I was very excited about. When I saw movies that had really striking imagery, I always responded to that. And so I kinda found my niche while I was at film school. And I shot a lot of student films.” 

But as anyone who’s studied film will relate to, the studies are just the beginning of an aspiring cinematographer’s climb up the ladder. Yeoman begun working as a PA in Los Angeles, whose duties included being hired to play basketball with esteemed commercials director Joe Pytka. Being “kind of a sports guy” had it’s uses after all! In time a fellow USC graduate offered Bob editing work at a low budget commercial production company. He was tasked with film rewinds and syncing dailies. Seeing how rushes were cut together proved to become invaluable experience. In time Bob began to shoot for the company, low budget jobs but on 35mm, a step up from the 16mm of USC productions. “It was a big opportunity and so I shot a lot of these commercials, and that kind of led to better commercials and then other commercial directors were discovering who I was… There’s one guy who used to hire me only when Allen Daviau wasn’t available! That helped me get onto big beer commercials and things like that.” 

Remembering these early shoots, Yeoman reckons he tended to over-light, serving his light meter more than his instincts. “When you first start out, you get nervous and you’re looking at your meter and you kind of don’t trust yourself. It kind of taught me oftentimes, the best thing to do is use less lights and trust your instincts and that’s something I’ve kind of tried to live by ever since then.” 

Struggling to find an agent, Yeoman was concerned for the trajectory of his career but one of the agencies offered a lifeline. The agency looked after renowned European cinematographer Robby Müller who was in prep for ‘To Live and Die in L.A.’ and needed someone to shoot tests. Bob jumped at the opportunity and successfully shot some dummies being launched off the Vincent Thomas Bridge in Long Beach at various frame rates. This led to him being asked to shoot second unit shots, mainly elements of Los Angeles, before “graduating” to B-cam operator for Müller himself. He became a mentor to Bob, both sharing a similar outlook on how to shoot films. “I believe there’s one place to put a camera and so does he.” When the esteemed cinematographer had to leave for a Robert Altman film, director William Friedkin asked Yeoman if he wanted to take over. Nervous but keen to prove himself, Bob took the chance. “He gave me a big break. I’ll be forever indebted to him. It is like being sent to the Russian front. You don’t get a lot of time to light and you’ve got to be right. But it kind of prepared me for almost anything.” 


What followed was another film with Friedkin, ‘Rampage’, released in 1987. Despite the beginnings of success, the union wasn’t willing to admit Yeoman into the camera local. He continued to shoot low budget features, including indie pictures directed by Robert Downey Sr. which fell outside of the unions. “It was great for me because it gave me an opportunity to shoot a lot of low budget movies and that’s where I really learned. Some of them were pretty good. Some of them not so good. I always learned, and we shot them very quickly, 30 days and not a lot of money. It was a great training ground for me.” 

Yeoman had shot a video for The Talking Heads, the producer of which was working with Gus Van Sant on the film ‘Drugstore Cowboy’ and made an introduction to Bob who ended up landing the job. The picture was well received within the filmmaking community, which was in some ways preferential to having a blockbuster hit. It became a calling card and led to further work for Yeoman.  

A few years later Bob was shooting commercials for Roman Coppola who asked if the cinematographer wanted to shoot second unit for his father Francis’s film ‘The Rainmaker’ with John Toll ASC serving as the main unit DP. This job got Yeoman in the union and opened up the doors to larger opportunities. 

6A resized
6B resized
6C resized
‘Drugstore Cowboy’ (1989, Director: Gus Van Sant, Cinematographer: Robert Yeoman ASC)

Wes writes to Bob 

At Sundance in 1994 Wes Anderson’s short film ‘Bottle Rocket’ was well received and finance was agreed for a feature length version. As a fan of ‘Drugstore Cowboy’, Anderson reached out to Bob with a handwritten letter. 

“I don’t remember the exact text, but something to the effect of ‚Dear Mr Yeoman, I just wrote this script called Bottle Rocket and I’d love for you to read it, if you react to it at all please give me a call, sincerely Wes Anderson‘, and he just wrote his number on it which is pretty hilarious.” 

Charmed by Anderson’s approach, Bob agreed to a meeting with the young director and the two immediately hit it off. “There was something about him. I just connected with him on a lot of levels and I liked him as a person. We talked a lot about movies and we seemed to be drawn to the same things. We talked about movies we didn’t like and we didn’t like the same things. We hit it off and he gave me the job!”.

Yeoman recollects that Anderson was very organised and aware of the filmmaking process. Colour schemes were all worked out and the formal nature of his directorial style was already fairly developed. The sense of clear vision was apparent from the beginning of their relationship. Bob admits he didn’t have any inkling of what Wes would ultimately become, but the director’s ability to lead from the front whilst listening to his collaborators went a long way. “I kind of am lucky because I kind of hitched my wagon to the right train, I guess. And then he’s become very popular and very well respected.” 


Inspiring with references 

Anderson has never been adverse to using references to build the look of his films, and over the years inspiration has been found in other movies, art, photography and more. The director curates a library for each of his projects that the entire cast and crew have access to, and this process has only expanded over the years. 

The contents can be varied. For ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ many photos of European Hotels from the 1930s were pooled together. From Wes: “Our best reference was the Internet. The Library of Congress photochrome-print collection is sort of like Google Earth for 1905. We actually found some of our locations that way, and a few of them looked a lot like they did 108 years ago.”  

Yeoman always watches all the films that Anderson includes in the library to understand the director’s inspirations. He finds that the references become part of their shorthand in prep and on set. Some of the films included in the pool for ‘The French Dispatch’ were Le Feu Follet’ (1963, dir. Louis Malle, DP Ghislain Cloquet), ‘Quai Des Orfèvres’ (1947, dir. Henri-Georges Clouzot, DP Armand Thirard), ‘Vivre Sa Vie’ (1962, dir. Jean-Luc Godard, DP Raoul Coutard) and ‘Touchez Pas Au Grisbi’ (1954, dir. Jacques Becker, DP Pierre Montazel).  

“Wes is very much into the French New Wave and I was steeped in Godard and everything. It was funny because sometimes we get on the set and Wes says, how are you gonna light it? And I’d say “Vivre Sa Vie”, and he would go, “yeah Vivre Sa Vie”. And I look at these old films because it’s a different aspect ratio. And I kind of get into how different cinematographers would frame those shots and how they would block certain things. And it’s really interesting.” 


7A resized
‘Vivre Sa Vie’ (1962, Director: Jean-Luc Godard, Cinematographer: Raoul Coutard)
7B resized
‘The French Dispatch’ (2021, Director: Wes Anderson, Cinematographer: Robert Yeoman ASC)

Whilst the director leads this process there’s an openness to collaborators bringing their own supplementary references. For ‘The French Dispatch’ Yeoman submitted ‘In Cold Blood’ (1967, dir. Richard Brooks, DP Conrad Hall ASC) to the pool. “One of our stories had some scenes in a prison and I drew from Conrad Hall’s daring lighting and B&W photography as inspiration.”

Whilst some influences may carry across multiple films, Anderson builds the library from scratch each time. For ‘Asteroid City’ the duo referenced ‘Paris, Texas’ (1984, dir. Wim Wenders) and shot by Bob’s former mentor Robby Müller. “They were not afraid to shoot in the harsh mid-day sun in the desert and actively used that as an expressive element in their stories. We visited every location during prep and we talked extensively about the shots and how best to achieve them. I also discussed a lighting plan with Wes and made sure that he knew what to expect.”

There’s a sense then that by exploring a wide range of references in pre-production that the director and cinematographer build their own confidence in employing certain styles ahead of shooting.

8A resized
‘In Cold Blood’ (1967, Director: Richard Brooks, Cinematographer: Conrad L. Hall ASC)
8B resized
‘The French Dispatch’ (2021, Director: Wes Anderson, Cinematographer: Robert Yeoman ASC)
8C resized
‘Paris, Texas’ (1984, Director: Wim Wenders, Cinematogapher: Robby Müller NSC BVK)
8D resized
‘Asteroid City’ (2023, Director: Wes Anderson, Cinematographer: Robert Yeoman ASC)

Pre-production, defining the pieces

Anderson is a big advocate of finding the film in pre-production. Yeoman says his films have always been very thoroughly planned out. This process begun with storyboards but over the years has developed into animatics with voiceovers which resemble the final films very closely – something the director has adopted from the stop motion films he’s directed.


Wes Anderson’s films are so closely tied to their setting and part of pre-production has also become about the director and cinematographer determining the characters and rules of the world the film will depict. For ‘Darjeeling Limited’ Bob “went to India months and months before we started shooting. We travelled around and just kind of got into the vibe. India, it’s a whole different world than here in Los Angeles. And it’s kind of crazy over there. And you just kind of have to get into the vibe of it. We would get to locations that we knew we were gonna use and act things out and work it through in the blocking. So that when the actors get there, we kind of have a much better sense of what’s gonna happen.”


On ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ Yeoman travelled with Anderson from Paris to Prague to absorb Eastern European culture. “We went to a lot of buildings and the Jewish cemetery, all kinds of things in Prague, and just kind of absorbed it. Then we went into Berlin and hung out there. And then we go to every location and talk pretty precisely how we’re going to shoot it. Generally he has a very strong idea. I might throw my ideas at him. He might accept them. He may not. I have no ego on that. That’s just what will make the best movie. That’s how we work. We talk very specifically, so that when the time comes when the actors are there, everyone that shows up has a very good idea of what we’re going to do.”

Pre-shoots and lots of testing are common – exploring everything from colour to camera movement. This scouting and testing become the basis for very complete storyboards. These were originally drawn by Anderson himself, but on more recent films he’s worked with storyboard artists to create animatics on top of which he voices all the characters. Anderson isn’t possessive of this resource and like the reference library it’s available to anybody on the crew or cast before shooting. Moving from paper to digital, Anderson now brings his animatic on set on an iPad which becomes a bible and is regularly referred to, especially for timings.


“The blocking is fairly worked out before and obviously you get into a physical space like a train which is a very small space to deal with and you find that maybe you couldn’t do exactly what we had planned so there’s a certain amount of visual improvisation that has to take place there, but I would say most of the films are very carefully pre-planned for sure.”


The storyboards or animatics aren’t always drawn to one particular lens so on set it becomes about matching the drawn field of view to the correct lens. If a set is being built, the lens is selected ahead of time with aid of a director’s finder.


These pre-shoots also include elements used in the final film. Establishing shots where time of day is very important, for example, and Yeoman can shoot in ideal conditions without tying up a production. The benefits can also be to the cast. “With ‘Moonrise Kingdom’, we brought the kids in early because they hadn’t been around a film camera or crews. And so Wes and I and a small crew would go out with the kids in the forest and just shoot some of those shots of the kids canoeing or walking across the creek just so they got used to us and what filmmaking was like. So when the main actors showed up, they were not so scared by everything.”

10A resized
‘Moonrise Kingdom’ (2012, Director: Wes Anderson, Cinematographer: Robert Yeoman ASC)
10B resized
‘Moonrise Kingdom’ (2012, Director: Wes Anderson, Cinematographer: Robert Yeoman ASC)

When it comes to picking his team Yeoman’s approach has changed over the years. Previously he used to insist on bringing his own key heads but notes “In some ways it’s almost better for me if I go to work in France to get a French gaffer, because they know all the local people. So I also have really come to accept and love the fact that I’m working with this whole different culture, and I learn from them. I do a lot of homework – production will say these are the three gaffers in Germany and I’ll Skype with all three of them and I really do my homework. And I’ve been pretty fortunate, I’ve gotten really, there are great crews everywhere, you just gotta find them.”

There’s a very real sense then of the team, always making the most of whatever is presented to them but undoubtedly these elements wouldn’t all come together so well if Anderson wasn’t such a visionary. His ability to see the film so completely ahead of time is a large part of his style and success.

On-set environment

It’s clear that Anderson strives for a family environment on set, leading from the front whilst supporting those around him. As much as possible he tries to keep company moves to a minimum and ideally takes over locations completely for filming purposes – as was the case on ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’.

“Basically what we do is we get a little boutique hotel or a giant house. And the actors live there, Wes lives there, I live there, the producers live there. And every night, Wes and I come back from work and we go to the editing room which is in the same place. We look at our dailies on a big flat screen. And then we all have a glass of wine and go in and have dinner together.”

Bob considers himself a little shy at times and finds this company environment to be helpful in managing that. “I tend to get a little intimidated by big movie stars, and you’re sitting at a table and there’s Ralph Fiennes and Bill Murray and Jeff Goldblum, and everyone’s there, and you get to know them as people. I think it helps someone like myself to kind of cut through all that so that now you realize that they’re talented people, but they’re just people like I am.”

Anderson likes to have lean, close nit crews and no video village. The only screen is a small handheld monitor which the director holds as he sits next to camera. In general he’s watching the actors instead of the monitor and trusting in Yeoman to operate. There’s rarely any playback. “The fewer people on-set, the happier he is.”

Anderson’s films are a strictly single-camera affair. “When you’re as compositionally specific as Wes and I are, one camera is the only way to go”, however to keep energy up on set a second camera body is on occasion set up for a future shot and then ‘leapfrogged’ to, in order to avoid breaking up the flow. Yeoman remembers suggesting running two cameras for an effects-heavy sequence towards the end of ‘Rushmore’, but his suggestion was answered simply with a “why?”, so single camera it was!  On ‘The French Dispatch’ a two hander was shot briefly in both directions simultaneously without Bob feeling like he was compromising anything, but after a few takes Wes preferred to stand down one of the cameras and go single again.

Anderson is a visionary without being precious and doesn’t expect perfection immediately, understanding that reaching this high level will take time. Even with all his pre-production it will still take patience to actually get the images from his head onto film. This method works partially because of the trust between him and Yeoman.

“Sometimes we start shooting before it’s really quite ready – which always sort of freaks me out but I’ve come to learn that he’s not going to use those early takes but he sometimes finds that people concentrate more – they know there’s film running through the camera. A warm-up, so to speak. There’s so many elements – oftentimes the moves are very complex for us and the actors have to be in certain places and it takes a little while to get that right.“

Wes likes to keep rolling between passes of action so that the tension and focus stays up and energy doesn’t disperse. This did lead to wasted film over the years, so now the duo sometimes employ a system where the director says they’re still rolling but the camera team actually cut discreetly whilst maintaining the energy before turning over again. Yeoman recollects “we typically do at least 10 takes and sometimes 20 takes with Wes. I think he and the actors like to play around with the scene a little bit. So he’s always kind of allowing them and guiding them to try different things.”

Anderson’s deep vision means that he knows exactly when he has got a shot in the can and reshoots are very rare. Bob trusts that if occasional shots would benefit from a do-over then Wes will support this. “Wes has got a great aesthetic and he’s not going to put something in his movie that he’s not happy with. There’s a scene in ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ where Willem Dafoe chops off Jeff Goldblum’s fingers and then walks down the alley with them. It was late in the day which was like 4.30 and we were trying to light it and it just didn’t look right and we shot it anyway and it just wasn’t right. Wes and I saw it the next day and he said, „Let’s re-shoot it.“ And I said, „Yeah, I’d love to do that.“ Because we were trying to plug holes with the lights. So we shot it the next day and there was just this amazing fog and it was such a much better. But we generally get it right the first time.”

From animatic-led vision through to a family-like filming atmosphere, exploring the creative world of an Anderson set and the process of realising his vision is a unique experience Yeoman adores. “Wes’ way of working is wonderful as not only are you making a movie, you’re also enjoying a life adventure together – one of the things I love the most about being part of his films.”

Blocking and working with actors

Wes Anderson’s films are well known for their precise blocking and placement of actors. This is a process the director is very specific about and whilst some actors may prefer more freedom, Wes has built an incredible troop of cast to call upon that understand his process. When the actors arrive he spends a lot of time with each of them, together they go over the scenes and select wardrobe and makeup. The animatic will have been sent to them ahead of time, sometimes leading to the blocking already being very cemented in their minds.

From Yeoman’s perspective, “The good news for me is that I never have to tell anyone they’re not on a mark ‚cos [Wes will] tell them! He’s very specific about where he wants people to stand – it’s very dictating. I’m always trying to look selfishly what might work best for me but I try not impose myself too much. But if I see that we’re heading into trouble or the blocking is such that it’s going to create issues, I nicely say „well maybe we can simplify this a little bit“ knowing that we don’t have time to do 30 shots – I’m always thinking ahead of how to cover it when I’m watching the blocking.”

Yeoman seconds the statement made in an interview by Rupert Friend – who plays Montana in ‘Asteroid City’ – in which he refers to Anderson as the conductor and the cast and crew as the instruments. “Wes knows what he wants. And it’s not like we don’t bring anything – we bring our own talents and unique perspectives – but you know what the parameters are which makes it easier to contribute,” says Yeoman. “The actors, for example, can bring something new that’s not on the page. Even back when we shot ‘The Royal Tenenbaums’, I read the script and thought, ‘Oh, I get this’, but then when I watched Gene Hackman perform, he brought a whole other element to it, and it was a pleasure to witness.”


12A resized
Rupert Friend in ‘Asteroid City’ (2023, Director: Wes Anderson, Cinematographer: Robert Yeoman ASC)
12B resized
Luke Wilson & Gwyneth Paltrow in ‘The Royal Tenebaums’ (2001, Director: Wes Anderson, Cinematographer: Robert Yeoman ASC)

Framing, operating and aspect ratio

Anderson adores symmetry, so much so that Yeoman will have his camera assistant measure out from the lens to the corners of the room when setting up for the wide shot to make sure the camera is placed dead-centre. He knows when Wes arrives on set it’s one of the first things he’ll want to make sure of. “With Wes that’s just kind of a given, and sometimes it changes but it’s always a good starting point.”

Bob always operates right from the camera and loves this. “When you’re actually operating, you’re focusing and you’re involved in the process. I want to be on the set where the actors are. To me, there’s a rhythm of doing it. No one ever does quite exactly what you want. And I think that’s one reason why Wes and I clicked is I operate all his films. We pretty much see it the same way. And rarely does he say, „Oh, tilt up.“ I often think I’m the luckiest guy in the world as throughout my career, because I operate, I’m the first one to see the performance.”

A hallmark of the duo’s work is their employment of whip pans. Employed to satisfying effect, the reasoning behind them can be revealing something new, linking locked off shots or revealing reactions. Yeoman says these are in the animatic and worked out as much as possible on the scout. On occasion, an edit will be hidden in the whip but more often than not they are used uninterrupted. And when it comes to the operating secrets behind them?

“I actually do all of them off a fluid head. The secret is you find a really comfortable position with your feet and body for the end position, and then you start in a really uncomfortable position and come to that comfortable one. Once you’ve done it enough and practiced you can get pretty good at it. Go in the corkscrew at the beginning and then you find it.”

‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ (2014, Director: Wes Anderson, Cinematographer: Robert Yeoman ASC)
‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ (2014, Director: Wes Anderson, Cinematographer: Robert Yeoman ASC)

Split screen combined with whip pans creates a whole new set of challenges. For ‘Asteroid City’ the whole town was built to accommodate the animatic, in which a shot that featured Jason Schwartzman and Tom Hanks’ characters speaking to each other on the phone from different locations appearing side by side was also outlined. So assured were the team with the animatic that the appropriate half of the image was blacked out via tape on the matte-box whilst shooting, rather than later utilising a centre crop with some wiggle room, as might be more common.

“It allowed us to see exactly what we would catch on the left or right side of the frame. Camera moves were challenging for these sequences. I had to do a 360 pan as police cars pass by chasing criminals. As I only had half the frame and it was a fast move, it was a more difficult shot than if you had the full frame. Timing was crucial as I had to move off Jason and come all the way around to find him again. So, compositionally it was important to have that line in the middle to see exactly where that actor would be and what the action was.”

Anderson isn’t a fan of remote heads and has all but “banned” them from set. Towards the end of ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ Bob had to operate an extended whip pan based sequence from atop a 5 story scaffolding tower in the hotel’s atrium. He recollects, “I’m up there by myself on the tower, because the moves are so quick and I’m moving around so quick the whole tower starts moving back and forth. The actors are coming in and I’m like, oh my God, how am I going to do this? I’m sweating, it’s very specific lines of dialogue that I have to make moves on. So finally, it’s an old trick I’ve seen dolly grips do, I took a laser pointer and I attached it to the camera and I put 6 little X’s on the floor. Then I close the eye piece and I would just hit the laser pointer on the lines of dialogue. And that way I didn’t have to march around and shake the whole thing. And I remember we did like 20 takes and finally we went and said, okay, we got it. Thank God!”.

When it comes to aspect ratios there was a desire from the beginning of their relationship to shoot 2.39:1 through anamorphic capture. For ‘Bottle Rocket’, because it was Anderson’s first film, the studio were questioning the choice due to the added complexity and lighting requirements. They requested a test be done in pre-production in both anamorphic and 1.85:1. Reflective of their support for each other, the duo completely “loaded” the test towards anamorphic.

“We made the frames very kind of artsy and I lit them a little more beautifully. And then when we did the 1:85 scene, we purposely made the frames less interesting and I made the lighting a little more boring. We sent the test off to the studio and the studio said, „We can’t see the difference. You have to shoot 1:85!“ So we were kind of forced into that, which is not what we wanted to do.”

After the success of ‘Bottle Rocket’ Wes made it clear from the beginning of production on his next film ‘Rushmore’ that he was going to shoot anamorphic, a choice that stuck for subsequent films, apart from ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ which was shot on Super16mm at 1.85:1. In pre-production for ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ Wes began to consider mixing aspect ratios within the film. Bob admits to being a little nervous when the idea was first presented to him, but as they developed the concept of each aspect reflecting how movies were shot during the time period relevant to the film’s setting these fears were diminished and they embraced the adventure.

“The Academy ratio (1.37:1) is how films in the 30s were shot and in the 60s a lot of studios were shooting the widescreen as an answer to the advent of television, and then gradually we settled on the 1:85 which has been from the 80s up until now. So I think the concept was that each format would not only represent that time period but they are so different they offer many different types of compositional possibilities, and so we studied a lot of films from the 30s including Ernst Lubitsch’s just to see how the directors and cinematographers of the time dealt with that square frame. It was an interesting study for me, at first I was a little afraid of that frame but as we started using it I just embraced it and I really, really love it. This aspect ratio opens up some interesting composition possibilities; we often gave people a lot more headroom than is customary. A two-shot tends to be a little wider than the same shot in anamorphic.”


15A wes anderson
The different time periods reflected through aspect ratio in ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ (2014, Director: Wes Anderson, Cinematographer: Robert Yeoman ASC)
15 B wes anderson aspect ratio
15 C Aspect ratio
The different time periods reflected through aspect ratio in ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ (2014, Director: Wes Anderson, Cinematographer: Robert Yeoman ASC)

Camera movement

Bob declares „We don’t use camera cars, we don’t use technocranes. We don’t use a lot of the tools I might use on commercials or other feature films. It’s all old-school dollies – we use dolly track so when you make a move it’s always going to end up in the same place.”

But who can reach this level of precision called for by Bob and Wes? Enter Key Grip Sanjay Sami. Sanjay is a native of Mumbai, India where he studied political science and worked as an industrial diver and underwater welder on oil rigs. Whilst on strike, a friend invited him onto a set. He recollects, “I saw this traveling circus full of crazy people who come together briefly to make a movie. And then it’s another movie — same circus, different clowns. I loved it.”

Sanjay came onboard for ‘The Darjeeling Limited’ which shot in 2006. Bob fondly recollects the very long dolly track chasing after the train. They shot on the Arri3 at 150fps and Sanjay was pushing not only the dolly and camera, but Bob operating, the focus puller and Wes himself riding along with his little monitor. Thankfully, Sanjay had been on the Indian rugby team and made it seem effortless!”.

Since then he’s worked with Bob and Wes on all their projects and become a key collaborator, receiving the script and animatic very early on in the process.

Anderson – “He’s the one who points out ‘this is tricky.’ He’ll express the physics of it to me. He’s sort of a producer for us, he helps us figure out how we’re going to get things done. And he’s a good manager of people. So his voice comes into the discussion in ways that have nothing to do with pushing a dolly.”

The triplet share a love of old school techniques which has been amusingly enforced by some unfortunate experiences with more modern technology. This included a Technocrane which had been ordered in for a single day not performing as expected, and the director and cinematographer getting stuck at the top of scissor lift three times in France! Beyond occasional use of the Towercam they stick with scaffold and track trusting in historical equipment but utilised in more modern ways. Over the years this has included a dolly on a dolly as well as fitting overhead track into a train carriage for ‘The Darjeeling Limited’

Wes – “The thing I love is, with Sanjay, we essentially are using the same equipment that we might have used on a movie 75 years ago, but we’re arranging it in a way that it hasn’t been arranged before.”

Sanjay – “I think what he likes about working with me is that I hate saying no to anything.  No matter how crazy the demand is, I always want to find a solution. Maybe a crazy solution. That’s part of what makes my job really interesting. Sometimes the crazier the method, the happier he is. I’ve done more than 80 feature films, and the ones I’m most proud of are the ones that we do with Wes, because it’s just work that, for me, from a grip point of view, doesn’t exist outside of this world.”

Lens choice

Over the years Anderson and Yeoman have expanded how many lenses and formats they employ. After their hopes of shooting anamorphic on Wes’ first feature ‘Bottle Rocket’ were dashed, they clawed back some creative control by shooting almost exclusively on one lens, even if the studio believed differently…

“So the very first day we put up a 27mm Primo and we just started shooting with it. And then we moved into the closeups and we’re still shooting with it. And Wes is a big fan of Roman Polanski. ‘Rosemary’s Baby’, I think was shot on a 20mm lens. So he said, ‘why don’t we just shoot the whole movie on a 27?’, and I said – yeah, why not?”

In time the studio found out and within five days the line producer was on set telling Bob to use other lenses. The workaround proved to be hiding the “27” engravings on the lens itself with some tape and then putting other lenses such as 50 & 100mm on the camera reports.

“And so the producer came to me like two days later and he said, ’so you’re starting to use other lenses now‘. And I said, ‘yeah, yeah, we’re mixing it up – we’re using all kinds of lenses!”. Save for a few close-ups on Lumi Cavazos with a 35mm, the whole film was on the 27! For the next films ‘Rushmore’ and ‘The Royal Tenenbaums’ Bob reckons at least 90% was shot on a single 40mm anamorphic lens.

‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ marked the first time that anamorphic and spherical were mixed, and for both formats Yeoman employed Cooke lenses one way or another. For the anamorphic scenes set in the 1960s, Technovision Cooke Anamorphics (Cooke Speed Panchros amorphized by Technovision in 1974) were used. “They have a very interesting quality — they’re not sharp and crisp like Panavision Primo anamorphics. I was a little nervous about how they fell off at the edges but Wes embraced the imperfections of the lenses because of their distinctive look.”

For the spherical world Cooke S4 prime lenses were chosen, they’ve since become the duo’s ‚go to‘ hero spherical lens set. “Wes and I both love them. I like how these lenses render faces and was very pleased with the overall look they gave.” Where required, Angenieux Optimo Zooms round out the lens package.


The use of deep focus can make cinema feel like theatre. A sharp window into an alternate world is reminiscent of the proscenium arch. Wes Anderson employs this technique throughout his work. Deep focus creates a sense of playfulness. The audience is invited to look around each frame as well-composed tableaus.

For Yeoman, who acknowledges that Anderson prefers having much more depth of field than most directors he works with, maintaining deep focus means building high light levels and stopping down the lens. For exteriors he aims for a T11, for interiors it will depend on what’s been blocked in pre-production but it will be at least a T4 but he’s also gone as high as T11 here.

When shooting anamorphic he’ll regularly stop down the lens compared to where he’d place its spherical counterpart in order to create more clarity. Since ‘The French Dispatch’ modern anamorphic optics have been employed in order to hold focus across the entire frame.

Bob on occasion will light to a stop suggested by his focus puller – based on the split that he wants to hold. Focus puller Vincent Scotet muses, “Working with Wes and Bob [involves] a different way of talking about focus and the choices you make in a shot. It’s often more about where I should set focus to play with the depth of field and carry as many actors as possible, instead of choosing one specific actor in the frame to be sharper than the others. Most of the time we’re using split focus, when the T-stop allows us to do so.”

A shared love of celluloid

Yeoman – “There’s something magical about shooting film. With digital, you can see on the monitor pretty much exactly what you’re going to get. With film, there’s a magic that happens from the moment we load the film to when it goes to the lab and someone else prints it. I certainly have a pretty good idea of what it’s going to look like, but there are often surprises — and generally good ones.”

Anderson’s work is beguiling, it’s never been about hiding that the audience is watching a film – if anything, artifice is embraced. Shooting on celluloid Yeoman says, gives Anderson the quality of the image he wants whilst offering a process that is also much more to the director’s preference than digital would be.

“There is nothing like hearing the purr of film running through the gate, and everyone on set pays more attention to what they need to do when shooting film. All energies are focussed on the shot and that gets magically translated onto the film negative. Ultimately, shooting on film creates a more intimate atmosphere for the actors and there are a lot fewer distractions for them.”

Whereas on other productions Yeoman might shoot a fast stock inside and a slow stock outside, Anderson prefers to utilise one film stock for colour throughout. This is usually Kodak Vision3 200T. Faster stocks have been tested but they concluded the grain is most to their liking at 200ASA. Since ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ Yeoman has shot this without filtration for daylight (no 85 filter), finding the lab can handle the correction in scanning and the extra 2/3 of a stop gained proving to be very useful late in the day when you’re loosing light.

Wes clearly doesn’t like “paraphernalia” around the camera and this is minimised by shooting on film, no DIT tents or on-set colour correction. ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ was Anderson’s homage to French New Wave, and part of that became about being able to pick up a camera and lens, run out into the woods and shoot. Shooting 16mm made this more achievable.

Although Yeoman enjoys shooting digitally and finds it to be great in low light, there are scenarios in which he prefers celluloid. Knowing ‘Asteroid City’ would see him shooting in the middle of the day with an extreme contrast range, he was confident that film could hold the highlights compared to digital.


19A resized
‘Moonrise Kingdom’ (2012, Director: Wes Anderson, Cinematographer: Robert Yeoman ASC)
19B resized
‘Moonrise Kingdom’ (2012, Director: Wes Anderson, Cinematographer: Robert Yeoman ASC)
19C resized
‘Asteroid City’ (2023, Director: Wes Anderson, Cinematographer: Robert Yeoman ASC)
19D resized
‘Asteroid City’ (2023, Director: Wes Anderson, Cinematographer: Robert Yeoman ASC)

Lack of accurate monitoring on-set means conversations about specifics of colour have to be had before shooting and tests carried out. For Yeoman this is a benefit of shooting on film and actually leads to more elevated results whilst also boosting the trust element of collaboration. “When you shoot film some things photograph differently. For instance, a dark blue blazer will photograph almost black or purple, it photographs darker than you would imagine. So I’m always pushing the wardrobe people to lighten those colours up a little bit because I know they’ll be happier with the effect on film. Sometimes when you see someone in that wardrobe it looks a little brighter, different than what they were going for, but you have to trust because we shoot the test that in the end it will follow down properly.”

Similar testing also benefits the art department. For ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’, the art department would paint four sheets different shades of pink to experiment with the interior of the hotel and then wardrobe would have different pieces of cloth that were draped over someone’s shoulder to represent shades of a colour for the jackets. The lighting would be simulated, different colours put up against each other and tests shot. “We all watched the test and we decided what we think is going to look the best. Obviously, in the end Wes makes the final call. It’s a very elaborate and collaborative testing process that we go through in pre-production.”

Not dissimilar to how the duo added anamorphic to their repertoire for ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’, when it came to ‘The French Dispatch’ certain sections were shot in black-and-white on Kodak Double-X. Yeoman was very impressed with what the stock added. “We’d shoot tests in colour and black-and-white, and often we preferred the black-and-white. We fell in love with that stock on that movie and many things we originally were going to shoot in colour were shot using the black-and-white stock.”

Bob shot test stills around Angoulême in available light often at extremely low levels. “I was frequently surprised by how much detail the lab was able to bring out in the shadows. The latitude of film is extraordinary. From watching these tests, I was encouraged when we came to shoot to be more bold in the lighting and worry less about fill light than I have in the past.”

Switching between black-and-white and colour stocks allowed certain elements to be emphasised. The storyline between Benicio Del Toro and Léa Seydoux is black-and-white until Del Toro’s painting is revealed and colour is introduced – it’s a dramatic moment. In another moment the film switches to colour when mentioning Saoirse Ronan’s blue eyes. It’s a playful reveal, aware of the medium in which the filmmakers are operating.


‘The French Dispatch’ (2021, Director: Wes Anderson, Cinematographer: Robert Yeoman ASC)
‘The French Dispatch’ (2021, Director: Wes Anderson, Cinematographer: Robert Yeoman ASC)

Yeoman – “Don’t get me wrong, I love what we can do with the Alexa and other digital cameras. At the same time, I think a lot of the magic of filmmaking has been lost since we entered the digital world, and that magical quality appeals to me. The magic of cinema is very important to me.”

Lighting interiors

Overall Wes and Bob’s films have a soft and naturalistic approach to the lighting. In a way it juxtaposes the fantasy of the story and characters, creating a degree of balance. The contrast ratios are fairly low, with complementary colours regularly creating contrast more than the lighting itself.

Yeoman’s tastes are reflected in this approach, he’s a fan of soft light and in a way strives to make a film appear ‘unlit’. “I’ve been approached before by people who have said ‘you know your movies look as though you didn’t even light them’, and I kind of take that as a compliment in a lot of ways because I want it to feel natural. Obviously if the scene is very dramatic I might be a little more dramatic with the lighting. I try to have the lighting reflect the tone of the scene as best I can.”

For ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ the cinematographer had to create consistent, natural looking daylight during Germany’s short winters for an incredibly large open interior space – all whilst being able to maintain a small aperture for the desired deep focus. Wes prefers as few lights as possible on set (ideally there wouldn’t be any!), so the duo negotiate, with Bob always being sensitive of the director’s desires.

“For ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’, the negotiation was I could use HMIs, but they had to be outside the set. So we had 20 4k HMIs bouncing into stretched muslin and coming through the skylight, so we had a nice even light. Then we have practicals everywhere for backgrounds. And then I’ll bring in one light just to light the actors, a soft light with a chimera or whatever. So basically, it’s a one light deal because everything else is kind of lit, and that way we can move quickly, we can look anywhere.”

Even if the lighting units used are bulky and power-hungry, Bob must work with his teams to make sure the footprint and perceived impact is minimal. “[Wes] hates generators, so we always have to park the generator around the back of the building where he won’t see it. And every movie I do I have to prep everybody about the way we work. On ‘The French Dispatch’, we had a pre-light crew that could go in and lay the cable and get it all done. And that way, by the time we show up, it looks like it’s all pretty simple and easy, but it’s all been done the day before, so that’s the best way to work.”

Bob’s approach for lighting the train carriage interior on location for ‘The Darjeeling Limited’ was also based around maximising shooting time. He placed Kinoflos in the ceiling and then had neutral density filters made for the windows at various strength to balance the exterior exposure with the inside throughout the day. “We were in Rajasthan, we would get there at dawn in the morning and the train would take off. We had ten hours of daylight – we were shooting in the winter. And we would go five hours on the train shooting the whole way. And then they turn the train around and drive five hours back.”

Although Bob’s lighting choice could be considered fairly traditional, he isn’t averse to utilising lighting styles from outside of the film world when it suits the story. For the black-and-white stage-bound sequences of ‘Asteroid City’ Bob collaborated with theatrical lighting director Matt Daw to create the distinct look Wes was after. “It added a whole new dimension to the look. My job was to try to blend and match how Matt was lighting the scene and make lighting ratios more film-friendly to achieve enough exposure. In contrast to theatre lighting, our film is fairly slow at ASA 200, so I needed to boost the light levels. In the theatre world they accept having double shadows whereas in filmmaking we try to avoid them, but it created a whole different feeling, more evocative of the television studio look of the 1950s.  I think hard light often looks better in black-and-white shots – like you see in the movies of the ‘30s and ‘40s – it gives it a little more contrast.”

‘Asteroid City’ (2023, Director: Wes Anderson, Cinematographer: Robert Yeoman ASC)
‘Asteroid City’ (2023, Director: Wes Anderson, Cinematographer: Robert Yeoman ASC)

Lighting exteriors

Bob and Wes also take a minimalist approach to exterior lighting and this begins in the scouting process. “I try not to impose anything on any location. I try to take what’s there and work with it. Always the first question the director says to me is ‚where’s the sun gonna be’… If they’re looking in the wrong direction and it’s going to be front lit all day, I speak up right away and say ‘can we look over here instead, does that work for you?’.” Generally Bob finds Wes’ response to this is to alter the shooting direction instead of remaining front-lit and having to get large overhead silks involved to soften the light.

As much as possible, using any lights on exteriors is avoided. As such, scheduling around the ideal time of day becomes crucial and this is much easier to do when the director is also onboard. “Wes is pretty good about letting me shoot the time of day that I need. Like in ‘Grand Budapest’, we were fortunate because it was cloudy all the time and that’s what we wanted. And the few days that we had sun, we would not shoot. We would go do something else. ‘The French Dispatch’, we kind of timed it pretty much. There’s a couple scenes that did have sun, but I always try to backlight or side light with the sun as much as possible then we sometimes will bring in some 4×8 white foam core to fill in a little bit.”

Over the years Bob has become more comfortable in not using supplementary lights, partially as a response to being so impressed by what the film stock can capture when it comes to working in low light. A key moment for this was on ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ filming around a campfire. “It was kind of our rule, no lights, even though I wanted to throw the light on her. And I was shocked because we would start shooting well before dark and just kind of work our way into it. And then there was always that sweet spot where it was perfect, you know? But I was amazed because sometimes I’d say, ‘well take 10, that’s the one’ After that, it just went to mush. But then we’d get our dailies back and it surprised me how much the film could read into the shadows at that late hour. I learned so much from that because maybe two or three takes later than where I thought we were dead, it was gorgeous.”

Though usually adverse to front and top light for exteriors, Wes pushed Bob to embrace the look for ‘Asteroid City’ with all the town exteriors shot completely with natural light. “In the past I have always preferred to back or side-light the actors, and if the light was overhead and harsh, I would be inclined to silk it. But I don’t think we ever used a silk in this film. We were sometimes at the mercy of the weather, but generally got clear, sunny days, which kept our lighting consistent throughout the day.” The look is bold and harsh compared to the duo’s previous work, and suits the more saturated palette.

To support Wes once again in shooting quickly and simply, when it came to the interior sets on location, Bob suggested incorporating skylights covered with full grid diffusion cloths into buildings such as the diner or gas station. “When we built the town we put skylights into all of the buildings where we planned to shoot the day interiors and relied on natural light when we shot those scenes. We covered the skylights with full grid to give a soft, even light, which allowed the actors to move around with no lighting adjustments. It also meant that the interior and exterior shots balanced perfectly. The dusk scenes were all natural, with practicals in the background to give a ‘pop’ to the image.”

Colour grading

In general, Yeoman is as involved as possible with the DI process, with Anderson always happy to receive his input. On the occasion that he has other film commitments, he offers notes at different points in the process. In general the final grade doesn’t take on a very different direction from the dailies. Yeoman notes that overall most of Wes’ films tend to feature warmer skin tones and they push the saturation quite heavily. For ‘Asteroid City’ they opted for a more low-contrast look than usual to hark back to the films of the 1950s. On recent films the DI has lasted around a fortnight.

Advice to new filmmakers

Whilst being an advocate for celluloid, Yeoman encourages younger filmmakers to embrace the benefits of digital and how it democratised the industry. “They’re lucky, the kids today. When I started, everything was film, which was expensive to shoot. I have to run a camera and buy film and process it… Today, you can shoot digitally. It’s so much easier and less expensive. And I just tell kids today, shoot anything. And take your Canon camera or a Nikon, whatever you got, your iPhone, and just go out and shoot things. And you’ll learn. You can do a dramatic thing. You can do a thing about cars driving down the street. I don’t care what it is. Just start shooting. And you will learn things.”

Bob feels you can’t be afraid of failure as a budding filmmaker. It’s part of the development process and something you have to work through. You learn something from everything you make. “Most student films are terrible. I went to USC film school and most of the student films there are terrible. But that’s the whole point of it. That’s where you go and you learn. And then maybe make a couple of bad films. Maybe your third or fourth film, that becomes a good one. So I encourage people just to shoot and don’t be afraid. Take chances. And something that I learned is to really go into situations where you might think, ‘oh, this is never going to work’. And you’d be surprised, particularly with the digital cameras, how good it looks.”

Bob feels, ultimately, he’s a “non technology person – technology is great, but it comes with a price. Sometimes you need the big lights, you need all the gear, and sometimes you don’t.” The latter should be embraced when you’re starting out. Overall, just get out there and shoot!

Sources and further reading

Cooke interviews with Robert Yeoman ASC


Magazine articles


Podcasts and interviews


Behind The Scenes documentaries

Shooting ‚The Grand Budapest Hotel‘ (with Wes Anderson & Robert Yeoman, ASC), Cinematographers on Cinematography