The Wes Anderson Collection’s Matt Zoller Seitz on his new sci-fi puppet series

Matt Zoller Seitz, author of The Wes Anderson Collection sat down for an interview with us on the new series he’s been working on. “Space Rabbit” is currently raising funding on Indiegogo for a pilot episode, hoping a production company will fund the rest of the season once they see the eccentric cast of characters come to life.

Among the perks of the Indiegogo Matt’s team has set up are a book from Matt’s library along with a personal note from the Pulitzer Prize nominated author, a review by him on any movie or television program, and actual puppets from the show. If you’re short of ideas but not cash, we wouldn’t mind seeing him review Leprechaun 3, or perhaps the universally acclaimed Dirty Grandpa.

Could you sum up the premise of the series in a few sentences?

Space Rabbit is an anti-fascist fable that’s basically Animal Farm by way of Looney Tunes, with a happy ending. It’s set on the far side of the galaxy, on an all-animal planet called Planimus, which has been governed for generations by a republic called the Democratic Republic of Animal Territories, or D.R.A.T. Then this fascist squirrel rises to power and becomes a dictator, and all the animals who believe in the ideals of democracy have to band together and take their planet back. There’s a swashbuckling cat, a cat senator, an alcoholic lion, a praying mantis who’s the only honest reporter on the planet, and an old turtle who has incredible fighting skills and can use his shell as a shield. A lot of the characters play jazz to unwind.

Kenolta and Bad Pig from Interrogation Scene

Which films or TV shows would you say influenced this one? With actors moving the puppets instead of stop motion, the Muppets seems an obvious comparison to make. What’s similar and what’s different?

The Muppets are obviously a huge, huge influence. I co-wrote it with my old friend Steven Santos, who also edited the footage. The creatures in this thing are mainly Muppet-type characters, although we also have rod puppets, marionettes, and special fighting puppets for the scene where they have karate fights, sword fights, gunfights and stuff. The Coen brothers, Steven Spielberg and Billy Wilder are also really important in terms of tone, because they are able to move freely between very broad comedy and intense drama and back again and it doesn’t feel like you’re getting emotional whiplash. Fargo, the show on FX based on the Coens, is also very good at that. It’ll be really silly one minute, and then it’ll break your heart.

And also maybe Game of Thrones or House of Cards, too, because a lot of the action is about people in government and the military forming alliances and then selling each other out and stabbing each other in the back, sometimes literally. Except instead of Kevin Spacey doing it, it’s a squirrel.

My old friend Wes Anderson is also an influence. It was by studying the way he puts a movie together while writing The Wes Anderson Collection and the Grand Budapest Hotel book that I realized I could do this myself, relatively cheaply. I’ve directed stuff with actors but always in real-world locations, available locations. I never did live action fantasy because I figured it was beyond my reach, budget-wise. Well, Wes makes his films very economically and they look a lot bigger than they are, so I took a close look at how he does it and I learned a lot. Wes basically pre-directs his movies using animatics, which are basically storyboards strung together to make a facsimile of the finished movie.

I did this with my storyboards for Space Rabbit and it allowed me to figure out exactly how long a shot would be, almost down to the second, and then I could have the crew build sets that were exactly to the size and shape of what the camera is seeing, so that we don’t waste time or money building anything the audience will never actually see. There’s a lot less on screen than you think, it’s a lot of smoke and mirrors. The sets are all plywood and cardboard that’s been painted to look like concrete or steel, that kind of thing. We bought nearly everything we needed at a hardware store.

We have a direct shout-out to Wes in our first clip. The alcoholic lion gets arrested and made a fall guy for assassinating the president of the planet, who’s an old goat, and when they put the lion in jail, he’s wearing Owen Wilson’s yellow jumpsuit from the end of Bottle Rocket.

Matt at rehearsal

A sci-fi movie with puppets is certainly an original idea, how did you come up with it?

I’ve been playing with puppets and stuffed animals ever since I was a little kid. I started out creating characters for my little brother from the stuffed animals in his menagerie, then I did the same thing as a grownup when I had kids. These were never cute, harmless characters, though. They were always kind of neurotic and complicated. That’s the Jim Henson influence. Miss Piggy, Fozzie and Kermit are interesting but they’re not always happy-go-lucky, you know what I mean? They have dark nights of the soul, they get jealous, they make mistakes.

Who’s the intended audience? Is this a show for kids, is it just for adults?

Ideally this is the sort of project that parents tell very young children they can’t see, not because of any specific content—there is slapstick violence but no profanity or sex—but because of the political satire aspect, which is very much informed by what’s happening in the country right now. And then they’ll sneak over to some other kid’s house and watch it anyway.


If you want to help Matt make his series, you can support the project on Indiegogo for another month. We don’t yet know the exact release date, but it’ll be exciting to see if Wes beats Matt to the next big animation, or the reverse.

New Wes Anderson book with introduction by Matt Zoller-Seitz

You can already pre order this book that promises to be as beautiful and collectible as the other two “The Wes Anderson Collection” books. Tip: BookDepository.uk is my favorite page to buy books because they are not expensive and the worldwide delivery is free.

This book collects the best artwork from the first five years of “Bad Dads,” an annual exhibition of art inspired by the films of Wes Anderson. Curated by Spoke Art Gallery in San Francisco, “Bad Dads” has continued to grow and progress and has featured work from more than four hundred artists. From paintings to sculptures to limited-edition screen prints, the artworks vary greatly in style, but share the imagery and beloved characters from the mind of one of Hollywood’s most noteworthy and imaginative filmmakers. The book features an original cover by graphic artist Max Dalton, a foreword by writer and director Wes Anderson himself, and an introduction by TV and movie critic Matt Zoller Seitz, author of the bestselling Wes Anderson Collection books.

20 years ago

On February 21st 1996, Bottle Rocket was released, the first feature film directed by Wes Anderson.

Film critic Matt Zoller Seitz wrote this beautiful article to commemorate this special date.

Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson exiting Columbia Pictures offices after signing deal to make Bottle Rocket, which was released 20 years ago this week.
Source: Consequence of Sound facebook.

Continue reading “20 years ago”

Trailer for Matt Zoller Seitz’s “The Wes Anderson Collection”

Abrams Books has released a trailer (yes, a book trailer) for the great Matt Zoller Seitz’s forthcoming The Wes Anderson Collection, which will be released into fine bookstores near you on October 8th. We heartily recommend you buy it. Did we mention it’s by, for our money, the foremost critical voice on Wes’ work? Did we mention it has an introduction by certified Important Author Michael Chabon? Did we mention it has a brand spanking new interview with Wes that encompasses his entire career to date? We didn’t, did we. Well it does, so be like Margot and sit in your zebra adorned room reading like a Tenenbaum. Pre-order from Amazon (by doing so you help support the site, and ensure we post at least three to four times a year).

Speaking of fine bookstores, Seitz will be appearing at the Word Bookstore in Brooklyn on October 8th, at New York’s legendary Strand Bookstore on October 10th, discussing the book and Wes’ work along with Lisa Rosman and the New Yorker’s Richard Brody, and Seitz will host a special screening of Bottle Rocket October 19th at Videology in Brooklyn.

Bravo, Matt!

Friday News Round-Up 8/3/12


Come one, come all to this week’s round-up! We’re excited to announce we have a few new features that will be rolling out in the coming weeks:

  • Updated Radio and Library sections
  • Polls and Quizzes
  • Character Features
  • A return to musical features
  • …and much more.

And now, for our meat and potatoes, this week’s news:

Friday News Round-Up 6/8/12

  • (Above) Suzy’s earrings have never looked so good than in this artistic poster by Alex Quinn.
  • The Museum of the Moving Image has republished their five-part video series on the Substance of Style for Wes Anderson. The series is extremely detailed, well-researched, and absolutely engrossing. Absolutely recommended.
  • Roman Coppola talks with Interview Magazine regarding his experiences co-writing The Darjeeling Limited and Moonrise Kingdom. (Bonus trivia: In the interview, Roman uses the phrase “a memory of a fantasy,” which was coined by an interviewer during Cannes, which was referenced by Wes in his NPR interview.)
  • Watch the full 40 minute Moonrise Kingdom press conference from Cannes over here.
  • Short List has “alternative” designs for the Moonrise Kingdom poster, some of which we’ve featured here before, but it’s worth taking a look at the whole gallery. Certainly telling that the film inspired so many diverse images.

Matt Zoller Seitz and the Directors of the Decade: Wes Anderson

Wes Anderson

Over at SalonMatt Zoller Seitz (freelance critic, and author of one the earliest and best profiles of Wes, and this incredible series of video essays from earlier this year) has been taking a look at some of the most influential directors of the decade in an on-going series of essays. Seitz’s latest examines the work of Robert Zemeckis and Wes Anderson.

An excerpt:

That’s where Wes Anderson comes in. The director of “The Royal Tenenbaums” (2001), “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou” (2004), “The Darjeeling Limited” (2007) and this year’s Roald Dahl adaptation “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is as much a train-set filmmaker as Zemeckis, Jackson and Lucas, and like Fincher, Paul Thomas Anderson (“Punch-Drunk Love,” “There Will Be Blood”), Zemeckis and Spielberg, he’s one of the few prominent Hollywood filmmakers working in the ’70s auteur tradition — and doing it with a style so distinct that it can never be stolen, only imitated. He’s notorious for fretting over every aspect of his movies, from the texture of the clothes to the precise geometric motion of each shot and camera movement to the choice of on-screen font (he prefers variations of Futura). Detractors describe his style as fussy, overcomplicated, even airless — and if one prefers a messier, more spontaneous kind of filmmaking, or a more “invisible” style of direction, Anderson is almost certainly the opposite of fun.

I won’t mount a defense of Anderson as an exciting, imaginative and important filmmaker in this article, because I’ve already done it in a series of video essays.I mention him in this piece because of two particular aspects of his art. One is his commitment to analog moviemaking. He shoots on film and prefers to do everything, special effects included, on the set rather than create them after the fact. Even when he employs digital effects or processes, he calls attention to their artificiality; think of the obviously stop-motion sea creatures in “Aquatic” — or, for that matter, the unruly, roiling fur on the creatures in “Fantastic Mr. Fox” — which the director insisted be fabricated with hard-to-manage animal hair rather than more controllable synthetic hair, because he just liked how it looked.

Be sure to read the full piece at Salon, and leave your comments below. It’s a great essay, and well worth the read.

In defense of The Life Aquatic

Spurred on by Matt Zoller Seitz’s video essays “The Substance of Style,” Jamie Rich has written an eloquent defense of The Life Aquatic, the film in Wes’ oeuvre that has received perhaps the harshest criticism:

That said, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou always seems to be the most maligned of these core films. Invariably, when talking about the movies with others, there is almost a knee-jerk need to claim that it is not as good as its siblings. It’s a comment that is so predictable and automatic, it has become one I no longer trust, at least without some further qualification. More often than not, it’s a movie that its detractors have seen once and never revisited, and whether they realize it or not, their main problem is an inability to forgive it for not being either Rushmore or The Royal Tenenbaums–which, of course, is absurd and also misses how amorphous the auteur really is. When you think about it, though one can draw a connector between those other films, that Rushmore is about the singular experience of the lone outcast and Tenenbaums is the collective experience of a family of outcasts (and one that Max Fischer might not have necessarily thrived in), they are also quite different. For as much as is made out of Anderson’s signature style, the creator is not as singular as even his ardent fans make him out to be. Though his is a rarefied world, a kind of shared universe where any of these stories could exist side by side in terms of creating a larger whole, each movie is distinctly different. They may have variations on similar themes, the way that, say, Romeo & Juliet, Hamlet, and King Lear all mine relatable veins of love both romantic and familial, but they distinguish themselves as separate entities; in tone and setting, the Wes Anderson oeuvre is as vast as those three Shakespeare plays (read more).