One of the most unique films I saw last year was Grand Budapest Hotel. It was filled with all the oddity and quirkiness you’d expect from a Wes Anderson film. Wes truly embraces that film is a director’s medium; and his specific perspective and style permeates every frame. What I love most about his films is the borderline-obsessive attention to detail. From how the shots are composed to the music choices to the color of the teapot far off in the background, Wes treats each decision about each detail as an important one. I respect and admire that sort of attention to craft that many artists possess.
That tireless pursuit of getting the smallest detail right is something I strive for (and sadly, don’t quite achieve many times) in my creative life. I’m of the mind-set that it’s okay (indeed, necessary) to sweat the small stuff. Now, mind you, I’m not talking about breaking a nail or spilling your morning coffee; of course, those things happen and we have to let them go (and quickly). What I’m talking about is how we create.
Broadway and film composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim states in his book, Finishing The Hat, “God is in the details”. And he’s right. Every single musical note of every single musical instrument has to be selected; then paired with every single word and note that is to be sung. Every decision you make informs and effects every single decision downstream of it; so caring about the details enough to get them right can seem like a monumental task. But when you care deeply enough to make each small detail correct, it can bring a you sense of peace.
Taking care of the details in my own creative life allows me to see when the work is “finished”. There have been numerous times I’ve endlessly fiddled with a show I’m lighting. Often, it’s in the pursuit of narrowing down the list of details that have yet to be addressed. In my work, those notes often come from others (a director or producer, perhaps), but I always have a running list of details I need to complete before I can walk away from the work with a sense of satisfaction. Sometimes it never gets there, and I walk away unhappy with the piece. It’s in those times that I try to figure out what didn’t work.
To be clear, I’m talking about constructive self-examination; not beating yourself up. Putting yourself through the wringer is an unnecessary and unproductive diversion in which far too many artists indulge.
On those occasions when I do have the opportunity to truly get the details right, the sense of accomplishment and the feeling of “completeness” is truly fulfilling. So if you’re one of those insufferable goobers that annoys your friends and co-workers with your relentless attention to detail, just know you have lots of company and that it’s okay to sweat those small details; just like Wes.
If you’d like to see some of Wes Anderson’s attention to detail, check out the book, The Grand Budapest Hotel.
And then checkout this tumblr site that collects color palettes from many Wes Anderson films and puts them together in one place.