Building the Quirky Sets for Wes Anderson’s ‘The French Dispatch’

Wes Anderson returns to live-action in “The French Dispatch,” opening Oct. 22 from Searchlight Pictures. With the film set amid the world of a magazine, Anderson called on his go-to production designer Adam Stockhausen to build the world of fictional city Ennui-sur-Blasé and the offices of a New Yorker-esque publication.

The crew found a derelict felt factory in Angoulême, France, which turned out to be the perfect home for the sets Anderson would utilize for the film, divided into sections created as articles written by the Dispatch staff.

Stockhausen described how he built key sets.

The French Dispatch Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

The Newsroom 

“The guiding idea was that the building was not built for them, they had moved in. So, it allowed the architecture to be mismatched. We had this image of a beautiful newsroom, a regional office of the Associated Press in Paris. It had this arched window that we loved and it also had this yellow [color], so that’s where we got the idea for that to be used through the movie multiple times — it’s used in the café later.

“We talked about the James Thurber illustrations on the walls of the New Yorker and that idea was exciting to us. There are little drawings around the walls of the editorial offices.

“The newsroom is a broader space, too, because it encompassed the writers’ offices. We looked at writers who were inspirational for the characters and their workspaces, pulling details from real-life office spaces.

“The idea of this space is it’s not glamorous, there’s a partition wall made up of pegboard. There’s an area stacked with file boxes to just give this rich sense of the lives there.”

The Prison (“The Concrete Masterpiece”) 

Based on the article “The Concrete Masterpiece,” by J.K.L. Berensen (Tilda Swinton), Benicio Del Toro plays artist and maximum-security prisoner Moses Rosenthaler, who paints nudes of prison guard Simone (Léa Seydoux) that one day catch the eye of fellow prisoner and art dealer Julien Cadazio (Adrien Brody).

“This was inspired by ‘The Trial’ [Orson Welles, 1962]. We looked at a ton of references — real French, Belgian and other European prisons from the mid-19th century through to the 20th century. We would look at electric chair rooms, benches and locks and say, ‘Let’s copy that for our bolts.’ The prison is made up of many different references that became its own creation.

“We found an abandoned warehouse with big holes in the floor, which we patched up. The space had great light and all these windows.

“The prison cells were built off-site and brought in as a kit. The laundry was in the basement of that warehouse; we brought in 5,000 sheets for the pile.

 “[Wes shot the sequence in black and white] and there was very little color. The walls of the prison were white. The prison cells were made of gray metal and the bunks were canvas, so it was sparse color.

“At one point, with all the sunlight coming in and hitting the walls, we got this great contrast, so we painted the walls a subtle gray.”

A sketch of Café le Sans Blague highlights yellow accents. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

The Café Le Sans Blague (“Revisions to a Manifesto”) 

Based on the article by Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand), the Café is a hangout for Timothée Chalamet’s Zeffirelli, a budding revolutionary.

“Again, we built this whole thing. There was an image of the café we found in Paris. This street was dirty and people were going about their lives, but there was also this incredibly vivid yellow café. And that stuck. We looked at a lot of bistros and cafés. We looked at French films from the ’60s.

“We built the guts and the exterior at the felt factory and clad over houses to make the café, but there was nothing behind it. We took the skin [a hanging façade] of le Café le Sans Blague so it could just slide away on a rail.

“We saved all the buildings we made as we went along, and at the end of filming we lined them up and reused them for the street outside the café. Every piece of set you see outside of the café comes from another set.”