Terence Nance (An Oversimplification of Her Beauty) Talks Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel

A letter from one filmmaker to another, suggesting an ongoing tutelage and mentorship that would take the form of a letter-writing exchange.

Over the first two weeks of January, Talkhouse Film is running the “What We Missed” series, comprising pieces on notable movies from 2014 which were not previously covered, (almost) all of which were released prior to the launch of this site. — N.D.

Greetings, Wes!

Congrats are in order.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is fantastic. I’ve always thought that you should be given more credit for the current white guy anti-hero craze. Clearly there is no Walter White without Royal Tenenbaum. You pull no punches with M. Gustave’s indescribable soup of entitlement, vanity, Eurocentric exceptionalism and wanton insecurity, which is why the movie is so refreshing.

And holla! It’s in the midst of an Oscar race! That part probably doesn’t excite you at all — at least not in a tactile way — apart from the very tactile fact that the film’s critical and commercial success probably means you can keep doing what you’re doing without any interference from… hmmm….

Who attempts to interfere with a Wes Anderson film? Creatively? Probably no one at this point, right?

There was an answer that you gave during an interview last year — it was one of the most influential things that I have read about the creative process of filmmaking to date. You were asked, “At what point in the creative process do you consider the themes at play in your films? Is it a pre-thought or an afterthought?”

Your answer:

“It is a ‘never-thought.’”


You proceeded to say something like, “I just try to think about what I want to ‘put in there.’”

Bruh, I gotta say — partly because of your ability to home in on the nuances of your most acutely felt creative desires — you have mastered the skill of maintaining relevancy in an ever-shifting cinematic cultural landscape. All-knowing cultural-cinema critics constantly lament the bloody murder of “the medium-sized studio movie,” but you keep making those $20-50 mil gems, bruh. They (you know ’em) belabor the shit out of this point — they say that the space you occupy no longer exists, like you are in a kind of desert where only you and P.T. Anderson and Bennett Miller and Iñárritu and (insert director here) survive and thrive.

How does that make you feel? Does it stress you out?

I’m sure it does not. If I may be presumptuous, you are clearly not the type of artist who lets the outside world and its many opinions in on your creative process.

But still, were you ever fazed during that moment when your films were not selling as many tickets as they do now and raking in the Oscar nominations? That moment after neither Life Aquatic nor Darjeeling made money? Was there any self-doubt in play? I’ve wanted to ask the same of Linklater about his “Shiva moment,” in which all he had worked for may have felt destroyed (post-Newton Boys). He and you are linked by more than your state of origin.

I’m being inquisitive at the moment because I was given a book my Brazilian jiu-jitsu professors entitled Mastery and it advises many things about staying on the path to mastery in one’s professional and personal life. There is, for instance, the oft-cited path to mastery — which looks like a staircase, as opposed to what one would expect — a steadily ascending 45-degree angle towards the endpoint of Kubrick-ness. One is advised to remain consistent in one’s “training” through the plateaus, and to remain level-headed in said training during moments of sharp ascent in skill level and confidence. The book also advises that a key to mastery is seeking out instructors who are themselves masters or farther along on the path to mastery. This is important no matter what phase you are in, whether you are a film student or a director with 10 films under your belt. Everyone needs a sensei — or really, everyone needs a team of sensei, skilled in the many arts they must engage in to materialize their dreams.

So, yes, this is me asking you if you would be one of my sensei. I know that it may be uncouth to make this request in “public” on the “Internet,” but I don’t think we have any mutual friends (I think Scott Rudin may have emailed me once) (that was not a timely joke) — (just to clarify that last parenthetical, the tone is sincere, without a hint of irony or snark. I truly meant that now is not the time during which I will make a joke regarding Rudin’s recent email-related trouble. I did not mean to suggest that the parenthetical prior to the “timely joke” parenthetical was indeed a joke in relation to that tragic situation). It’s weird that we don’t have more points of contact! I lived in Houston in the ’80s! (that said, I was two years old) before settling in North Dallas, not far from your good friend Owen. We probably just missed each other in the annals of that fair sweltering city (Third Ward, stand up!).

I’m envisioning that this ongoing tutelage would take the form of a letter-writing exchange. This will be meta-textual and firmly self-parodying for both of us, given scenes like these from your films, and several scenes in my recent film that don’t happen to be on YouTube at the moment (my fan base needs to step it up).

I’ll likely use a typewriter for my correspondence as the tactile experience of using it will encourage me to choose my words carefully. In addition, I’m fond of how the typewriter makes the crafting of a letter a rhythmic experience. What say you? You needn’t answer promptly as I am sure you’re occupied at present, but please know that cinema stands to benefit from our alliance.

I’ve also found that — as I am often asked to guide young filmmakers myself — one cannot coherently “pass on” or “advise” someone on how to make a film watchable, or original, or worthwhile creatively, or anything at all. One can only wax anecdotally as to one’s own success and failures, and within that act of exchanged self-mythologizing the parties involved become endeared toward one another. This is often of mutual benefit, creatively and energetically.

How is everything with you? Are you still about that gypsy life? Do you ever get angry when the adjective “twee” is uttered when describing your work? (I do, for you. It is for me the most phonetically enraging adjective imaginable.) Do you play any sports? I agree with Herzog that filmmaking is really primarily an athletic endeavor. What do you do for a workout? Have you ever thought about releasing a line of tailored corduroy or tweed blazers? How do you woo a love interest? I generally try to stay as present and engaged as possible and allow the chemistry to do its work. Are you excited about Toni Morrison’s new novel? We should definitely convene a book-club meeting around its release.

Writing this letter has made me feel better. The daily grind of trying to find people who possess or have access to several hundred thousand dollars and soliciting said funds from them in order to make art films is not unlike dragon-slaying with no sword. Writing to you has reminded me of the many dragons slain — bare-handed — on the road I now walk. So. Thanks for lending your ear. I eagerly await your response and your next movie.



Terence Nance is an artist originally from Dallas, TX. His first feature film, An Oversimplification of Her Beauty, premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and won a Gotham Independent Film Award. The album of the same title will be released later this year.