The story behind that iconic photo of Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson

Over the past few years, Wes Anderson‘s status has risen to that of a not-so-indie cinema icon. You see books about the director on every trendy shop’s shelves, his films on every Tumblr, and his whole aesthetic seems to dictate half the photos published on Instagram daily.

Two decades ago, the filmmaker was just an Austin greenhorn, dreaming along with his mates about having the budget to direct a film. Like most, his glory didn’t come instantly, and it’s only luck that eventually got him an appointment with Columbia in November 1994.

Owen Wilson and Wes Anderson. (Photo: Everett Collection)

Wes Anderson, who didn’t look like one his quirky characters yet, attended the meeting with his friend and roommate Owen Wilson. The duo first crossed paths in 1989 while studying English at the University of Texas.

In 1996, the director told the AMC Blog that the two pals met while:

“doing a playwriting class together: this thing where everybody, about nine of us, sat around a table and discussed plays. And I always sat in one corner, not really at the table, and Owen always sat in another corner, not really at the table, and we never spoke the whole semester.”

Basically, Wes and Owen were a bit like the shy and lonely characters in their flicks — like Margot Tenenbaum, or the kids in Moonrise Kingdom. Later that day, Wes ran into Owen and according to an interview he gave to Interview Magazine in 2009, they started talking:

”about writers, but [we] also [talked] about movies right off the bat. I knew I wanted to do something with movies. I don’t know if he had realized yet that it was an option.”

Wes and Owen became roommates not long after and it’s thanks to this cohabitation that their film career was launched.

Wes and Owen in Sundance, Utah, 1993. (Photo: Unknown)

According to Texas Monthly, the idea behind the duo’s debut flick came following a “dispute with their landlord over his refusal to fix several broken windows.” Released twenty years ago, on February 21 1996, Bottle Rocket tells the story of three wealthy kids reinventing themselves as small time crooks. The plot came to mind when Anderson and Wilson staged “a mock break-in and later moved out in the middle of the night.”

The script was first developed into a short film in black and white, starring Owen Wilson, his brother Luke and Robert Musgrave. A friend of the Wilson family watched it, and instantly seeing the potential helped them to tighten the screenplay and send it to Hollywood.

The tape eventually ended up on producer James L. Brooks’ desk, who invited the duo for a meeting, to which Owen Wilson and his military haircut turned up wearing white shorts. At the end, the two college friends got a deal, but also $5 million and everything they needed from a cinematographer, editors and a crew.

Happier than two kids on Christmas Eve, they left the studio running, jumping and laughing. Which gave the world this fantastic photo, capturing the the true start of two amazing careers.

Pals. (Photo: Unknown)

Twenty years later, Bottle Rocket doesn’t look half as accomplished as Wes Anderson’s biggest hits. Quite absurd, it could be said to be overrated, especially when you read that Martin Scorsese apparently called it one of his favourite 1990s movies.

However, you can really observe how the filmmaker’s creative genius was already blossoming. In addition to the quirky characters, many recurrent aspects of Anderson’s cinema are already present. We could mention the presence of precocious kids, the under-water shots, a scene at a barber like in Rushmore and, of course, the whole concept of two friends going on an adventure.

All the elements that have contributed to making Wes Anderson one of the most universally loved directors of our time.

Read More → The story behind David Bowie’s ‘China Girl’

Originally published at on February 19, 2016.