One of the things that makes The Afterparty so much fun is that you never know what’s in store from one episode to the next. The second season of Apple TV+’s murder-mystery comedy series finds Aniq (Sam Richardson) and Zoe (Zoë Chao) once again in the middle of an investigation. This time, the crime scene is her sister’s (Poppy Liu) wedding, and the victim is the groom (Zach Woods).
Like the first season, each episode features one character’s account of the events, told through a “mind movie” filmed in a different genre or style. So far this season, we’ve gotten episodes styled as a rom-com sequel, a regency romance, and a film noir. In episode four, “Hannah,” which premieres July 26, the spotlight turns to, yes, Hannah (PEN15’s Anna Konkle), the sister of the groom. Her account of the events unfolds in the distinct style of a Wes Anderson film.
Earlier this month, The A.V. Club spoke to the episode’s director, Anu Valia, about how she replicated Anderson’s visuals and rhythms, as well as the specific references she pulled from his work.
The A.V. Club: Did you say you wanted the show’s Wes Anderson episode specifically or was that assigned to you?
Anu Valia: Oh, that’s a good question. It was last year at this time when I first met with [showrunners Chris Miller and Anthony King]. We met about a couple of episodes. I think they were just asking every director their opinions on a couple of different genres. And then when I was hired, I was just assigned episodes. But through some other circumstances, I got a chance to do another one and I remember being, like, “If it’s between these two, can I please direct this one?” But no, I didn’t get that much choice.
AVC: Are you a fan of Wes Anderson?
AV: Oh, yeah. I think it was Tamra [Davis], the finale director, who said something really truthful, which is that this show is such a director’s dream. It’s like being in film school. You get to have an excuse to just study a style of filmmaking. And so, yes, I am a fan of Wes Anderson, but I do think it’s so different to watch movies as a fan than to watch a director you’re studying, you know? How they use camera movement, why they use a specific style of acting throughout their troupe of actors, how the production design is used. It’s different because I think with Wes Anderson you can very easily get into parody and it can be boring. That was my biggest fear. Like, we’ve seen so many Wes Anderson-inspired sketches and stuff, and it’s so boring. Because you’re just like, “Okay, I get it.”
AVC: So how do you make sure to stay away from that kind of parody?
AV: It was like, “Okay, what is the reason for the way he moves the camera? How do we use how he plays with framing and blocking and panning and dollying in and out to tell a story about people who can’t say what they mean, but desperately want to?” So I was rewatching his movies with that lens of dissection, and then trying to put that into our interpretation of the story with that style. I talked a lot with Chris and Anthony about it, and I think that their number one thing with all the genres is that you’re not parodying. You’re using the style to tell the story in the best way that it can be told. And that was the approach that we all had.
AVC: This episode is told from the point of view of Hannah, played by Anna Konkle, who seems like a perfect fit for this style.
AV: Well, you know, I think that Chris and Anthony definitely had all that in mind when they asked Anna to play Hannah. And when they were writing that character, I feel like that was all very baked in. And Anna understood that.
AVC: Did you give her any specific direction?
AV: I mean, these actors are incredible. They’re so good individually at comedy and infusing their characters with so much pathos. And so I think specifically for the Wes Anderson episode, I feel like the one thing that was more specific than most of the other episodes that I directed was the actors’ blocking. It’s so choreographed with the camera, and that is something that is very different from the way I direct organically. But like, in terms of specific acting choices, Anna is just so deeply funny and understood the sadness of this character. She was truly just wearing her heart on his sleeve in a way that was surprising to everybody around her. And I think that Anna understood what made Hannah so interesting.
AVC: Can you talk about some of the specific references you pulled from Wes Anderson’s movies?
AV: I mean yes, like some things like lent themselves to direct influence, like Hannah in the bathtub is so much a reference to The Royal Tenenbaums. But then it’s like you’re also telling a story Rashomon style, so you’re revisiting scenes or introducing scenes that will later be revisited from other perspectives. So there were some things that were scripted that were direct homages to certain films of his, but then I really would watch his movies and try more so to dissect how he uses like, let’s say, camera push-ins or pans and zooms, and how I could use that. Then I would look at a scene at the afterparty or look at a scene at the dinner or rehearsal dinner or the wedding itself and think how to revisit them through this new lens. Some things were direct homages, but if we [do] that too much, it’ll be like you’re just watching like a ripoff of a specific movie, and that’s not fun to watch.
AVC: Do you have any Wes Anderson scenes you specifically wanted to recreate?
AV: Yes. In Grand Budapest Hotel, there’s this really fun montage of these hotel guys answering telephones. And he puts these digital spotlights on people. It’s cool, and I wanted to do that. So, then it’s like, Oh, you know, a great place to do a digital spotlight is like when Hannah is leaving Grace and saying goodbye and they’re the only two people in the world. So it’s like, Why don’t we use this tool that’s used for something totally different in this space? Because it makes sense to what they’re feeling in that moment.
AVC: You even managed to get a short stop-motion animated sequence into this episode. That’s very Wes Anderson.
AV: Yeah, Max Winston did the animation, that 30 seconds of stop motion. I think he started so much earlier. I mean, I remember Chris had hired him long before I even started. I started talking to him in, like, June or July of last year. He worked really hard. With half-hour comedies, you don’t usually get as much time to prep as I did, or to shoot or even post. I’d been hired and I was starting prep and I remember reading, like, “stop-motion sequence.” I was like, “How are you going to do that? That’s going to take forever.” And Chris was like, “Oh, he’s already hired.”
AVC: Would you say you appreciate Wes Anderson more after this experience? Or do you feel like you might need a break from his style?
AV: Oh, I liked Wes Anderson before, but I became such a devout follower of his. Because it’s not all style. This is like a man who is trying to show feelings and truth. I don’t know if this is true about him, but these characters struggle to show what they’re feeling. All these other tools are trying to explain what characters feel, and that’s why there’s all this style. I don’t know. I could talk about him forever. Now I’m just like a superfan.