Once Upon A Time

It’s fairly common knowledge that the key movers and shakers in turning Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson‘s Bottle Rocket (’96) into a “go” feature were the late Polly Platt, producer-screenwriter L.M. Kit Carson and concert promoter and Woodstock ’69 maestro Michael Lang. In the wake of Platt’s death, I thought I’d re-tell the story one more time for the record. I discussed it with Carson today, and heard from Anderson online. Lang didn’t get back.


(l. to r.) The late Polly Platt, Wes Anderson, L.M. Kit Carson, Michael Lang.

Bottle Rocket was green-lighted because Carson slipped the 13-minute black-and-white Bottle Rocket short — directed by Anderson, co-written by Wes and Owen and exec produced by Carson and Lang — to Platt in early ’94. The short had just played at Sundance, and Platt was involved in cutting the doomed musical I’ll Do Anything with director James L. Brooks.

Carson had seen a few minutes of rough footage that Anderson had shot, and convinced Lang to invest $7500 to pay for the short’s production costs.

“Polly was the person who persuaded Jim Brooks to watch the Bottle Rocket short during lunch break,” says Carson. “They were in the editing room on I’ll Do Anything, and she stuck the tape into a VHS player and and made him watch it. When it ended Brooks looked up and said, ‘What’s anybody waiting for? Make a deal. This is a go picture.’ No-shit-thanks, Polly Platt, for this movie.”

Here’s part 1 and part 2 of the original Bottle Rocket short.

“Wes and Owen had showed me some rough footage,” Carson recalls. ” It wasn’t even a cut-together film. I got Michael Lang to write a check for $7500, and we took that and re-shot the short.” Current Sundance honcho John Cooper was a programmer at the time, and he told Carson’s partner Cynthia Hargrave that the short “‘has to be 13 minutes and no longer” so that’s the length they cut it to.

After the Sundance showing Carson sent the tape to Platt at the recommendation of producer Barbara Boyle, who’s now a senior professor/chair/something-or-other with UCLA’s film program.

Bottle Rocket being greenlighted by Brooks and Columbia “was a major moment….a comet coming out of the universe and hitting Wes Anderson on his left shoulder,” says Carson. And yet despite this history relations cooled between Anderson and Carson during shooting, and pretty much ceased after the film was released. Vague vibes, no reciprocity or keeping in touch over future projects.

“My favorite moment with Wes — relatively recently, I mean — was around the time of the release of The Darjeeling Limited,” Carson relates. “I was on the phone with Roman Coppola, and he said, ‘Someone wants to talk to you.’ And Wes got on the line and said, ‘Roman says I should say thank you.'”

I wrote Anderson about this anecdote and he wrote back as follows: “I don’t recall the conversation Kit refers to but I was very happy to see him in LA during that time and [I] still miss him.” Anderson, currently shooting Moonrise Kingdom in New England, said he’d rather not be quoted about Platt’s passing. “Some people have been asking me for comments but really don’t wish to share anything for now,” he said.

  • JeffC

    It boggles the mind that this short got him studio backing and $7 million.

    Carson was a close family friend, so technically Wes wouldn’t have a career without him. It was probably some sort of primal instinct on Anderson’s part to cut ties with the lowly shoulders he stood on. Carson’s wasn’t exactly a mover and shaker post Bottle Rocket.

  • Pinko Punko

    His best film I think because it was the least affected- this isn’t really a knock, I just really enjoy Bottle Rocket so much.

  • Movie fan09

    I always like to think of Wes and Owen as McCartney/Lennon-without Owen, his work became overdosed in style-like PMC when he did his solo albums..Owen gave his work humanity and pathos.

  • corey3rd

    “Some people have been asking me for comments but really don’t wish to share anything for now,” he said.

    why must Wes Anderson give such a self-centered dickish non-comment on her passing.

    Would it kill the guy if he merely typed, “I will miss Polly Platt since she was my fairy godmother. Without her, I’m stuck with a pumpkin and mice.”

    Guess he was too busy pricing leather patches for his jacket.

  • K. Bowen

    Love Bottle Rocket, but “Bottle Rocket is his best film” people are the same as “Badlands is his best film” people. It’s just not true. Steve Zissou is actually a really, really good film.

  • DeafEars

    “I always like to think of Wes and Owen as McCartney/Lennon-without Owen, his work became overdosed in style-like PMC when he did his solo albums..Owen gave his work humanity and pathos.”

    OW isn’t just the Lennon to Anderson’s McCartney, he’s the Platt to Anderson’s Bogdonavich.

  • MilkMan

    Everytime I see Bottle Rocket, or hear about anything having to with it, I’m always reminded of when I saw it back in 1996, on my birthday, by myself, how much I loved it, and how little the direction of the film played a part in my enthusiasm for the movie. To me, Bottle Rocket was all Owen Wilson. He had the best character, the best character arc, and the best lines, and if I recall correctly, when the movie came out all of the PR was focused on Owen and almost none of it on Wes, whose direction, in my opinion, is pretty nondescript. Goes to show you that not every great director comes out of the shoot with sui generis voice already present. And judging from the Bottle Rocket origin story, Wes Anderson is one lucky mofo. Seriously. His short film was no more deserving of attention that a thousand other short films being passed around at the time. If I was Wes Anderson I would make a pilgrammage to Polly Platt’s grave every year on July 26 for the rest of my life, lay down a nice bouquet of roses.

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