Tilda Swinton spent five hours in the make-up chair to play eighty-four-year-old dowager Madame D. "We're not usually working with a vast, Bruckheimer-type budget on my films, so often we're trying a work-around", said Wes Anderson. "But for the old-age make-up, I just said, 'let's get the most expensive people we can'."
According to writer/director Wes Anderson, the cast stayed in the same hotel, the Hotel Börse in Görlitz, Germany during principal photography. He insisted all make-up and costume fittings happen in the hotel lobby to speed up filming. The owner of the hotel appears in the film as an extra working the front desk of the Grand Budapest Hotel. After filming would end for the day, the crew would often return to find him the front desk of their own hotel.
In an interview, Saoirse Ronan said making the hotel's signature confection, the Courtisane au Chocolat, wasn't easy. Unlike most films, the food plays an integral part, and required the actual making of a pastry
The scene in which Ludwig (Harvey Keitel) says "Good luck, kid!" before slapping Zero (Tony Revolori) across the face was shot forty-two times until Bill Murray was satisfied. Keitel actually slapped Revolori each time.
According to "Variety", Fox Searchlight Pictures sent its specification for the film's "proper projection" to theaters before its release. Although this film was shot in three different aspect ratios (1.37, 1.85, and 2.35:1) to inform viewers where they are in the time line, which alternates between 1985, 1968, and the 1930s, instructions state in large, bold red font that the film is meant to be projected in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio (the standard). Aside from the projector setting, the directions include information on framing the picture, image brightness, audio configuration, and fader setting.
The erotic painting hung in place of "Boy with Apple" mimics the style of the early 20th century Austrian painter, Egon Schiele. It was created by illustrator Rich Pellegrino, a regular contributor to San Francisco's annual "Bad Dads" exhibit of artwork inspired by the movies of writer/director Wes Anderson. The painting's official title is "Two Lesbians Masturbating".
As an example of how important attention to detail is in movies, graphic designer Annie Atkins stated in interviews that they had created a prop notebook for M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) to use. However, Fiennes immediately noticed that the notebook had no lines in it. After arguing that an organized and meticulous man as his character, M. Gustave, would always prefer lines to write on, the design department got him a notebook with lines. Atkins later stopped using this example when she learned that journalists had completely missed her point, and wrote about Fiennes' alleged diva behavior on the set.
The soundtrack features a rare instrument; the balalaika, a 3-stringed, triangular-shaped Russian folk instrument that was carefully chosen by Wes Anderson. Balalaikas come in various sizes, much like the violin, from prima to contrabass. Several dozen players from France and Russia gathered in Paris to record the soundtrack in Anderson's presence. The instrument is heard throughout the movie, but is most prominent in the second part of the official trailer (down the ski slopes) with the balalaika's most popular theme, "The Moon Shines" (svetit mesyats).
Ludwig's (Harvey Keitel's) tattoos are a direct copy of the character of Pere Jules in L'Atalante (1934). The "MAV" tattooed on his left arm is the abbreviation of the French saying "mort aux vaches", which translates to "death to cows", "vaches" being street slang for "cops" ie policemen.
The "Boy with Apple" painting appeared in various locations throughout the hotel and is hanging behind the front desk during the young writer's (Jude Law) stay. It can also be seen on the back of the menu, when Zero (F. Murray Abraham) begins to tell his story.
Alexandre Desplat's Oscar for original musical score marks the first time a comedy has won the award since Shakespeare in Love (1998), though in that year, the Academy had 2 categories for score (dramatic and comedy) and the first comedy score to win without two categories ever since One Hundred Men and a Girl (1937).
In an interview with Stefan Zweig's biographer, Wes Anderson singles out two of Zweig's books, "Beware of Pity" and "The Post Office Girl" as ones from which this film has elements 'that were sort of storm's.
The film contains several references to Agatha Christie's mysteries, including naming a character Agatha. Specifically referenced is "4:50 from Paddington", a Miss Marple mystery, wherein the word "tontine" is used as a clue. A body is found in a sarcophagus, and a family lawyer deals with the will of an elderly person who has died, and the family wants the money divided up.
Of the many crudities and tragedies in the film, most were not explicitly shown on-screen. All the scenes are off-screen, either suggested. Despite most of these scenes being off-screen, the movie was rated R, due to foul language, rather than the depiction of violence.
During the film, the concierges always address others and themselves with the title Monsieur. The only time this is not followed is during the "Secret Society of the Crossed Keys" sequence, where all the concierges are referred to by their first names.
The 1968 sequences involving Jude Law and F. Murray Abraham were filmed first, due to the production team first accessed the vacant old Görlitz department used for the hotel lobby, and later the shuttered concert hall Stadhalle, it was originally discovered in an ideal envisioned state, shabby, crumbling, but somehow enchanting in the ruins. The art team redressed the entire area to simulate the hotel in the 1930s. The drop ceiling was removed to reveal the original 3-floor area, but was CG-augmented to 6 floors.
The main auditorium in Stadhalle was used and appeared several times throughout the movie, but with different identities: Schloss Lutz trophy room (the reading of Madame D.'s will). The dining hall between the Writer and Moustafa in 1968. The hall of armor suits where Jopling pursues Kovács. The train façade. The inner rooms of the monastery in which Serge X. was hiding.
When Jopling (Willem Dafoe) is examining Agatha's (Saoirse Ronan's) picture on his deck, the insignia of the Zig-Zag division next to the photo is of similar design of the one belonging to the Nazi S.S.
When Dmitri (Adrien Brody) checks into the Grand Budapest Hotel at the start of the war, M. Chuck (Owen Wilson) puts him in the "Ferdinand Suite". World War I started because of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.
The fictional town of Nebelsbad (home of the Grand Hotel Budapest) is based upon the spa town of Karlovy Vary (Carlsbad) in the Czech Republic. 3 minutes into the film, people can be seen using an elevator to reach the statue of a deer (or stag) on a rocky outcrop. This is almost an exact copy of the deer at Jeleni skok (Deer Jump), a famous landmark overlooking Karlovy Vary. In the film, Nebelsbad is in the Alpine Sudetenwaltz and Karlovy Vary lies in what was, prior to WW2, the Sudetenland. Karlovy Vary has its own 'Grand Hotel'; the Grandhotel Pupp, which has appeared in many films, including Casino Royale. Although the hotel is not connected to a funicular, there is one in Karlovy Vary which allows people to visit the statue at Deer Jump.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
Zero (Tony Revolori) leaves Agatha (Saoirse Ronan) a note revealing the hiding place of "Boy With Apple", and he advises her it is "in code". The note actually contains straightforward directions to the hiding place, with some letters flipped backward,
In addition to being one of the rare films to have actuall stories which are connected with the newspaper headline seen on-screen, the newspapers shown on-screen near the start of the film reveal much of the film's plot (and ending), as well.