Released in 1960, The Apartment, written and directed by Billy Wilder went on to win five Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Art Direction, and Best Film Editing. It was nominated for a further five Oscars. With a $3 million budget, it raked in $19 million – a whopping $200 million in today’s money. So, to say the film was successful, would be an understatement. It was by far the most commercial and critical success of Wilder’s career. Some of his other films, which today are very popular, were not the commercials hits at the time. For those movies, their widespread popularity came as the years progressed on re-runs and re-releases. The Apartment was different. It was a huge hit for Wilder then, and now.
It was also the single most important inspiration for Chairs. Although they are different stories and comedic performances, its influence for tone and key scenes in our film was ever present throughout production. How Wilder balanced the comedy and loneliness simultaneously was impressive in his Oscar-winning screenplay. There was always a hint of sadness behind the smile – or a frown behind the laugh.
“It was also the single most important inspiration for Chairs.”
It was a film our director had watched and studied in his formative years and continues to watch to this day. When prepping for Chairs, it was the source material he would share with key personnel to help them understand the tone needed for Chairs. How our film would not be over the top in its comedic approach. How the loneliness of Joel was just as important as his comedic moments.
Chairs was written independently from The Apartment; it had just been influenced by it more than any other movie. This also applied with its score. Several tracks from The Apartment were used as our temp score before we started working with our Composer — this was to help create the mood of the film itself. Our Composer also had a deep love for The Apartment and once he knew that was a primary influence, he knew what direction to go in with his own score.
“When prepping for Chairs, it was the source material he would share with key personnel to help them understand the tone needed for Chairs.”
Shot in black and white, The Apartment does not share a colour palette with Chairs, but its clean use of framing and blocking, did help influence how Chairs would need to be shot, especially for our main office scene.
So, if Chairs were to ever screen ahead of a feature film as a double bill, our personal choice would be Billy Wilder’s Oscar-winning classic, The Apartment.