A Magical Place
Creating the island community of New Penzance for MOONRISE KINGDOM
“What’s universal and relatable about MOONRISE KINGDOM is that this is a story about first love and a magical summer,” comments producer Jeremy Dawson. “It’s about a young boy and girl who run away to be together. There is a sweetness and charm to this movie, and it’s also funny.
“The title references the cove that the two kids run away to. It has the technical name of Mile 3.25 Tidal Inlet on the map – but for them it’s a secret, magical place, so they re-name it: Moonrise Kingdom.”
Both the technical name and the more meaningful one represent the creative attention to detail that moviegoers have come to expect from a Wes Anderson picture. Anderson collaborated with his fellow filmmaker Roman Coppola in writing the script for MOONRISE KINGDOM, marking the second time that the two have scripted Anderson’s ideas into the road map of a movie, following The Darjeeling Limited (2007).
Balaban notes that he was struck by how “Wes makes movies according to his own particular sensibilities. His is not just a talented mind; it is an organized and kind one. He makes movies like nobody else, and he’s not trying to do it to be different; he’s doing it because that’s who he is.”
What is evident to any and all working with Anderson is how precise his directing style is; he knows exactly what he wants, and how he will proceed to get it, before arriving on set each day. This, however, only makes him relish the process even more; he exhibits a sense of pure joy through his direction. Actors and crew alike are invited to share in, and contribute to, his vision.
“He has a firm hand, yet things are very relaxed on the set,” reports Bob Balaban. “Actors love him. He’ll let you alone if things are going well; if he has something to talk to you about, he’ll be very articulate.”
“As a writer, a producer, and the director, Wes is involved in every element of the film, from clothing design to casting,” adds Dawson. “All of it contributes to the world that he wants to create.”
Anderson’s enthusiasm spreads to cast and artisans, many of whom will collaborate with him on more than one project. As one such returnee, Dawson notes, “He wants the movie to be an adventure for all the people involved in making it, whether it’s getting on a train in India or traveling on a boat in the Mediterranean. Making this movie definitely lived up to that tradition.
“He is always trying to evolve as a director, trying new things and learning from his experiences on previous movies.”
“Wes cares about the process,” says set decorator Kris Moran. “But he also cares about everybody around him, about the on-set environment; it brings out the best in you. When you’re making a movie, that’s a creative place you want to be in.”
Even when calling for multiple takes to get a scene exactly the way he’s envisioned it, Anderson remains calm and won’t press to “make the day.” This would serve him particularly well on Moonrise Kingdom since key members of the cast, and most of the extras, were children.
“Wes deals with children so well – in much the same way that Steven Spielberg does. He’s encouraging to them,” observes Balaban.
Anderson was able to relate to the youngsters in part because his films combine a grown-up seriousness with pure make-believe; Moonrise Kingdom directly accesses children’s worlds of secrets and the convergence of magical moments one associates with youthful summers.
“Wes had this concept for some time,” reveals Coppola. “He had the world and the characters and this feeling, and we spent some time together discussing it. We discovered a banter, and a manner of inquiry, between the two of us that seemed to gel and unlock all these ideas. After we had engaged in that dialogue, the writing process happened very quickly. It’s always mysterious how that all happens.
“My role in writing was to draw out some of the ideas and to help define them. When you have a sounding board, it helps unlock things. That was sort of my main function; sounding board, shaper, editor.”
Together, Anderson and Coppola created a rich tapestry of colorful characters with overlapping connections that draw us into the realm of the movie’s island community, New Penzance. The community is a richly realized place populated by rounded and complex denizens.
Accordingly, actors were captivated by the story immediately. “It takes you into a completely new world from the first page,” says Tilda Swinton. “A world that is as beautifully designed and completely conceived as this one is always going to be a thrill in cinema.”
Murray, who also appeared in The Darjeeling Limited, adds, “It’s a really fine script. There is an electricity that moves through it; Roman and Wes are really wonderful together.”
To film their movie about the discovery of first love and an adventure for two children, the filmmakers honed in on Rhode Island as an all-purpose location – after what Dawson refers to as “Google-scouting.”
“It was an unusual scouting process,” adds production designer Adam Stockhausen. “Everyone – myself, Wes, Jeremy, [co-producer] Molly Cooper – was in New York and researching islands.”
Dawson elaborates, “The story was written to take place on an island, and was envisioned as a New England coastal island. But we looked all over the world – albeit often from our living rooms – the Eastern seaboard, the West Coast, even the coast of Cornwall.”
With a modest population and few automobiles allowed, New Penzance lends itself to being a place that sparks the children’s imaginations and senses of adventure.
Rhode Island’s miles and miles of beautiful coastline and its contained geography sealed the deal, finalized through the Rhode Island Film & TV Office. The state’s topography encompasses rolling fields and craggy ravines, points of elevation, forests and beaches, and rocky coves. Among the state’s many shooting locations for Moonrise Kingdom were Narragansett Bay; the 1,800-acre Camp Yawgoog, lensed in just ahead of the summer season; and the historic Trinity Church in Newport, where George Washington was a parishioner.
Particular care was taken by the cast and crew when working at the latter location, which was redressed twice as New Penzance’s church; initially, for the pageant at which Suzy and Sam first meet one year before the main events of the story transpire, and then for the climactic sequence of the movie which brings their adventure full circle.
The filmmakers wanted the physical production to be focused, not bloated. Accordingly, there were no big trucks, and no actor or filmmaker trailers. Actors were encouraged to arrive camera-ready, requiring them to don their costumes in their hotel rooms before coming to set.
Prudence Island, in Narragansett Bay, provided probably the most unique location for the production. Dawson comments, “There’s no infrastructure there; there’s one tiny little store at which to buy things. We had to get local environmental clearance to set foot on some of the pebble beaches, and charter a ferry boat to get crew members on-site. It pays off on-screen; Prudence really does look untouched.”
With Rhode Island’s geographical versatility and the unit’s leanness, it wasn’t uncommon for the production to move to and film at three or four different locations around the state on a given day – a park here, a beach there, a waterfall down the road.
Anderson had prepared for this part of the process as well, with an advance shoot weeks prior to the commencement of principal photography; he recruited a skeleton crew and shot footage – much of it amidst natural foliage – that would be included in the finished film. This minimal unit enjoyed a great amount of freedom.
Dawson remembers, “We drove around in a van and just went around the state and shot, including with the child actors. The cameras were light and small, so we weren’t bogged down with heavy gear. The technology and the creativity went hand-in-hand.
The “pre-shoot” encompassed “a lot of unscripted stuff, and improv,” explains Jared Gilman, who plays the young Sam Shakusky. “We spent a whole week in the forest.”
Once the main leg of the shoot got underway, “there was a feeling that we were all at camp, or maybe a well-run playground with rules,” says Balaban. All of this was as hoped-for; Anderson wanted cast and crew to have as communal an experience as possible in filming the story.
Bill Murray remembers, “My first day at work was on a camp set, and I realized that they didn’t have trailers and so forth. We had tents, pup tents.
“It was about 40 degrees outside and raining, but once you get 51 people crammed inside a tent, it gets plenty warm. We were cozy after a while.”