Moonrise Kingdom – Exploring the Experiences of Love & Life

Moonrise Kingdom is a movie exploring the experiences of love and life. It is directed by two-time Academy Award- nominated filmmaker Wes Anderson (pictured) and is all about first love and one magical summer. It is set on a picturesque island off the coast of New England in the summer of 1965,  telling the story of two emotionally charged pubescent 12-year-olds who fall in love, make a secret pact, and run away together into the wilderness. As various authorities try to hunt them down, a violent storm is brewing off-shore. The adults of the peaceful island community, which is turned upside down in every which way, are trying to work out what they may be getting up to. It’s ultimately a tale about innocence, about the reality of love, about friendship and how easily we can fall into the trap of judging others based on our own experiences.

There is a sweetness and charm to this movie, and it’s also funny. The children are deadly serious about their love for each other and their plans for the future as they rush headlong forward towards adulthood. It has its resultant quarrels and is filled with tidal waves of joy and sorrow, that can sometimes feel as overwhelming as the tumult of the storm rushing towards them both in the form of wacky dysfunctional parents and the awesomeness of nature.

Their journey together is a quest, like in times of yore, when rosy coloured glasses and the sweetness of life put an entirely different perspective on it. They construct their own world, which strangely parallel’s that of their parents, because that is what their reality allows. They define themselves through their shared ideas and actions, and the movie comes across to us as a brilliant piece of art, both in its conception and creativity. All of the action is beautifully choreographed and the scenes brilliantly set. We are drawn into the children’s world of both vulnerability and adventure, where we can all share some personal experience of our own, in a time when passion and drama existed in a world apart.

Humour and pathos collide in a mesmerizing scene that makes you feel like you are being drawn into the pages of a book, although its reality is far more than we usually find on screen.

Bill Murray throughout the filming was regarded by the cast and crew as its ‘pep captain’ and we can understand why when viewing the movie. His character is wonderfully conceived and drawn.

Bruce Willis brilliantly plays the local sheriff, Captain Sharp and Edward Norton is perfectly cast as the kooky Khaki clad Scout troop leader, Scout Master Ward. Frances McDormand, together with Bill Murray portray Suzy’s very weird and totally wonderful parents, Mr. and Mrs. Bishop.

The majority of the cast, including Bruce Willis and Edward Norton, had not worked with this director before. Anderson is renowned for drawing all of his ensemble into his movie’s creative process. His mind boggling detailed overview and demands for authenticity are well known, and the movie and the acting performances are all the better for it.

The filmmakers needed to find a location that would resemble the style of buildings and the less built up areas of the 60’s, which in America today would be a big ask. After using Google to hone in on locations all around the world they landed back in Rhode Island with its miles and miles of beautiful coastline as an all- purpose location. It has rolling fields, craggy ravines, points of elevation, forests, beaches and rocky coves.

Among the state’s many shooting locations were Narragansett Bay; the 1,800-acre Camp Yawgoog, which they photographed just ahead of the summer season; and the historic Trinity Church in Newport, where George Washington was a parishioner. The filmmakers also wanted the physical production to be focused without big trucks, and no actor or filmmaker had trailers. The actors staying in hotels nearby were encouraged to arrive camera-ready. This required that they don their costumes each day before coming to the set, already arriving in character.

The aptly named Prudence Island, in Narragansett Bay, provided probably the most unique location for the production. It did not have any infrastructure, just one tiny little store at which to buy things. The crew had to get local environmental clearance to set foot on some of the exquisite pebble beaches, and charter a ferry boat to get crew members on-site.

It pays off on-screen though because Prudence really does look untouched.

With Rhode Island’s geographical versatility and the unit concentrating on being lean, 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, you get the picture.

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,” said Bob Balaban, who is the Narrator of the terrific tale. All of this was as hoped-for; Anderson wanted cast and crew to have as communal an experience as possible in filming the story.

He also noted that another factor bringing the cast and crew closer together was their collective make-believe effort; whether they were alive in 1965 or not, each member of the unit had to work together to help the actors slip into their characters. It is all about the innocence and freshness of the world they are inhabiting, helping them to get into the mood of the piece.

This is one of the examples of an approach that today serious Directors need to take when getting into the ambiance of the piece they are filming.

Those that do, like Wes Anderson, not only give an authentic feel to the time and place, but also help their actors get to the essence of the characters they are playing in order that they can relate what they are experiencing emotionally themselves to the audiences. It is this connection that brings success and is both the charm and success of art style movies’ like Moonrise Kingdom and helps them to often obtain a cult following.

The actors reported they were all entirely captivated by the story immediately. “It takes you into a completely new world from the first page,” said Tilda Swinton. “A world that is as beautifully designed and completely conceived as this one is always going to be a thrill in cinema.” she said.

The set Director Kris Moran recalls that her team were looking for the style of tents they needed to colonize the fictional Khaki Scouts of North America’s Troop 55 at their camp under the command of Scout Master Ward, played deliciously by Edward Norton.

After they scoured the country to locate a stash of old stock tents, they found that even the local Army/Navy stores were coming up short. Only a couple of vintage tents had been found – and these mostly weren’t the right color or shape or size.

Anderson had specified the Khaki Scouts tents’ had to have bright yellow piping and the interior lining was to be made of plaid, including a plaid wall for Ward’s own tent.

Efforts to refashion the existing tents didn’t take. Moran recounts, “We realized that every tent would have to be custom-made. That way we wouldn’t have to hide or cheat anything, and we could control both the color and shape.” Moran said.

A New Hampshire company, Tentsmiths who specialize in fabricating historical reenactment tents were brought on board. Although usually geared towards replicating tents from pre-1950, Tentsmiths staff rose to the challenge of moving their aesthetic forward to 1965.

Moran says, “We sent someone up there to rally them, and to convey an understanding of the visuals we were trying to achieve. Everyone at Tentsmiths really got into it, and the tents they made for us looked fantastic!”

The crew proved inventive and resourceful, making camp signs out of sticks and logs tied together.

As with the tents, the story’s requisite canoes were built to design specifics; many mornings at the local Holiday Inn Express, crew members would test out the newly built and painted canoes in the hotel pool.

Since these were made out of plywood, buoyancy was not always achieved; ultimately, for many of the scenes involving canoeing, off-camera ballast of weighted keels had to be rigged underneath, helping to maintain the actors’ immersion in the moment rather than risk their immersion in the drink.

Rhode Island’s existing pool of craftsmen joined into the group effort. Citing their contributions, Moran also enthuses, “A local artist, James Langston, carved little raccoons on the front of the canoes, and he also made some totem poles for us. Chris Wiley made corn finials for the Scout Master Ward’s tent. Another artist made all the stick furniture inside that tent – all matching out of chicory, an entire suite! We even had a chainsaw artist make some of the totems on top of the signage for the Khaki Scouts’ camp.” said Moran.

For the interiors of the houses they finally had to build a purpose built set which was based on the interiors of houses they inspected that while perfect for setting the scene were just too difficult to film within. “It’s a beautiful set, with all its handmade work,” Bill Murray says admiringly. “It’s one of the nicest ones I’ve worked in.

The crew spent a lot of time making it feel authentic – how a house gets decorated by the first person who lives there, and then later you’re sort of stuck with it – so we could feel authentic when we were acting”.

The children Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward won Wes Anderson over at different junctures of what was an extensive casting process.

Hayward noted “I love my character.

Suzy Bishop is misunderstood at home; she is among three little brothers, a father with issues, and a mother who is having an affair. She’s very sensitive yet also a tough girl.”

Gilman saw his character of Sam Shakusky as “a good kid with amazing scouting skills” he’s earned all these badges that abound on his uniform. “But he’s mistreated by his foster brothers – Sam is an orphan – and by the other Khaki Scouts. He meets Suzy at a church pageant and, over a year, they create a plan to run away together.” said Gilman.

Anderson wanted them both to explore their characters, to feel comfortable in their skins, and to understand who they were and why Suzy and Sam would do what they do. So, he assigned the kids some homework including banning them from using technology and emailing making them write by hand their letters to each other instead, as would have been authentic at the time.

Once they abandoned electronic transmission for old-fashioned epistles, they embraced the task wholeheartedly. Gilman recalled that “Kara’s letters even had a little label on the top that said, ‘Suzy Bishop,’ with a fake address.”

The island of New Penzance lent itself beautifully to being a place that sparks the children’s imaginations and senses of adventure.

Actor Tilda Swinton remarked that “In this story, our community of adults doesn’t really know what they’re doing and in the process find themselves to be no less childlike, and no more grown-up, than the two children. It was great fun, a real joy, to be part of this movie. There is such a playfulness in it because there is absolute structure.” said Swinton.

Together, Anderson and Coppola create 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.

The Narrator notes that ‘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’

The film was chosen to open the Cannes Film Festival in May 2012

“Moonrise Kingdom is such a sweet story,” said Kara Hayward who plays Suzy. “It’s beautiful. I love everything about the movie – how the story is told, the relationship between the characters – and I hope audiences love everything about it too.” Her child co-star Jared Gilman enthused “It’s got action. It’s got comedy. It’s got drama. It’s got romance. It really packs a punch!” While the story has the charm of a fairytale, which is certainly in vogue right now, the children aren’t playing at love, they are in love.

Watch the Trailer of Moonrise Kingdom


Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle 2012


Bob BALABAN – The narrator

Focus Features and Indian Paintbrush presentation of an American Empirical Picture. Moonrise Kingdom. Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton. With Jason Schwartzman and Bob Balaban. Introducing Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward. Casting by Douglas Aibel. Associate Producer, Octavia Peissel. Co-Producers, Molly Cooper, Lila Yacoub.

Costume Designer, Kasia Walicka Maimone. Khaki Scout Marches by Mark Mothersbaugh, Performed by Peter Jarvis and his Drum Corps. Original Music by Alexandre Desplat. Music Supervisor, Randall Poster. Editor, Andrew Weisblum, ACE. Production Designer, Adam Stockhausen. Director of Photography, Robert Yeoman, ASC. Executive Producers, Sam Hoffman, Mark Roybal. Produced by Wes Anderson, Scott Rudin, Steven Rales, Jeremy Dawson. Written by Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola. Directed by Wes Anderson. A Focus Features Release that will screen in Australia from August 30th, 2012

References: Press Releases and Focus Features Production Notes: courtesy Focus Features International, Oxford House, 4th Floor 76 Oxford Street London, W1D 1BS

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