Magic in the Moonlight: Locations and Visual Style

The romanticism of the setting in the deco twenties and the resplendent look of the locations in the south of France lent the film a natural enchantment.

Director of Photography Darius Khondji, best known for his noirish work in films like David Fincher’s SE7EN, has done more cheery and sunlit films with Allen, including MIDNIGHT IN PARIS and TO ROME WITH LOVE.

Light and Happy Film

“We wanted to make a light and happy picture,” says Khondji, “but with a strong color palette to structure the film visually. My principal inspiration was the French photographer Jaques Henri Lartigue. We used old Cinemascope lenses from the seventies and photographed it on film, using a special process to lower the contrast and soften the images naturally. We then worked with color supervisor Pascal Dangin, who helped us render the images with a touch of the “autochrome” look of the early color from the beginning of the 20th century.”

Radiant Light on Emma Stone

Khondji shone an especially radiant light on Emma Stone. “Woody asked me to convey her beauty on film and I hope I did,” says Khondji. “I felt she had a natural glow, this combination of the color of her skin, hair and eyes, but it was mainly the way she played the character that inspired me to photograph her this way.” Says Linklater. “She is a gorgeous girl but with that lighting she looked like she walked out of a fresco every single day.” Says Stone: “He basically put me in a white box of light. He took a long time to light me and I’m very grateful.”

The interiors and exteriors of the Catledge home were a blend of two locations: Villa Eilenroc in Cap d’Antibes and Villa la Renardière in Mouans-Sartoux. Other locations included: the bar and restaurant at the Hotel Belle Rives in Juan-les-Pins: Chateau du Rouet in Le Muy, a vineyard used as Aunt Vanessa’s house; Hotel Negresco in Nice (used as the Berlin Cabaret); and Opéra de Nice (the exterior of the Berlin theatre).

The observatory that Stanley and Sophie take refuge in during the thunderstorm is the Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur (Nice Observatory) on the summit of Mont Gros. Built in 1887, with a dome designed by Gustave Eiffel (designer of the legendary tower), the observatory is still functioning. Even if the architecture matched the period, all the sets had to be extensively redressed with period furnishings by production designer Anne Seibel. The ball scene was a set completely created by Seibel in the “backyard” of one of the Catledge home locations, Villa Eilenroc.

Most of the costumes seen in the movie are originals from the period, found through a world-wide search spanning Paris, London, Madrid, Rome, Toronto, and Los Angeles by costume designer Sonia Grande and her team. “We always tried to use originals,” says Grande. “But when we couldn’t find the elements that the different outfits and characters required, we built them from original fabrics and pieces that we restored and recycled.” A color scheme emerged organically, with the “believers” in the story generally clothed in whites and pastels and the “skeptics” in dark colors. “The first thing we were obedient to was the logic of the moment,” says Allen. “It was logical that Stanley, Howard and George would be wearing suits, as that was what they wore when we researched it. But that did play into the sense we had of trying to make the other people lighter, more open to the imaginative, magical side of life.”

Long Takes

As in all his films, in MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT, Allen employs very long takes with a lot of dialogue, blocking and camera moves. Says Firth: “On the face of it, it seems very simple but it does mean that everything has to be right. Sometimes you do seven or eight takes and he’d be delighted but you dropped your hat and you are going to have to do the whole thing again. He doesn’t rehearse so the first take is a kind of rehearsal and you have to repeat it until all the creases 13

have been ironed out and everybody is up and running.” Says Stone: “Working with Woody was a dream come true for me. I had heard he was quiet and very serious and kept his distance, but my experience was just the opposite. He was incredibly friendly and funny and told me many stories.” Says Firth: “He was very engaged as a director, very detailed. He would come in and give you extremely precise, thorough and detailed notes on what he wanted to see unless he liked it and if he did he’d just move on. Says Atkins: “When we did one scene and we knew we were very bad and it finished and he just said “Well that wasn’t very good was it?” And I laughed and said to him, ‘It was terrible. What are we going to do?’ and he just laughed back and said ‘be better next time.’ And really that is all you need to say most of the time. He would give you something if you asked for it, but he really knows how actors work because he is an actor himself. He knows that if he casts them correctly and he pleases them correctly, then you just have to let them do it.”

Isolated Location

Working in an isolated location, the cast bonded and often had dinners together, something that is rare on movie sets. Says Stone: “Colin says making movies is an alchemical process because you need to believe that you are these people and that this is your real world while you are making the movie as actors professionally. Making the film is a little time capsule in my mind I wish I could go back to. It was one of my favorite working experiences of all time.” Says Firth: “Emma is sort of the person who energizes a film set. She was incredibly popular and got to know everybody. She has an upbeat funny nature which I felt invigorated people. She became a great friend.”

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Says McBurney: “When you see something and you don’t know how it happened, in that moment you catch the same sensation you had when you were five years old and you saw flowers coming out in the spring or you saw your favorite uncle making a coin appear from behind your ear. It appeals to the part of us that wants to see the world anew. We can become children again in the face of extraordinary musicianship, a great performance in the theatre, in the art gallery, or the wonders of nature. Those things can give us a sense of timeless wonder that is truly magical.”

The biggest mystery of all is falling in love, something that is as real as it is impossible to fully explain. “It’s a natural human condition to want things to be a little more magical,” says Stone. “And the magic in the movie is love. And love just happens. It might not make sense logically but that’s what’s so beautiful about it and that’s what’s so magical about it.”

Says Allen: “Seeing someone and being instantly attracted to them is an unexplainable thing. You can try to give reasons for it: I like the person’s style, I like their sense of humor, I like their ideas, I like the way they look – but in the end, you never really know what it is because someone with the same style and sense of humor or whatever, you are not attracted to. It is so complex because there is something intangible there. I’m sure a million years from now with computers they will be able to mathematically graph what is going on, but for now and for the foreseeable future there is no proof it will ever change. There is a certain magical excitement to meeting somebody and having positive romantic feelings for them.”