Moonrise Kingdom: Making of Children Tale (Part Two)

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, a result of what Dawson refers to as “Google-scouting.”

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“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 Gilman. “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.

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.”

Another factor bringing cast and crew closer together was the 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 and the world they inhabit.

Dawson notes, “This story is Wes’ take on 1965. From my perspective, his previous movies always existed in a time that you couldn’t quite place, mixing past and present.

“Wes has always storyboarded in pre-production; something that we had done on Fantastic Mr. Fox, which we also applied here, was to edit the storyboards together with voices and music, pre-testing some of the sequences.”

“Our starting point was visual research,” says costume designer Kasia Walicka Maimone. “That came primarily from photography.”