Moonrise Kingdom: Making of Children’s Tale (Part Three)

Art director Gerald Sullivan concurs, saying that “the biggest thing for us in the art department was researching the architecture of the time, and of the area, meaning, both interiors and exteriors. So, we looked at houses on islands, lighthouses, shingled houses – all in constant collaboration with Wes, who had collected reams of research photos for us to make use of in our designs.” So many photos accrued that a private production website had to be set up in order for departmental staffs and crew members to have access to them all.

Set decorator Kris Moran, who had first worked alongside Anderson as “on-set prop” on The Royal Tenenbaums, notes, “Wes cares about every detail so much. We scoured antique shops and borrowed things from crew members and people we met. If Wes had been out walking and seen something on someone’s porch that he liked, we chased it down. When I was dressing a set, it was often with something that wasn’t necessarily iconic of the time, but tertiary and interesting so that it could get more at the characters’ history.

“This movie has a bit of a different aesthetic than Wes’ other movies; it’s a little more rough around the edges, and a little more lived-in.”

Yet there often proved to be little in the way of vintage props, set dressing, or wardrobe that could be found on the scale needed for the production.

One exception was the trailer home for Captain Sharp, Bruce Willis’ character; the desired 1952 Spartanette was found through a dealer in Texas. But for Robert Yeoman’s camera to be able to move around inside, Moran says, “We actually had to cut it apart and then rebuild it. The interior was intact, but we reconfigured it so there could be a 360-degree field of vision inside. We then re-dressed it in full.”

Moran recalls her team looking for tents needed to colonize the fictional Khaki Scouts of North America’s Troop 55 at their camp under the command of Scout Master Ward, played by Edward Norton. After they scoured the country to locate a stash of old stock tents, they found that even 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’ piping (bright yellow) and interior lining (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 the color and shape.”

A New Hampshire company, Tentsmiths, specializes in fabricating historical reenactment tents. Although 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!”

As production designer, Stockhausen would oversee the entire look of Moonrise Kingdom and would have to coordinate with every department. His research was therefore multifaceted.

He comments, “I researched everything from general lifestyle to very specific objects. For example, I wondered, ‘In what exact year did switches develop on night lights?’ so that we wouldn’t make a mistake.”

Dawson says, “Adam did an amazing job, especially with his research into the origins of scouting and camping.”

Stockhausen’s 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 the group effort. Citing their contributions, Moran 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 [e.g., sculpted ornaments] for 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.”

For the Bishop family home, the hope was to find a house that could immediately assume the role. The house chosen to portray the Bishop home exterior was Conanicut Light, in Jamestown, RI – a former lighthouse. For the interior, four candidates had such strong qualities that the production sought to re-create elements of each. The decision was made to build the house interiors on a soundstage in a vacant retail space at a local strip mall in Middletown, RI. On the soundstage, all the best elements – whether architecture or furnishings – of the favored locations were re-created.

Dawson notes, “At each of these homes, we picked up inspirations and reference points. There were things that we just loved and wanted to see up on-screen. Adam would run those through his brain. When he went back to Wes, a hybrid was created – one that comes fully alive in the opening sequence of the film.”

“All of them were unique houses,” marvels Stockhausen. “Together, our favorite pieces of them inform and convey the eclectic and individual family that lives within.”

The four houses that went into the DNA of the Bishop home interior were Comfort Island, in Alexandria Bay on the St. Lawrence River, at the border between New York and Canada; Stafford House, on Cumberland Island in Georgia; the Cottage at Ten Chimneys, in Wisconsin; and Clingstone in Narragansett Bay, which is visible from the shore of Newport, RI.

“The wall murals, with the trees, are replicas of the walls at Comfort Island,” reveals Moran. “The interior shingles are a defining feature of Clingstone. The kitchen set is part of Alexandria Bay. On-screen, it all coheres as the Bishop family home.”

“There is definitely that certain New England feel to it,” states Sullivan. “Some of that architecture you just wouldn’t see anywhere else. The sets and the environment were meant to bolster the characters – and the actors.”

As with the Spartanette trailer in its original state, the camera movements that Anderson and Yeoman envisioned for the opening sequence necessitated something of a dissection of the home’s interior.

Stockhausen notes, “It all developed once Wes decided to go with his idea of moving through the house in a very specific manner – from room to room without cuts – for the opening sequence. It was broken down shot by shot for us with storyboards.

“We sat down and started to figure it out from a design point of view, and also from a budget point of view. It was like a puzzle; is this piece of research right for that shot? We took a deep breath, and we went for it. It was a lot of fun.”

Working on a soundstage allowed the filmmakers to slightly bend the rules of architecture and physics so that they weren’t constrained by congruent placement of windows, doors, and rooms.

Sullivan remarks, “Wes was a constant collaborator, a total partner all the way who was always receptive to input. He would augment things a day, or an even an hour, before shooting.”

Unique features that were built in to the Bishop house, such as the bead board, contribute to an eclectic interior with a hint of age. Books pervade the home, reflecting the parents’ vocations as lawyers; some are vintage books, while others were crafted by the crew. A good portion of the furniture and artwork was rented from Comfort Island, including works by painter Alson Skinner Clark. With the home being a former lighthouse, a nautical theme also flows through the Bishops’ interior.

Although the time of the story is 1965, the house itself is not meant to be from any particular time period but rather an amalgamation of period details through the mid-1960s.

Moran notes, “We made room for stuff in their lives from the 1940s and 1950s; there are random objects that they might have found, reflecting a strong love of the arts.”

“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.

“There was cool stuff around, a lot they didn’t keep track of – if you wanted something you could walk right out of there with it.”

Moran laughs, “Bill thinks we weren’t keeping track of the record albums, but I know exactly which ones he took.”

For what the actors would be wearing, “Wes had done a lot of initial research,” comments costume designer Kasia Walicka Maimone, who with Anderson pored through a multitude of photography, mostly in book form, looking for inspirations “that would enrich and expand the characters,” as she notes. From a clearly articulated vision and framework, she could enhance and execute his concepts.

She says, “The next steps were to produce collages and very rough sketches. He would give me immediate feedback and we would further define what was needed.

“In the fittings, there would always be a moment of adjustment; not just, ‘Do we need to change a color or a shape?’ but, ‘Does what we created resonate?’”

Dawson remarks, “The costumes are detailed and intricate, and have little elements drawn from different reference points.

“The animal costumes in the Noah’s Ark church pageant sequences were influenced by ‘Carnival of the Animals’ as interpreted by Leonard Bernstein and Benjamin Britten; as a kid, Wes was in a production of that, so we looked at photos from his family and from the production’s conductor.”

In line with the creative track the production was taking, the majority of the costumes were handmade. “A lot of them had starting points in real vintage pieces or research,” Walicka Maimone says. “But then we would make it our own, while always adhering to Wes’ vision.”

The actors’ input was solicited, although flattering fitting results were not a given; Murray sighs, “[My character of] Mr. Bishop’s pants are made out of separate squares of loud material sewn together – and they’re so short.”

Even so, clarifies Walicka Maimone, “Mr. Bishop’s costumes are the most toned-down of anyone’s; his character is more conservative than the others.

“The longest search came for Suzy’s Sunday school saddle shoes, because after our research we realized we were looking for ones with leather soles, as they had in the 1960s; contemporary ones don’t have leather soles. We ultimately got a blue pair and a red pair, one in a store in New York City and one online.”

But the biggest sartorial challenge was the design for, and subsequent manufacture of, the uniforms for the Khaki Scouts. After consulting with Anderson and Stockhausen, Walicka Maimone and her department created every single element of the uniforms, from the socks to the activity buttons. It was a massive amount of work, completed in a short amount of time; raccoon mascot insignia patches, made out of felt, were hand-sewn onto the uniforms.

The group of Khaki Scout extras was made up largely of scout troops from Narragansett Bay, who were happy to report for extras duty and experience moviemaking firsthand; as Murray reports, “Some of them earned a merit badge in cinematography.” But the boys did have to leave their 21st-century uniforms at home.

“We had a lot of Khaki Scouts in large-scale scenes,” says Walicka Maimone. “I think the final number of uniforms we created was 350.”

She adds, “The Scout uniforms and Suzy’s outfit were my absolute favorites, but I also particularly enjoyed doing the ones for Scout Master Ward, Mr. Bishop, and Social Services.”

In Moonrise Kingdom, the latter is neither a department nor a group, but rather the name of a character; Tilda Swinton was cast as Social Services.

Real-life social services workers did not wear uniforms, so Walicka Maimone turned to the Salvation Army for inspiration as well as to women-in-service uniforms. She then accentuated shapes and extended capes until she came up with the final outfit – one eagerly donned by Swinton, hat-wig and all.

“Social Services’ uniform was the most structured, the most physically tailored piece we had,” says Walicka Maimone.

Swinton elaborates, “Social Services represents authority, force majeure; when mayhem erupts, she is called in to impose order. Social Services wears a blue-and-white uniform, a pantsuit. Atop her head is a Salvation Army officer-style hat. Tied around her neck is a red ribbon, in a bow.

“There are several cinematic references, and actresses and actors, which inspired us; I loved playing that out with Wes.”

In contrast, the costume for Frances McDormand’s character of Mrs. Bishop reflects an amalgamation of women artists, painters, and writers from the 1960s. The back story proffered by Anderson was that, though Mrs. Bishop is a lawyer, she grew up in a house full of creative types and so her costuming is infused with more colorful elements.

As Swinton notes wistfully, “My mother wore clothes like those that Fran wears. I remember all these colors from my early childhood in a very visceral way; the costumes are so accurate.

“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.”

Swinton and McDormand were but two of the first-time acting collaborators with Anderson on Moonrise Kingdom. The majority of the cast, including Bruce Willis and Edward Norton, had not worked with the director before. Dawson opines, “It’s a different look and feel for both Bruce and Ed in this movie, and I think people are going to respond to them.”

Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman had first starred for Anderson in his acclaimed Rushmore back in 1998, and have since reteamed with him multiple times apiece. Dawson notes, “Bill and Jason are always great to have around. Bill keeps us all going; he’s our pep captain.”

Whether learning about typewriters or ties, the two youngest newcomers realized that their first moviemaking experience was something special. “Moonrise Kingdom is such a sweet story,” says Hayward. “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.”

Gilman enthuses, “It’s got action. It’s got comedy. It’s got drama. It’s got romance. It really packs a punch!”