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The technology and the creativity of Wes Anderson’s imaginary ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ went hand-in-hand. The “pre-shoot” encompassed “a lot of unscripted stuff, and improv,” explains child actor Jared 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 actor Bob Balaban. All of this was as hoped-for; director Wes 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.”
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. Producer Jeremy 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.” 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 livedin.”
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!”
Image Courtesy of Moonrise Kingdom