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Director/write Wes Anderson and writer Roman Coppola created a rich tapestry of colorful characters in ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ 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. Accordingly, actors were captivated by the story immediately. “It takes you into a completely new world from the first page,” says Tilda Swinton. “A world that is as beautifully designed and completely conceived as this one is always going to be a thrill in cinema.” Bill Murray, who also appeared in ‘The Darjeeling Limited’, adds, “It’s a really fine script. There is an electricity that moves through it; Roman and Wes are really wonderful together.” 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 allpurpose location – after what producer Jeremy Dawson refers to as “Google-scouting.”
“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.”
Image Courtesy of Moonrise Kingdom