doddle’s Exclusive Interview With Filmmaker Wes Anderson

"Moonrise Kingdom" at Cannes 2012

By Kimberly Gadette (doddleNEWS)

Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom was not only chosen as the opening night selection for Cannes 2012, but earned a slot in the festival’s main competition. (A rare honor indeed; the last time this double bonus occurred was at the 2008 festival, with Fernando Meirelles’ Blindness.)

This seventh feature film from Anderson is set in 1965, on an island off the coast of New England. 12-year-old Sam and Suzy discover that they’re in love, and decide to run away into the island’s wilderness. A search party comprised of parents, local authorities and a boy scout troop steps up to find them, the expedition made all the more urgent by the fact that a violent storm has been predicted to rage throughout the area. The film stars Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwartzman and Bob Balaban, introducing Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward as Sam and Suzy, respectively.

Wes Anderson at Cannes 2012 for "Moonrise Kingdom"

Anderson and many of the Moonrise Kingdom actors were in the south of France this week, making the round of press conferences, junkets and some one-on-one interviews. doddle film reviewer Kimberly Gadette was invited to one such small conference, set up at the Carlton Beach location directly across from the upscale Carlton Hotel. Even better, she got the opportunity to sit down for an exclusive with the filmmaker himself.

[Her one-on-one interview is followed by additional Q&A excerpts from the conference, including remarks from Jason Schwartzman, Edward Norton and Bob Balaban.]

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KG: Let’s address the missing Futura font. You’ve consistently used it in your previous film titles and artwork and yet, with Moonrise Kingdom, you’ve broken with tradition.

WA: Well, we made a new typeface for this movie. It’s kind of a big hassle making a typeface, taking a lot of work, refining it, etc.

KG: Did you have to actually apply for a design patent?

WA: No, we hired somebody to make it; I think she owns the typeface. But now that I think about it, I think I should own it!

KG: Moonrise Kingdom was so stylized in its rhythms, it seemed that the majority of the film’s actors shared a universal character trait that I might describe as a determined, myopically serious point of view. Was it challenging for you to corral all these screen veterans, with all their various styles, into working within such a specific parameter?

WA: I just want them to seem natural and real. Usually with a cast like this, they’re all coming into it with something that sounds exciting to me. I don’t really feel like I had to do much in the way of corralling. You’ve got Jason Schwartzman, for instance, he had an angle on it that was energetic, so he attacked it that way. On the other hand, Bob Balaban’s character does an oratory, he’s our host, and he had a great take on how to lead us into the story.

KG: Balaban notwithstanding, it was fascinating to witness how much the actors truly became an elemental part of a defined whole.

WA: Probably because everybody’s reading it off of each other. Maybe it’s also partly because of the way the script was written.

KG: Speaking of Balaban, it was a great bit to have him turn on a light switch located next to a phantom camera, lighting up his own face, before delivering a monologue. That was completely stage manager-esque. Was that what you were going for?

WA: Yes, he’s literally turning on and off a light in the shot. We don’t quite acknowledge that there’s a camera there; we aren’t meant to be aware of a camera man; but clearly Bob is talking straight into a camera. I’m not sure exactly what universe that’s happening in.

(l to r): Bill Murray as Mr. Bishop, Frances McDormand as Mrs. Bishop, Edward Norton as Scout Master Ward, Bruce Willis as Capt. Sharp

KG: It’s a universe in which 55+ adults (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) have given birth to four children 12 years of age and younger. Since it wasn’t addressed in the story, could you talk about why you decided on such a wide generational gap?

WA: I think it had a lot to do with the fact that I wanted to have a film with Frances McDormand and Bill Murray; I thought that they’d be great together, and that they would have a very special chemistry. They play two lawyers who have probably focused on their career for a long time.

KG: It’s frequently stated in the film that the teenage Sam is not liked, but we never quite know why. What is it about him that elicits the other boys’ disdain?

WA: Often it’s hard to put your finger on it, but somebody is just not picked. There’s some basic cruelty with kids of that age, where they can say, “This one doesn’t feel right to us and we’re going to make his life miserable.” Sam doesn’t have a family, and probably as a result of that, his dynamic with that group is compromised. He’s an outsider. And they’re not kind about it.

KG: As for Sam’s better half, could I get your thoughts behind the fact that young Suzy peers through binoculars throughout the film?

WA: There’s a mid-60s Indian movie by a Bengali master filmmaker, Satyajit Ray, called Charulata: The Lonely Wife. It’s set in 1870s Calcutta – the man is a newspaper publisher and is often away on business. The wife is at home all the time, and she owns a pair of binoculars. She goes from window to window throughout her house, looking out through these binoculars. She becomes a poet, but we sense a character whose world is very confined, who’s always studying everything through these lens. So that was my inspiration; stolen from Satyajit Ray.

KG: I write for a film television production site called doddle, and many of the readers come from the technical side of the industry, i.e., cameramen, sound men, location managers, etc., as well as filmmakers. I believe the doddle community would love to hear your thoughts about any specific new technology or methodology, equipment or gizmo that you might have recently discovered and adopted during the filming of Moonrise Kingdom.

WA: This isn’t really new gizmo-ish enough, but we went paperless. We tried not to have call sheets each day, we didn’t have sides or scripts printed, and everyone had an iPad. (If people didn’t own iPads, we gave them one.) We kept everything on them, and used them all the time. It was very efficient; we were more organized because of it.

KG: All paperless, all the time. Sounds just like doddle!

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Further questions and answers from the roundtable interview follow, with additional remarks from Edward Norton, Jason Schwartzman and Bob Balaban:

Q: Can you talk about your reaction when you first heard that Moonrise Kingdom was accepted into Cannes?

Wes Anderson: I was with a group of French people when I found out. We’d been waiting three months and hadn’t heard anything; I’d never submitted a film to Cannes before and I thought I’d hear the next day. When we heard nothing, I felt that it probably wasn’t a great sign. Then I got the call; I told my friends that I got “opening night.” And all of them said the same thing. [Here, his voice drops sorrowfully low, attempting to speak in a French accent.] “Ah, better to be in competition.” But then later we found out we were in competition, too.

Edward Norton, "Moonrise Kingdom"

Edward Norton: The first thing I thought was, “It’s about time.” Wes is a filmmaker who I would think would have had about five or six films at Cannes by now. I think it’s good that they finally got it together and acknowledged one of my generation’s great auteur filmmakers. The second thing that I thought was that I’d get to have those nice little marzipans again that they serve at the Cannes press junkets.

Bob Balaban: I was really happy for you, Wes, and for the movie because it is such a labor of love. Obviously, it’s your labor that gave birth to the whole thing. And then I thought about what to wear … it’s a shame I thought a little too hard.

Q: How much do art and music play into this film?

Wes Anderson: For many years the movies that most inspired me, especially in a visual way, are the Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger films; it’s about making these visual, yet quite artificial films; it’s very exciting how they made this in front of the camera. One of my favorites is The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, very vivid, and another is Black Narcissus. Our movie used Benjamin Britten music, and the movie was choreographed to it. And we drew a lot of the scenes, semi-animating them in advance. We knew where the cuts would be based on the music.

Q: Much of your filmography has had nostalgic sounds and textures. Was there any creative impulse to finally do your first period picture?

Wes Anderson: It became a period picture when I was writing Bob Balaban’s part of the narrator. It happened spontaneously. Bob talks primarily about the weather and when I had to name the year, I had not had an intention to set it in the past. But as Roman (Coppola) and I worked on it, to me it started feeling like it was a Norman Rockwell America … one that was about to change.

Jason Schwartzman "Moonrise Kingdom"

Q for Jason Schwartzman, Edward Norton and Bob Balaban: Regarding the notion of the visuals and how constructed and carefully composed these movies are … one assumption might be that it’s tough for the actor, that such focus on the visuals could overwhelm a performance, or constrict it in some way. Could you talk about acting in a Wes Anderson film? How that style either influences (or doesn’t) your performance?

Schwartzman (fifth time appearing in a Wes Anderson movie): Wes spends a lot of time constructing these movies; they’re very intricate and delicate, and they are balanced. Using a bad musical metaphor, he’s both the composer and the conductor, with a very detailed piece of music with a lot of counterpoint. In this type of music, it’s very important to help the composer/conductor keep the piece in balance. My first time ever acting was with Wes, so it’s a style that’s more comfortable for me.

Norton (first time appearing in a Wes Anderson movie): Not to reference 50 shades of gray, but sometimes there’s freedom in bondage. What may look like a very managed environment is providing an actor with a lot of rich fodder; when certain things are predetermined, then other things that are improvisational can bloom out of it. The comedic qualities, the humor in Wes’ films, have always derived out of characters who are deadly serious. Wes’ characters are nothing less than urgently sincere about what they’re doing and their intentions; so much so, that’s where the comedy lies. Wes draws you a well-defined path toward what a character needs. I actually think that’s the greatest gift is to an actor, to make it clear what the character is after in life.

Balaban (first time appearing in a Wes Anderson movie): To me, Wes is the perfect kindly dictator. There’s a tremendous amount of relief to an actor, to come into a situation and know what his parameters are.

[Interviews edited and condensed for clarity and length]

About Kimberly Gadette

Film critic Kimberly Gadette, born and raised in movie-centric L.A., believes celluloid may very well be a part of her DNA. Having received her BA and MFA from UCLA's School of Theater, Film & Television, she spent many of her formative years as an actress (film, tv, commercials, stage) before she literally changed perspective, finding a whole new POV from the other side of the camera. You can find her last 500+ reviews on Rotten Tomatoes (www.rottentomatoes.com/critic/kimberly-gadette/). Other than taking the occasional side trip to Cannes or Sundance, you can find her at the movies ... sitting in the dark as usual.

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