My opening question for production designer Adam Stockhausen was whether one could politely refer to Moonrise Kingdom as a “little” film. Apparently, one can, possibly because it enjoyed an exceptionally positive critical response and success at the box office. This modesty of scale makes Stockhausen’s work as production designer even more interesting, because Moonrise Kingdom is, whatever its size, a very precise film.
Stockhausen became involved in the production in the summer 2010 having previously collaborated with director Wes Anderson as supervising art director on Anderson’s 2007 film The Darjeeling Limited, as well as what he describes as “a whole series of commercials” since 2006. Location scouting, involving both Stockhausen and producer Jeremy Dawson, took “a good long time,” taking in parts of Georgia, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, where the film was eventually shot. Even unused locations proved a source of inspiration, with details such the shape of eaves of houses seen onCumberlandIsland inGeorgia used in later set building.
However, this ten-week preproduction period leading up to the start of principal photography in April 2011, involved only a few set builds. “There are not that many interiors in the whole film,” said Stockhausen, who nevertheless particularly remembers the show’s largest location,TrinityChurchinNewport,RI, as “very specific early American thing.” Inside the early colonial period church, built in 1726, the production found family names still embroidered on cushions in the “family boxes.”
Other builds included a mobile home belonging to Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), which was built out and then transported to location. The interior of the family home owned by Walt Bishop (Bill Murray), constructed with a glorious and intentional disregard for the practicality of its fitting into the location exterior, was built to accommodate the camera movementAnderson planned. Stockhausen tells us that he and the director made time to “talk those things out in the beginning, so you can build the sets to fit the shots – you come through with lenses and ensure things are lining up right, perhaps bring ceilings down or bring sides of walls in by a foot.” The results are visible right at the opening of the film, withAnderson’s precision framing of the architecture prominent in an introductory scene.
Property master Sandy Hamilton, also a long-time Anderson collaborator on The Royal Tenenbaums, The Darjeeling Limited, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and others, had an intricate job to do with the multifarious equipment of the film’s fictional Khaki Scouts. According to Stockhausen,Hamilton “built up a certain inventory of things. Most of it came together one afternoon when we had it all laid out. Wes and Sandy talked through the whole kit they would be carrying as they travelled along the island.”
Lead character Sam, played by Jared Gilman in his first screen role, was intended to be “an excellent scout and has incredibly good skills, so his tent is neat as a pin.” Survivalist books – “not in a gun toting sort of way, but more a young man’s guide to survival in the wilderness” – even informed moments of action in the final script, with the pebble-sucking idea in one scene taken from a 1906 field guide.Anderson’s direct involvement in props included wooden buttons “that we painted by hand… that as an idea took off and became a really special thing.”
Postproduction involved “lots of work in the grade” to finalize the film’s saturated color palette. One particularly example in which location, dressing and costume combine to render the scene in vivid yellows was a result of having “found a room and dressed it to enhance what was already there.” Ultimately, “a lot of choices came in [the grade]… it was all Wes.”
The film ends as it begins, with some very careful framing of some very carefully chosen architecture, but it’s the detail that really sells – the way a tape recorder throws off a loop of tape when stopped, or the individually-commissioned covers to the (fictional) story books owned by Suzy (Kara Hayward). What Benjamin Britten would have thought of his music coming out of that bright blue plastic record player is, sadly, anyone’s guess at this point.