Interview: Roman Coppola on Moonrise Kingdom

June 07, 2012

This month, director Wes Anderson released Moonrise Kingdom, his seventh feature film. It was co-written with Roman Coppola, who also co-wrote The Darjeeling Limited, Coppola being Francis Ford's son and the guy responsible for The Presidents of the United States of America's "Lump" video and Wyclef Jean's best video (among many others). Set on a fictitous New England island in the mid '60s, Moonrise Kingdom tells the story of Suzy (Kara Hayward) and Sam (Jared Gilman), pre-teen oddballs that click together after they meet once, send letters back and forth for a year and eventually, run away into the woods together. Their love, like an adult's memory of what a first romance could or should have been, is perfect and extreme. Suzy and Sam are totally honest with each other, and unflinchingly committed. Coppola says the movie's screenplay, which he finished with Anderson in Italy, took just a couple weeks to write. Below, he talks about kids having deep feelings, collaborating with a perfectionist and why he's probably done with music videos.

Moonrise Kingdom is based on the premise that 12-year-olds are capable of falling in real, deep, meaningful love. Do you actually believe that’s true? When you’re an adolescent, feelings are so intense. I remember the love I felt for this girl in my fourth grade class. For me, and I believe also for Wes, that intensity and epic feeling is a real thing, and it’s not made up. The story in Moonrise Kingdom is like a fantasy, what I wish would have happened to me. Those emotions, and feeling that deep connection, are really hard to match in my adult life.

The stars of Moonrise Kingdom are young, first-time actors. Were you ever frustrated by their inexperience as they acted out the story you and Wes wrote? Not really. When I’m writing, and especially when I’m writing with Wes, we’re searching for the right thing and the right flavor, but it isn’t done with scrutiny or with a critical eye. It’s an intuitive thing, like hitting the right note. It has to feel right. It’s about capturing truthfulness, but not in a strategic way. Unlike on The Darjeeling Limited, where I was on set everyday and acting as a producer and second unit director, I just visited the set of this film. So it was fun for me to see the movie completed. Wes is so detail-oriented with the way he portrays things, like camera placement and such, that I think the section with the children exploring nature and going across the creeks had a very different and refreshing quality to it. It felt more improvisational, which was nice.

Is it easy to collaborate with a guy who’s so particular? Wes has always worked with collaborators, and I think he really values banter and what happens when you have people together. He is very open and solicitous. Like, “What was your first romantic experience or feeling of love as a 12-year-old and what happened?” Moonrise Kingdom is actually something Wes had dreamt up prior to The Darjeeling Limited, or at least had the kernel of the idea. He knew he wanted to make a film that had young lovers on an island. I would ask, “How’s the island movie coming?” after we finished Darjeeling. After he wrote about 10 pages, I asked him how it was going and he said that nothing happened. A month went by where it wasn’t flowing, and we just happened to get together without any design to work on a screenplay, and I started to ask questions. I think I asked the right ones, which seemed to jog something in him. He played me the Benjamin Britten song, and gave me these flavors of what it was to become. When we got together, it just started to click, and I would suggest something and he would fly with it. In about three weeks or so, we wrote the whole thing.

Is Wes as meticulous about his writing as his is about his sets and camerawork? Yes. The way text is laid out on the page is very important to him. When I work on my own screenplays, I’ll often leave big sections written very crudely, or just as a few notes describing what takes place. But the work I do with Wes, there is a lot of fine-tuning. When you’re writing a screenplay, people generally advocate not having detailed description, only having the dialogue so it flows quickly. Wes’ scripts often have a lot of detail because it’s important to him. The details act as the instructions for the crew, so that everything is in its place, as it should be.

You’ve worn lots of hats in your adult life—directing music videos and films, writing, making wine. Why do so many things? It’s just my nature. I’m attracted to movies because they include so many things. Music, invention, chemistry, electronics, theatre, color, working with creative people as a team. I made my own film [CQ] about ten years ago and now I have made another film [A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charlie Swan III, starring Charlie Sheen], and I’m excited about that.

So you’re totally over making music videos? Well, I have a lot of affection for videos, but I do feel like they’re driven by the love of the music. The music that I’m passionately interested in I put into Charlie Swan III. It’s a musician named Liam Hayes, and I’m a really big fan. But I don’t really follow music so much now. There are moments in time, like with The Strokes or Phoenix, where I just wanted to be part of it, and was excited to work with them. Now, I’m thinking of other things. Music is kind of a young persons endeavor. I don’t consider myself old, but it takes a lot of energy and a lot of sacrifice to follow music.

Interview: Roman Coppola on Moonrise Kingdom