The director talks about Moonrise Kingdom, a film inspired by children’s literature and Americana

Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson’s first live-action film in five years, combines many of the director’s hallmark qualities: visual panache and an intriguing cast, a quirky soundtrack, a liberal dose of eccentricity and a host of regular collaborators in front of and behind the camera.

Set on the US east coast during the 1960s, the bittersweet comedy-drama charts the coming-of-age romance between two 12-year-olds, Suzy and runaway Boy Scout Sam, both of whom are desperate to escape dysfunctional home lives. Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton and first-time actors Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward join Anderson regulars Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman in the cast.

“For a long time I had wanted to make a story set in a child’s world,” says the director on the genesis of his seventh feature. “The film was in part influenced by children’s literature. The character of Suzy is reading all the time. The movie could just as easily be one of the books she’s reading. There’s a storybook style to the film, like a collection of illustrations.”

Birth of Moonrise Kingdom

Despite a brief stint in the Scouts, Anderson’s personal experience was not a major source of inspiration for the film. “I was more interested in a kind of Norman Rockwell Americana and a sense of nostalgia,” he explains. “I was influenced by miniatures and old-fashioned movie techniques.” Benjamin Britten, the composer who wrote a number of works for children’s voices and who features on the soundtrack, was also a big influence. “The whole movie was sort of set to Britten,” Anderson says.

“The story came out of that.”

Anderson began writing Moonrise Kingdom in 2009: “I spent a solid year trying to write the screenplay, from the summer of 2009 to 2010,” he says.

“But I got help because I couldn’t really make the parts into a whole script. Roman Coppola joined me and within a month we had a script. He came in as the fixer.” Coppola, who has worked with Anderson on four films, is one of a number of go-to collaborators for the director.

Moonrise Kingdom producers Scott Rudin, Steven Rales of Indian Paintbrush and Jeremy Dawson have all worked with Anderson previously.

“Roman was one of the first people I met in the movie world,” says Anderson. “But I got to know him better around the time of The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. He offered his help, and I realised how important he would be to me as a collaborator. Scott started working with me officially on The Royal Tenenbaums. Steven started working with me on The Darjeeling Limited. He’s my first port of call. Jeremy worked on Life Aquatic as a visual-effects supervisor, helping with miniatures and stop-motion. He is the one who is with me the most on these movies.” The director also re-teamed with cinematographer Robert Yeoman who had shot five of Anderson’s previous features.

While renowned for collaborating with a handful of go-to comic actors, Anderson is also known for some surprise casting. Edward Norton, Bruce Willis and Tilda Swinton got the call for Moonrise Kingdom. Was it a challenge for Anderson to adjust to these actors’ largely non-comedic backgrounds, or vice versa?

“We had a lot of fun. I don’t spend any extra time with them. All I want is for them to make something quite unrealistic realistic. Their task is the same as it ever is. The only extra challenge I can think of is the way the dialogue is written. Actors often think they have it memorised but they don’t. My syntax is often quite unnatural and people who have worked with me before know that.” The director also took a chance on unknowns Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward in the lead roles. “I had seen their auditions and knew they were right for the parts. In Kara’s case, I felt like she was making up the lines herself. It just seemed completely spontaneous. Jared made me laugh. He seemed like a real character the moment I saw him.” The production shot in Rhode Island between April and June 2011, with Focus Features International handling international rights and Focus handling US distribution.

Anderson says financing was relatively straightforward: “We finished the script then soon had our partners together. It was a movie I thought we’d make pretty cheap but it grew after we’d budgeted it and put it together.

So we ended up making a bigger movie for less money. It ended up being about $15m-$16m, with around $3m of that coming from tax incentives.” That said, there was some streamlining along the way: “We were a bit stretched at times but we worked very fast and I tried to be prepared. We worked with a very small crew, only seven or so people. I lived in a house, which doubled as our editing room, with Robert, my editor, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman and Ed Norton. Luckily we had a good cook.” In May, Moonrise Kingdom opened the Cannes Film Festival, where it played in Competition. The film has grossed $45m in the US and $20m internationally, with a Japan release to come in February. The global tally is Anderson’s second biggest to date after The Royal Tenenbaums’ $71.4m. Critically acclaimed, its US award nominations include a Golden Globe nod for best musical or comedy.

Anderson is now turning his attention to his next film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, which he is prepping in Germany. The film, which sees the likes of Rudin, Yeoman and composer Alexandre Desplat back for the ride, is the first feature Anderson has written without a collaborator. And with Ralph Fiennes playing a hotel concierge, Anderson’s refreshingly unpredictable casting is set to continue.