Roman Coppola Explores Young Uncynical Love with ‘Moonrise Kingdom’

By  · Published on June 2nd, 2012

Roman Coppola Explores Young Uncynical Love with ‘Moonrise Kingdom’

Director Wes Anderon’s period dramedy, Moonrise Kingdom, is a unique departure from his previous collaboration with co-writer Roman Coppola. The Darjeeling Limited was about three characters who, at first, could not care less about one another, and often went about showing it in hilariously cruel ways. None of that meanness is present in Anderson and Coppola’s Moonrise Kingdom, a story about the innocence of young love.

For certain characters, not all is as fun and sweet as the young leads’ love. Considering this is a Wes Anderson film there’s a sense of tragedy underlining the playful style and witty jokes. Moonrise Kingdom explores themes of disappointment and lost love, something all the older characters are facing, and something the two kids may one day face as well. However, these themes and ideas to Anderson and Coppola’s work are not as deliberate as some suspect. As Roman Coppola puts it, it all comes from a place of intuition.

Here’s what Moonrise Kingdom co-writer Roman Coppola had to say about the power of a writing partner, the relationship between personal storytellers and their audience, and an update on his generically titled A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III:

Coming off working together on The Darjeeling Limited, it’s surprising how kind-natured Moonrise Kingdom is.

Yeah, I can see why you say that. It’s true in Darjeeling there is an edginess the characters have, where their frustration comes out. It’s true, in this film, perhaps it’s a little more kind.

Especially for the main love story. You showed a more brutal side of love in Darjeeling, where here you’re dealing with young love.

Yeah, that’s true. It’s just a different place. Those are things Wes and I don’t think about consciously, like, “Oh, wow, we did this in Darjeeling, so we gotta do that now!” You just follow your instincts.

So, there’s never much thought of thematic connections or how the work ties together?

I would have to say so. People have been asking, “When you wrote the script, did you think of this? Did you make that correlation?” With what Wes and I have done together there’s very little ‐ no discussion, frankly ‐ about themes, concepts, intentions, and stuff. It’s all intuition, like, “Oh, I think they’d say this. If they said that, would they say this?” It’s very rooted in the immediate nature in what’s happening, and not big picture things.

That sounds like a very organic process.

Yeah, it’s very exciting. You just follow a thread, and it’ll lead you to unexpected places.

Does it take you both a while to crack a script or is it a quick process?

Well, for Darjeeling, it was quite a long process with Jason [Schwartzman], Wes, and I. Wes put forth a concept, which was: three brothers who haven’t seen each other, in a while, connect and have this adventure. We had that basic premise, and knew how the mother fit into it. The act of writing was very much about staying out late, going on a train ride through India, and having some rules. For example, any church we’d see we’d go visit, and all these things were the raw material which the script was drawn from. It was many months and a long process of being with each other.

Moonrise Kingdom was something Wes cooked up prior to Darjeeling. I remember him mentioning he had the idea of a story for two kids on an island. I thought it sounded interesting, so after Darjeeling I would ask him about it. He was writing it, and he had about ten pages or so. After those ten pages ‐ although he had tons of images, feelings, music, and the imagery of the scout stuff ‐ he was kind of stuck, so I just started to ask questions, as a friend. I would ask, “Oh, what happens after this point? What happens after that? What if this happens?” He asked me to be more a part of the team to write it. After a couple of weeks it just unfolded very quickly. So it was two contrasting experiences.

Would you say you both have similar sensibilities? The tonal and stylistic approach to CQ is a little similar.

Yeah, we’re friends, find a lot of the same things funny, and like spending time with each other. We definitely have some kind of rapport. I think it’s true with Wes’s other collaborators ‐ Noah [Baumbach] or Owen [Wilson] ‐ it’s a similar friendship that yields something interesting for writing. You know, a lot of times you’re just having dinner and things start gestating and clues start to appear, and those are things you weave into the work.

I’m guessing it’s a much less stressful work environment, being able to write with someone you can throw ideas off of, rather than figuring out if something’s working by yourself.

You’d have to ask Wes, but I’ve had some luck. There’s a new film I wrote solo. With Wes, it seems to suit him have another voice to banter with, and there’s something he turns to there.

What’s your process like, when you’re writing solo?

You know, I am very slow. I just made another film, and it’s been over ten years since my previous film. It wasn’t all just sitting around trying to write something, but I’m kind of meticulous and keep a lot notes, images, flavors, and little ideas. It takes a lot of time for the gathering, gathering and gathering, and then you hit some frustration, write something that’s no good, and then you go back to gathering. At one point you actually think it’s going to happen, and then two or three weeks in it just pops out, and that’s what happened both times for me. Had I worked with a collaborator maybe it wouldn’t have taken me such a long time.

Did it take a while to finish CQ?

It was very similar. It was a couple of years daydreaming about something maybe set in space. It did take quite a long time.

It’s surprising to hear that about CQ, since one would guess it comes from a personal place, being about an aspiring artist, and how much you could say about that. How much does that inform Wes’s and your writing, drawing from what from what you know and have experienced?

I think writing is often a mixture… Like, with CQ, there’s a lead guy who wants to be a filmmaker, so, in many ways, I associated with that character. You know, so much is fabrication and people tend to put more importance on, “Oh, that’s really personal or those things happened to you.” In the case of Moonrise, it’s the feeling of young love and the fantasy of running off, so a lot that you draw from your own feelings. You also do the same for Captain Sharp, who’s feeling frustrated with his life. Obviously it’s the act of a writer to put yourself in the mindset of each character, and have them bounce off each other. It’s true, to get to the nitty gritty of your question, the things I’ve chosen to do, which include the things with Wes, are more personal and you draw from things you connect with; it’s not like a zombie movie or something.

When you look at CQ, Wes’s films, or Sofia [Coppola’s] films, they very much do their own thing, where they’re not afraid to lose people. When you make personal films like that, do you think about an audience?

You know, I don’t think you can just ignore it, like, “Oh, I’m not thinking about anybody!” It’s not a distance or disrespectful attitude of not caring whether someone likes it or not, because you are aware you’re making this to put it out there, where there is that invitation it might be enjoyed. I think the distinction is you really follow your heart, first and foremost. I think a lot of the time what helps with Wes and I is, we’ll say, “What if he gets hit by lightning and his shoes fly off?” We’ll go, “That’ll be interesting.” You’re trying to make it interesting and engaging. There’s not a lack of desire to please an audience, but you’re just not really considering them. You’re really just doing what you think is right and what kind of movie you’d like to see. To answer your question, you are aware it’s going out there and you want people to embrace it, but you’re not going to change anything to sync that. Once you do that you’re not being sincere, and then you lose the very thing you’re trying to do; it becomes a different kind of film. You know, there are wonderful movies that are very entertaining which are made in that manner, though.

I think that shows the most in Darjeeling Limited. You weren’t afraid to let those characters be dislikable.

Yeah, it was kind of funny [Laughs].

[Laughs] Is there a big difference in writing a film like that, where characters are constantly creating conflict, versus Moonrise Kingdom, which focuses on characters who are well-intention?

It’s a good question, because each thing is so different. With Wes, it comes down to: “I want make a movie where these two kids run off. The kid’s a Khaki Scout, and I got this idea where he cuts a hole through his tent and escapes. What does he take? He takes supplies.” You’re really in that from the get-go, not thinking, “I want to do a cynical character.” You’re not thinking of it in a conscious question, at all. It sounds like I’m dodging your question, but I’m trying not to, you know, because it’s very immediate and practical. Like, “Okay, they just ran off, so what happens now? Someone has to chase them, so do they call the cops? Well, what kind of cops do they have on the island? It’s probably a one-man police force.” You’re just writing in the moment of it, so it’s not something you talk about and are just too busy following the leads.

Although the film is about the innocence of young love, you also see the sadness of love with the adult characters. Was it important for you and Wes not to sugarcoat that or let the whimsical moments take away from it?

I’m trying to recall… Sometimes you do something and you just forget the steps of getting there, where it just is what it is. Yeah, I don’t think there was a discussed feeling, but we were aware the kids have something real, pure and unspoiled, while the adults around them have disappointments, which have made them a little more guarded and less satisfied. I think that sadness just felt right, as a contrast to the beauty of these kids on this adventure. Again, it’s more of an intuitive thing that feels right.

You mentioned how you’re currently finishing A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III. How did that go? And, also, please tell me that title won’t change.

Yeah, it won’t change. It’s there forever. You know, where do I begin? I’m just finishing it up and it’s about to be fully complete, so we’ll see how it’s going to make its debut. It’s a personal movie. If you’ve seen CQ, which you have, you’ll see it comes from that same place. What’s interesting about it is the character from CQ was very passive, very internalized, and a very timid character trying to find his voice, while this character is quite the opposite. Charlie Sheen is the star, and he lays it all out on the table. He crashes his car in a swimming pool, within the first five minutes of the movie.

It’s a very playful portrait of a guy going through a personal crisis: his girlfriend breaks up with him, and he does not know how to handle it. He kind of reaches out to his best friend, played by Jason Schwartzman, playing a standup comic, and Billy Murray, playing his accountant. He’s just looking for answers: Does he hate her? Does he ever want to see her again? What did he do right? What did he do wrong? What’s happening? There are fantasy sequences and a little bit of fractured time, because we begin with the breakup, and then flashback and see the episodes of what brought them together and what brought them apart. It’s very a playful movie which will hopefully capture people’s imaginations.

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Moonrise Kingdom is now open in limited release (get theater listings here.)

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Longtime FSR contributor Jack Giroux likes movies. He thinks they're swell.