We've Got Hollywood Covered

‘Moonrise Kingdom’ – Finding the Voice of a Dark-Horse Writing Contender

Roman Coppola, the co-writer of "Moonrise Kingdom," says it was all about asking the right questions and focusing on the curious, tangled way people talk


Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom" is a dark-horse contender in the original-screenplay category this year — particularly at Sunday's Writers Guild of America Awards, where the indie film will be going up against the larger, louder likes of "Zero Dark Thirty" and "Flight."

The film, which follows a teenage boy who goes AWOL from his scouting pack to rendezvous with a young girl on an island in New England, is the second collaboration between Anderson and Roman Coppola, who also co-wrote 2007's "The Darjeeling Limited" with Anderson and Jason Schwartzman.

Getty Images(Left: Coppola and Anderson flanking "Moonrise" stars Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward.)

Coppola, who made his movie debut before he was 10 in a scene in his father Francis Ford Coppola's movie "The Godfather," also works as a producer and director of his own projects. He spoke to TheWrap about his second collaboration with Anderson, and his first Oscar nomination.

How did Wes Anderson first tell you about the "Moonrise Kingdom" material?
I think he first mentioned it to me before we made "Darjeeling" and a couple of years before we started working on it. It was just  a premise, or a notion. I remember calling it "the island movie." It was centered on an island and had to do with young lovers, and I recall that it was set in the world of scouting. That was the initial DNA, the initial kernel.

How much had he done at that point?
I'm not sure. We were in touch as friends as he was working on it. At first he had a few pages, and I was eager to hear more. And then a few weeks later it was the same 10 pages. It just wasn't flowing, and I happened to be in Europe and visited him.

Moonrise KingdomHe was describing things, and almost as importantly he played me the music. He played me the Benjamin Britten stuff and the music from the Noah's ark sequence, which really gave me a very clear sense of the spirit of the movie. And then basically we started talking about it, and I was able through my own natural curiosity to ask Wes questions that stimulated him. And before you knew it, he invited me to help it find its form.

What questions did you ask?
It's all a little bit blurry now. I recall that it was like, there's a boy in a canoe, and he's run away from the scouts. And I remember asking, "What's this kid's story? What do his parents think?" And then we realized that he didn't have parents; he was a foster kid. So that's obviously a very rich discovery.

The kid was going to meet a girl, and I remember asking if the rendezvous had been set up ahead of time. Everything sort of blurs, but it flowed in an intuitive, unplanned way. "The cops are after him." "Who's the cop?" "Well, it's this guy … " We were just bouncing ideas off one another, and it all kind of found itself in a way.

But the voice and the style of the movie was clear from the start?
Listening to the music and reading those first few pages, I could just see it so vividly. The world, the tone, the spirit of it, I just felt like I just got that. It evoked so many feelings, and it was so clear and so appealing. I think Wes sensed my enthusiasm at a time when he was a little bit of a discouraged.

At one point Wes and I were talking, and he recalled a quote from David Mamet where he said something like, "Writing a play is like like talking to yourself and taking notes." And having two of us makes it all the more enriching, that process of shouting things out and hearing how something sounds.

Moonrise KingdomSo you tend to try things out loud?
It's very oral, if that's the right word to use. The sound of a phrase or a word, the intonation, the cadence is a big part of it. I remember we were working on "Darjeeling Limited," and Wes said, "Oh, this guy has alopecia." And I said, "Oh yeah, that's when your head is shaved except you don't have to shave it because you can't grow hair anyway." And that really amused Wes. He is really drawn to the way people express things in a tangled way.

I think when you look at Wes' movies, often the simple things are said in curious ways. Wes always has an ear for that, and he uses it as another color.

When you saw the movie, was it what you envisioned at the beginning of the process?
Very much so. It was a very interesting experience for me personally, because on "Darjeeling Limited," I was there every day. I was a producer and second-unit director. But on "Moonrise," I wasn't able to attend the shoot. I came to visit sometimes, and we did some rewrites and adjustments, but it wasn't like being involved in the whole thing.

When it was finished I did see a cut that was basically done, and then a few weeks later we saw it projected at Cannes in a beautiful theater with great sound and a warm audience. It was pretty exciting to go from the writing sessions and jump forward to the exhibition of the movie – particularly a movie that really seems to resonate with people like this one. That doesn't happen very frequently.