Edward Norton (at center) stars as Scout Master Ward in Wes Anderson's MOONRISE KINGDOM, ©2011 Focus Features release.
Wes Anderson, dubbed “the next Scorsese” by none other than Martin Scorsese himself, delivers movies with a distinctive and personal tone. That tone is the result of careful decisions about the storyline, the dialog, the casting and the acting. Anderson’s films, which include Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and The Darjeeling Limited, are also characterized by a unique approach to color, composition and cutting.
Cinematographer Robert Yeoman, ASC has photographed all these films for Anderson, who is known for working repeatedly with many of his collaborators. Yeoman’s other credits include The Squid and the Whale, Drugstore Cowboy, Get Him to the Greek and Bridesmaids. Moonrise Kingdom brings Anderson’s sharp yet whimsical eye to a story of 12-year-old lovers who attempt to escape the confines of their adult-dominated world. The grown-ups are played by Frances McDormand, Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Tilda Swinton, and Bill Murray. The two young heartthrobs, overwhelmed and confused by their feelings, are played by neophytes Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward.
Filming took place in Rhode Island during the spring of 2011 at a Boy Scout camp chosen in part because of the “magical” quality of the landscape and rugged coastline. Much of the film unfolds in wooded exterior landscapes. The time period is 1965. Previously, one of Anderson’s visual trademarks was the widescreen 35mm anamorphic format, very often with a 40mm lens. This time, he wanted something different. The natural surroundings seemed to argue for a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Yeoman knew that Super 16 cameras were lightweight and simple to use, an advantage given the remote settings.
“We knew that with Super 16, we could keep our camera package much more mobile,” says Yeoman. “Wes wanted this film to be more low-tech. He wanted to be free of all the usual technological restraints and not rely on more conventional movie equipment like insert cars, Steadicams, and Technocranes. He wanted to boil it down to the essentials.”
Prior to the shoot, Yeoman tested a wide array of film stocks in both 35mm and Super 16mm formats. “We were drawn to the grain and texture of film,” says Yeoman. “We found that the (KODAK VISION3 200T Color Negative Film) 7213 was the stock we liked best, so we shot the entire film on it. There was no filtration other than an occasional ND filter on a bright day exterior. We often shot late in the day, including the scenes when Suzy (Kara Hayward) is reading by a campfire. I was always amazed at how much shadow detail the stock dug out for us.”
The main camera was an Aaton Xterà, usually used with Zeiss Super Speed prime lenses and sometimes with a Canon 11:165mm zoom. The smaller Aaton A-Minima, which weighs less than 5 pounds, was also handy, particularly when running thru the woods or when shooting in the canoes.
The Xterà was outfitted with 800-foot magazines that allowed the filmmakers to shoot extended takes exceeding 20 minutes between reloads. That ability was extremely helpful when it came to filming the young, relatively inexperienced leads. Yeoman and Anderson devoted a few weeks working with the new actors prior to the arrival of the better-known, adult cast, whose time was limited.
The longer takes also facilitated Anderson’s preference for keeping the camera rolling. “It was great not having to stop and reload, especially with the kids,” says Yeoman. “That’s something we’ve done from the beginning. Wes likes to get a scene going, and then, without cutting, say ‘OK let’s go again.’ He feels that the actors can get into a rhythm that way.”
Yeoman says the decision to go with Super 16 made him very happy during the shoot – and more importantly, when he saw the results. “I love Super 16,” he says. “It’s such a wonderful medium. I love the texture and quality of film, and how fast and easy it is to shoot. The cameras are so lightweight without all the cables and monitors that typically accompany digital formats. Given the choice, I would always choose film.”
Yeoman also shot 2005’s The Squid and the Whale on Super 16, and that film earned six Independent Spirit Award nominations along with an Oscar® nomination for Best Original Screenplay. Anderson served as producer on that film.
“I feel that when you roll film, everyone is more focused,” Yeoman says. “When you clap the slate it says ‘this is important.’ When cameras roll endlessly, I always sense that people’s attention tends to wander and I feel that this is somehow translated onto the finished product.”
The digital intermediate, done at Technicolor in New York with Tim Stipan, was an opportunity to take contrast out of scenes shot in bright sun to more closely match what was shot in overcast conditions. But Anderson went further with the DI tools than he ever had before, according to Yeoman.
“Before this movie, Wes always kept it as true to the original as possible in the DI,” says Yeoman. “But this time he pushed himself to use the tools more extensively, and I was very excited with the results.”
Moonrise Kingdom premieres in the prestigious opening slot at the 2012 Cannes International Film Festival in May.