It was a series of circumstances that led to Roman Coppola’s working relationship with director Wes Anderson. Filmmaker Kit Carson first introduced the two after being involved with Anderson’s short film (and soon-to-be feature) “Bottle Rocket.” Coppola really liked the film but doesn’t recall whether there was necessarily any spark of a future collaboration in there. It was just the beginnings of an aesthetic appreciation.
Chance brought them together again and again over the years. Coppola’s cousin, Jason Schwartzman, would appear in Anderson’s “Rushmore.” His sister, Sofia, would direct “Marie Antoinette” at a time when Anderson was living in Paris (and indeed, Anderson would later move into the apartment actress Kirsten Dunst rented while working on the film). Coppola then came on board Anderson’s “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” to do some second unit stuff, and soon, the two were discussing what would become “The Darjeeling Limited,” and their first official writing collaboration.
Now they’re feeling the love for “Moonrise Kingdom,” one of the most critically acclaimed films of the year and an Oscar nominee for Best Original Screenplay. In a category that is a bit more fluid than in recent years, anything could happen, and the two could even add an Academy Award to their list of tandem accomplishments. But while we’ve heard Anderson’s side of things, how personal the film was and what of himself he put into it, what about Coppola?
“Working with Wes, there’s a lot of discussion and recalling stories and recalling memories,” Coppola says of their process by telephone. “We were portraying a story of two young lovers and I would recall certain things of growing up in fourth grade. Like there was a girl I had a crush on and she left a note that said, ‘Call me.’ That was a quasi-romantic moment that’s portrayed, disguised, in the movie.”
But, like Anderson has also noted, it was less about reality. Coppola says people are always curious about what really happened and what was autobiographical, but the truth is, the story is one of fantasizing for what Anderson and Coppola WISH had happened to them in their early brushes with love and romance. The little memories and details serve that fantasy throughout and add a more deeply felt, less artificial flavor to the work.
The project didn’t start as a collaboration, however. “Wes had this idea and had been thinking about it for some time,” Coppola says. “I’d ask how it’s going and he’d have a page or a few pages, but a few months would go by and he wouldn’t have much more. So I would ask as a friend, curious about how things were going. That was the first stage.”
Soon enough, the piece began to develop under both of their wings. Anderson and Coppola would sit around and ask questions to progress the narrative, improvising with the characters they were creating, gradually forming a story. “We had a number of weeks working together and discussing and bantering,” Coppola says. “But Wes always types it out himself because he wants it in a particular format, memorializing what he’s going to be making as a film.”
The process is very organic, Coppola says. Perhaps surprisingly, talk of structure or theme never arises. “It’s very practical,” he says. “There’s no discussion of concepts or abstracts. It’s very matter of fact. ‘What did they say?’ ‘What did they do?’ Which is very interesting. We didn’t do any treatment or beat sheet. There’s just an intuitive sense.”
He brings up “The Darjeeling Limited” as an example. In the film, three brothers meet in India a year after their father’s funeral and set out to reconnect with their mother. In that film, there was a sense of inevitability. Something big was going to happen, but he and Anderson didn’t bog down in the “what does it mean” of it all. “It wonderfully kind of flows step by step, using intuition, using your inner radar,” he says. “That’s why I think Wes and I get along nicely. We’re both hearing that moment of, ‘Oh yeah. This is right.'”
Ultimately, though, when Coppola’s work on the script for “Moonrise Kingdom” was done, he had very little involvement on the film after that. It’s odd to him, he says, because he’s so used to being part of a project all the way through production, but he wasn’t on set often at all beyond a quick visit. So when he sat down to watch the finished product, it was nice to get swept up along for the ride.
“Sometimes that doesn’t happen when there’s such an intense period of working on the script,” he says. “I was really enchanted and charmed.”
“Moonrise Kingdom” is now available on DVD/Blu-ray.