I didn’t grow up wanting to make movies; what I really wanted to be was an architect. I had this drafting table with all these little instruments I would arrange carefully around the edges. I used to draw everything. When I was in fifth grade, I started to make Super 8 movies, and I liked that very much. I also got interested in George Lucas at about that time, and then, by seventh grade, I became obsessed with Alfred Hitchcock. But I still wanted to be an architect. Sometimes I thought I might also like to be a writer. I didn’t settle on film until I was in college.
There were two reasons I became a filmmaker instead of, say, a novelist. I have always been interested in the visual composition of things. It’s part of why I liked to draw so much. But I also love to put on a show. In fact, I enjoyed that long before I even thought about making movies. I’m not essentially a camera guy; I don’t take very good still photographs and I never have. But I do feel comfortable with the other aspects of filmmaking.
People respond strongly to my work, one way or another. I care about critics in the sense that if you have a good review, it’s nice to hear about it, and if you have a bad review, it’s quite nice not to hear about it. When I am making a movie, I try to put all of that out of my mind and think just about the world I am creating. When people criticize my work, they often seem to say either that my worldview is too specific or, “Who needs your world?” Those are not criticisms that resonate with me, because what fictional world do you actually need?
To write a screenplay and not make the movie, or to make a movie from a screenplay I didn’t write, both seem odd to me; it’s hard for me to divorce the creation and direction processes. For that reason, I have never given up on a script. When I settle in on something, I just work on it until I kind of get it—though that can take a while. But as long as I have an idea in mind, I will pursue it. It just seems to flow: If I made the thing up in the first place, then that is a reason for me to direct it.
I have been asked why I don’t make a big-budget movie or what’s considered a Hollywood movie. I don’t feel particularly compelled to do that sort of thing. The more economical you can be, the more fun you are going to have. I find it all slows down when it gets really big. The process can be so much more light on its feet and inspiring when you are nimble.
I am not sure anybody knows what they are doing when they start out. That is probably true in any creative profession. I wrote my first film, Bottle Rocket, with Owen Wilson when we were still at the University of Texas. It started with the idea that we would make a full-length feature. But we only had enough money for a few minutes, so that was what it ended up being. We showed that short at Sundance, and then on a separate track, through Kit Carson and Polly Platt, to director Jim Brooks. He was immensely supportive and helped us get the movie made at full length. Jim was the person who gave Owen and me our careers.
It took me a long time to get to Moonrise Kingdom. I had lots of material, but after a year I had only a few pages of a script that added up to very little. Then Roman Coppola, whom I work with a lot, helped me figure out the story. A month later the script had gone from the 12 pages I had done in the first year to 100 pages, and it was done.
My writing process is mostly collaborative. I usually like it that way. In some situations, it takes the form mostly of consulting with somebody, and in other situations, it means sitting there all day long with somebody next to me. Right now I am writing a script on my own, but I talk to a collaborator for an hour a day. And then I go write. These discussions are absolutely necessary. At this point I could just finish the thing. But getting it going, getting it figured out—I usually need help.
I don’t write in any one place. Darjeeling we mostly wrote in India—that made it an adventure, and our writing process was affected quite a bit by what we saw. Mr. Fox I wrote with Noah Baumbach in England at Gipsy House, where Roald Dahl lived. This movie was written mostly in Italy, but we filmed it all and edited it in the U.S. And now I’m working on something that takes place in Europe, and will travel around and work on it.
It’s always hard to describe the process. I don’t sit down and plot things out. Not usually. Moonrise Kingdom didn’t come into my head in a conventional way. I had a very conceptual idea; I didn’t have a story. I had an idea of doing something on an island that was a romance between a 12-year-old boy and girl, that it was within the world of children, and I imagined different characters that were in the mix. But it was really much more about the atmosphere. My ideas were mostly of images and dramatic scenes. But I couldn’t tell you why they were up on the roof of a church in a hurricane. Or why the scout troop built a treehouse on the very top of a tree. I just saw it that way.
Once the script is finished, I have always done little storyboards—I have found over the years that I make more mistakes if I don’t plan it out. When we made Mr. Fox, as with all animated movies, we had a “sketch” version of the whole movie set to voices and so on before we shot a frame. On this new live-action movie, I did the same thing for many of the more complicated sequences.
Music is always important. On Moonrise Kingdom I wanted to use Benjamin Britten from before there was a script. There was also a French pop song by Françoise Hardy that I wanted to use. I had the idea of a theme with this song, but the rest of it sort of works its way in over the course of time.
I try not to think of specific people to play characters when I am writing. But it’s a hard trap to avoid. Sometimes an actor just seems perfect for a role. I don’t know who else could have played Steve Zissou in The Life Aquatic except Bill Murray. And that is also true of Gene Hackman in The Royal Tenenbaums and Jason Schwartzman in Rushmore. In the end, though, if you just 100 percent cannot have the person you want, you have to figure out somebody else.
The collaborative process doesn’t end for me with writing. If anything, it intensifies when we are on the set. Even if I know exactly what I want when I am filming, I need people to help me figure out how to get that across. Sometimes knowing what you want doesn’t mean you know how to make it happen or how to communicate it to an audience. There are any number of people whom I rely on to different degrees—the cinematographer Bob Yeoman; Roman, in the past; Jeremy Dawson, who produces, is very involved. And of course my editor, Andy Weisblum, is a key person for me. A good part of what I want them all to do is to prevent me from making mistakes.
I don’t really know what I want people to take away from my movies. Nothing specific. People’s experiences of the same picture can be radically different. It would be nice if people like the films I make, and hopefully they have a real life span, but once I am done with a movie, my energy needs to go into the next thing.
I am thrilled that Moonrise Kingdom opened the Cannes film festival. It’s the world’s biggest festival and I care deeply about French cinematic culture. But I was also terrified because it’s a lot of attention. Of course, whenever anybody asks me if I’m excited about anything, I tend to not want to say yes. I don’t know why.
source: The Wall Street Journal