What did you learn from writing from a child's perspective?
SB: I guess it was about how much we had to tell the audience and how much we didn’t have to tell the audience, and how much, as an adult audience member, how much you can live without. That became something we were experimenting with the entire time. For example, the entire thing with child welfare services at the end, we could have gone down the road of being very, very detailed on that: The exact number of days that investigation takes place, all the little things that go into an investigation like that. What’s important is for the audience to understand the situation, not every single detail that surrounds the situation.
On top of that, we wanted the audience to feel like they were spending the summer with these kids, so I had to start removing anything that was too plotty, or had too much of a "three-act" structure. We tried to blur the lines of the three-act structure as much as possible, and that was all about spending time with the kids and being in their heads.
It also really dictated our style in a way, because Alexis and I talked a lot about feeling as if we had our senses put back in a way that a child would have them. For example, when I look back at my youth, and this might just be psychological, I always feel as if the world was brighter, the colors were enhanced, I could hear more decibels so ambiance was louder, and I could hear more details. That’s something we tried to achieve with both the look and the sound mix. So there was that, too. It was a different approach altogether because of the fact that we were trying to see the world not through the eyes of a child, but through the perspective of a child.
The film is also filled with child wisdom, the kind of things kids say that are really profound but they have no idea, like the willow tree is tipped over but still growing.
SB: Yeah, it was just about simplifying. Actually, I found that tree when I was walking my dog behind route 192, and I said, “Oh my god, this is amazing.” I brought the location scouting team back there, and my producer, Shih-Ching Tsou, who I co-directed Take Out with, she said something in just the perfect way: “Wow, it’s uprooted, but it’s still growing.” And I go, “That’s the whole theme of the movie. I can’t believe you just wrapped it up in that sentence. I need to have it coming from Moonee’s mouth.”
She would never use the word “uprooted.” So we were trying to figure out how we could get this point across but through the words of a child. I think we just asked her how she would describe the tree, and she just goes, “Oh, it’s tipped over but it’s still growing!” Perfect. There you go!
That’s perfect child wisdom. It’s beautifully simplistic.
SB: Chris and I hate when child wisdom is like adult wisdom. I think we see that so much in Hollywood films, where the children are way too intelligent, way too advanced for their age, but they’re also sometimes more intelligent than the adults, and it’s just unrealistic. It doesn’t work for us.
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