Interview with Unpaid Moonrise Kingdom Intern

After featuring two of his posts in Friday Round-Ups, we figured it was time to (virtually) sit down with Dustin Sohn and ask him about his experience as an intern in the Set Decoration department on Moonrise Kingdom.

Tell me a little about yourself.
I was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, attended Bellevue High School, and in a few days, I will be graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) with a BFA in Illustration!

How did you find out about the internship?
I found out about the internship through a mass email that was sent out to the Illustration department and I decided to send my resume on a whim. The heads of various other majors (Film/Animation/Video, Industrial Design, etc.) reached out to their departments about the opportunity as well. Moonrise Kingdom was filming in Rhode Island, so it only made sense that they reached out to RISD to recruit interns.

When did you find out you would be working on Moonrise Kingdom?
Well, I didn’t expect to hear back when I sent in my resume. In fact, I forgot I even applied until I received a call for an interview a few weeks later!

Join us on the other side of the jump for the rest of the interview.
How many interns were there? Were you an “unpaid intern”?
Hundreds of students applied and I want to say around ten students got selected in the art department. There were also a couple of interns in the hair/makeup department and in costume/wardrobe. I was the only one in the set decoration department for some reason. We were unpaid interns. It was a dangerous job, but Bill Murray made sure none of us got shot and the experience was incredibly rewarding.

What was your day-to-day work like? Were you on set a lot?
Well, I started in March and worked through production until the end of June. When school was still in session, I worked on Moonrise two days of the week, and during the summer, I worked three to four days a week. I was able visit the sets, but I ran errands and worked in the production office for most of the time, doing research and working on projects.

The film is about kids so some of the arts and crafts projects the interns did had to look like it was made by kids. I found it hilarious that they reached out to students of a prestigious university of art and design to make very elementary things that involved construction paper and popsicle sticks.

What was your most difficult part of the job?
Some things were just more abundant in the 1960s. Locating items that are no longer being manufactured is a challenge, but the set decorator and props master were extremely diligent about keeping everything authentic to the time period.

For example, you’d think it would be easier to find a vintage, rectangular, Olympic-sized trampoline from the 50s/60s. After days of looking around online and calling everywhere, we finally got a hold of one in New England and I drove an hour and a half to Massachusetts with my boss’s car to pick it up. It was disassembled, rusty, sitting in mud and buried in snow so it wasn’t very pleasant to handle. Also, it had started snowing, even thought it was definitely spring.

The infamous trampoline.

How was the general feeling on set?
Each production has a different atmosphere depending on a number of factors including the genre of the script, the people you’re working with, the budget, etc. On Moonrise, things were generally low-key for the interns, but I can’t say the same for everyone else higher up in the hierarchy of the production. Having worked as a Production Designer on a short film (“Obey the Giant“) I can tell you that the pressure and stress levels can get extreme. Everyone in the art department of Moonrise was extremely kind and patient despite whatever pressures they were going through so I’m thankful for that. Had that not been the case, I probably would’ve re-thought my career choice.

Did you have interaction with Wes? What was he like?
Based on what I observed from a distance, Wes seemed rather quiet, tame, and very composed. There is a common theme of dysfunctional relationships and characters with problematic flaws in his stories, but Wes, himself, seems extremely put-together. You have to be on top of things to be a film director. But these are judgments I’ve made from a distance—I haven’t interacted with him beyond a handshake. As a director, he makes his movies like a painter paints. He’s very particular about all aspects of his film, everything from the story to the wallpaper of a particular set, so the end product is essentially Wes’s artwork.

The internship was really cool. There were days where I got to visit the sets during filming to watch the actors work, but a lot of days were spent in the production office working on projects. I was surprised that they actually utilized all the interns for their skills instead of sending us on coffee runs, but I learned there were people in the production office and crafts services for that. I can even point out a bunch of stuff my friends and I helped make/obtain just in the trailer itself so I can’t wait to play “I Spy” when this hits theaters.

What’s next for you? Are you hoping to do more film work?
I hope to continue working in the film industry after I graduate. I applied for an internship with Laika Animation Studios because I adore stop motion and creepy things, but if that doesn’t work out, I will start off as a Production Assistant on live-action films around New England.

Anything else you’d like to add?
Wes screened a movie during pre-production at a small theater in Newport. As it turned out, I was sitting behind Ed Norton the whole time but I didn’t notice until the movie ended. It’s always surreal entering a world of celebrities. It’s also slightly disconcerting when actors make eye contact with you or interact with you because it’s like they’re breaking the fourth wall… But after seeing the actors work on set, I think I’ve gotten used to it pretty quickly. You have to, I think, to work in the industry. It’s only a job and everyone is human, and deserves to be treated as such, regardless of their profession.

These badges were given as a gift to all crew members on MK.

Thanks, Dustin, for the interview! You can keep up with what’s next for Dustin over at his tumblr, the illustrographer, or on his website.

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