Gia Coppola on Family Film School and Teenage Ennui-------
The next Coppola force to be reckoned with—at least according to Zac Posen—Gia, granddaughter of Francis, niece of Sofia, has officially entered the family business with her debut feature film, Palo Alto, starring Emma Roberts and James Franco. Based on Franco’s book Palo Alto: Stories, the film follows a clique of disaffected high schoolers as they quietly booze and grind their way through the glory days. In advance of today’s premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, Coppola found time to chat with Style.com about directing her mom, learning from her family, and incorporating her own closet into the shoot.
You met James Franco at a party in L.A. What’s it like meeting James Franco for the first time?
I had always been a big fan of his, and my mom had met him while I was in college. She was raving about how nice and intelligent he was. Then I was at a deli with some friends and I saw him there. Later that night I crashed some Hollywood party and I saw him, and my mom dragged him over and he remembered me from earlier that afternoon. He asked me about my photography, and we stayed in touch. I sent him all my photographs, and he sent me his book. He wanted to make it into a movie, long story short.
Does the world of Palo Alto have anything in common with your teen years?
Yes, emotionally, there’s that weird age where you’re too young to be an adult and too old to be a kid and you’re trying to figure out what you want.
Do you relate to the ennui?
I just remember that most of the time you’re looking for something to do, but usually in those moments you’re having the most fun when you’re hanging out in the parking lot and driving around.
What was it like directing your mother?
It was funny because she just kept spiking the camera at the end of every scene and looking at me to see if she did an OK job. It took a while to convince her to do it.
How would you describe your own film education?
I really learned a lot when I worked on my grandpa’s film Twixt and got to be with him start to finish and sit next to him every day. That was my film school.
What was the most valuable piece of advice your grandfather gave you?
He’s always spitting out these amazing quotes. Even just something as simple as eat your breakfast because you need sugar in the morning to get your brain thinking. And be open to your actors’ ideas because they know the characters better than you.
You worked on your aunt’s film Somewhere, in the costume department. How did that prepare you for making this project?
It was nice to just see how Sofia works and her own demeanor that is true to herself, and you don’t have to be this big, authoritative figure. I don’t think I would have thought about directing if I had not seen her do it as a young woman.
The tone and the palate of Palo Alto reminds me a little bit of Somewhere. Is that a coincidence?
Well, we’re of the same blood and I look up to her, so maybe I just can’t help but subconsciously kind of be influenced by her work.
I imagine it would be tricky to have such an amazing resource and not want to take advantage of it. Did you reach out to her?
It was really important for me to figure out my own voice and not feel influenced by anyone else’s opinions, so I really just kind of discussed it with James as my mentor. I didn’t want to kind of get pulled in many different directions—[I wanted to] figure out how to do this on my own.
How did you want to create the feel of high school with its fashion?
So many of the kids on television have really nice clothes, perfect skin and hair. I just really wanted to see a movie that felt authentic to what I observe when I’m watching teenagers out in public. Jack [Kilmer] has really awesome style to begin with, so he just kind of wore his clothes, and I used some of my clothes because we were low budget.
Which pieces of your clothes made it into the film?
Emma has some of my clothes. I wore that yellow vintage sweatshirt on set, and my mom was like, “That’d be a good sweater for Emma, yellow will look good on camera.” So I just took it off and put it on her.
What are you working on now?
I’m writing two different ideas, and I hope that maybe I can work with James again.
Are you thinking of teenagers?
I love the subject matter of teenagers, but next time around I’d like to try something different. Plus, I’m so attached to my teenagers from Palo Alto I can’t imagine working with anyone else.