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Writer/director Sofia Coppola discusses her latest film Somewhere

Writer/director Sofia Coppola discusses her latest film Somewhere with Film Independent -

 

It's hard to believe that over ten years have passed since Sofia Coppola burst onto the scene with her 1999 indie hit The Virgin Suicides.  Now the Academy Award and Spirit Award-winning writer/director is back with Somewhere. Winner of the Golden Lion Award at the 2010 Venice Film Festival, Somewhere, starring Stephen Dorff and Elle Fanning, depicts the story of Johnny Marco, a Hollywood superstar, living in a hotel and numbly going through the motions until his 11-year-old daughter Cleo drops into his life, shaking the very ground he stands on.  Shot entirely on location in Milan, on the streets of L.A., and at the famed Chateau Marmont, Somewhere is a small story that asks the big questions about what truly matters in life and what steps must be taken to get there. I sat down with Ms. Coppola at the Chateau Marmont to discuss her return to the screen and what she has lined up for the future. 

 

By Folayo Lasaki

 

 

I guess we shouldstart at the beginning.  Theopening sequence of the film struck me in a number of ways.  Can you talk about what you werethinking with this?

I just was thinking that I wanted to do a portrait of thisguy...this character came to mind. Right away I thought that he drives a Ferrari.  I had this idea about movie stars who have these sports carsthat they can't drive in the traffic; I imagined he had to go out thedesert.  I wanted to describe thestate the character was in - he was going in circles.  I think the nice thing in film is to be able to use visualsto tell stories with metaphors. 

 

It was a long sequence.In your mind when you were writing it, shooting it, and editing it, was thatjust supposed to be a moment in time?

The opening?

 

Yeah, the opening...

Yeah, it was a snapshot of this guy - a moment of time, toshow the state he was in. When I wrote it, I didn't expect how long we weregoing to stay on it, but when we were filming it, I wanted it to go long enoughto get into his state...really see the monotony.  But when I watch it with an audience, I do get kind of tense.  It's like, "Okay one more lap."

It seems that you as afilmmaker tend to move towards the smaller and the more intimate.  In this film specifically, I noticedthat there was a real sense of stillness and a quiet.  The sounds were so palpable; you could hear breathing inpools and skates on the ice.  Howmuch a part of that came at the beginning, and how much came at the end?

That was something I wanted throughout the process.  I talked about that to Richard Beggs,our sound designer, who I love working with.  It feels like a lot of movies just bombard you with music andsongs in every scene; I just wanted to approach everything as minimally aspossible...to do a really minimal portrait of this guy.  Even with the camera work, I wanted you to not be aware ofthe camera -to feel natural. It was important to make it feel like you werealone with this guy, and that included the sound also feeling really natural -the sounds of the engine, the squeaks on the poles.  We didn't use a lot of music. Some, but it was limited.  I really wanted to let it breathe. Ithink that all those little details make it come to life.  I wanted to experiment on how simply wecould do something.

 

How did you writethat?  It felt like the first tenor fifteen minutes had four or five sentences. 

Yeah, in the first 20 minutes there was barely anydialogue.  It starts out with himalone, and you're just kind of with him. I felt like the audience just had to get in that mode.  I had that in mind when I was writingit.  I also felt that a lot ofthings would be in real time, like with the ice-skating and with the twins... Ithought that that would go on long enough, that you could understand thatthings aren't exciting to him.  Iwanted the audience to experience it and have the take a quiet reflectivemoment, because that's what he's doing. In life there are so many distractions - we're always on ourblackberries and phone - I just wanted to take a pause.

 

It was reallyfascinating to watch. There aren't a lot of films that are okay with just beingquiet - which I personally loved. 

Well, thank you.

 

Switching to your roleas the director, I know that you started out in costume design. Does thatinfluence your aesthetic?

Yeah.  I thinkall of that influences the aesthetic. I spent a lot of years as a photographer, which shapes how I look atthings.  I think all of thoseexperiences - every experience, really - gets brought into the process.

 

Do you use moodboards?

I do.  I shouldget them more organized.  For allof my films, I put together a book of photographs, images, and notes - thingsthat inspire the project.

 

You were aphotographer?  Is that why youshoot on film?

I just really love film; I love the quality and look ofit.  I'm sentimental.

 

So Somewhere, the title of the film... Where did that comefrom? 

It was actually not supposed to be the title. It was justthis sort of vague idea that he wanted to go somewhere else, but he didn't knowwhere exactly.  It just the idea ofbeing somewhere other than he is.

 

So after Lost InTranslation and Marie Antoinette, why this story? 

I knew I wanted to write a story about L.A.  I lived here in my early twenties, andI wanted to explore how things had changed, and how they had stayed thesame.  And I when I was working onit, I was living in Paris and had just had my first child...

 

Is that where thefather/daughter story came from? 

Yeah.  That andI had a friend with a 12-year-old daughter, and she and her husband were bothin the entertainment business. I wanted to explore that more.

 

You grew up in"Hollywood royalty."  How much ofyour own experience colored the film? How much of this was Sofia the mother vs. Sofia the daughter? 

Well, I grew up in Northern California, so I was prettyremoved from that scene growing up, but I think you always bring in your ownexperience. And when you have a child, you can't help but start to think aboutyour parents.  I brought all ofthat into the script.

 

Your brother [RomanCoppola] produced the film, and your father [Francis Ford Coppola] executiveproduced the film, you don't really follow the adage of not mixing family andbusiness... 

No.  It's whatmy dad did. He always worked with family and friends.  It's what I know. I worked really closely with my brother on this. I always work prettyclosely with him.   My dad wasthe executive producer through Zoetrope, so he wasn't as actively involved inthis project.  But he's always thereto give me advice when I need it.

 

Did you spend a lot oftime at the Chateau growing up? 

I'd spent some time there, but you always hear these storiesabout actors living at the Chateau. Even Stephen [Dorff] had stories aboutliving here.  I thought it wasinteresting to incorporate that into the film.

 

Did you have any otherhotels in mind? 

No.  I knew itto be had to be here.  My producersasked me if there was a ‘plan B,' and I was like, "No, there isn't."

 

Jumping back toStephen Dorff, I'd love to talk about the cast of the film?  How'd he get involved? 

I had known Stephen for a while, and I just thought that hewould be really great in the role. I always had him in mind.

 

This was a departurefor him. 

Yeah, he's never played this kind of role. That's why Ithought it was fun to think about him that way.

 

I read that he calledthis "a gift of a part," 

That's nice to hear. Yeah, he'd been playing the villains.  I wanted to do something that was sweet and had emotionwithout being too sappy.

 

And Elle [Fanning]?How great is she? 

I know. Actually the producers brought in Elle and after I met her, I knew rightaway that she was Cleo.  We offeredher the role that day.

 

She brings a reallevel of maturity to the role.

Yeah, she was able to bring a lot to the role.  She was great.

 

It seems like in allof your films you tend to write these very honest, not exactly loveablecharacters.  I wouldn't even saythat you're sympathetic, but there's not a lot of judgment there. How do you goabout writing observationally?

I try to be empathetic, writing from their points ofview.  But it's true, I knew thecharacter wasn't very likeable, but that's part of how Stephen came to mindbecause he's a really sweet, genuine guy, and has a lot of heart, and he bringsthat.  I felt that without that,the audience wouldn't care about watching him because he is very flawed.  I don't know.  I like the kind of characters that aren't very likeable buthave something about them that you can't help but like.

Anything in the queuenow?

 

No. I want to write another script and keep working in this low-budget andpersonal way.  I have an idea, butI'm not sure what it will turn into. When [Somewhere] comes out, I'llget back to writing.  I findwriting - especially starting - is always hard. 

 

Do you ever thinkyou'll do a big budget thriller? Or an action film?

I can't see doing that, but I always like trying differentthings, so who knows?  But I don'thave any plans for that.  I likethings that are emotional and character-driven.  So that doesn't really appeal to me right now, but I likebeing open to trying new things.

--

 

Somewhere opens inlimited release on December 22.

 

Folayo Lasaki is Marketing Manager at FilmIndependent.

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