Coppola addresses seldom asked questions about her directorial debut, which opens at Maitland’s Enzian Theater on June 13th – this Friday.
By Jason Jack Underwood
A lot has been said about Palo Alto, and even more has been said and is known about its Director Gia Coppola. This interview however, is not so much about the things you already know, but instead a glimpse into the inner workings behind Palo Alto and the very promising Gia Coppola.
Before interviewing Ms. Coppola, I spent a hefty amount of time researching her past interviews about Palo Alto and decided that I wanted to ask something different, straying away from the tired and cliché lines of questioning she had been subjected to in the past.
Below you will find the transcript of my phone interview with the humble, talented, and soft-spoken scion of the film worlds few “royal families.” Make no mistake, she is a Coppola – but Palo Alto was made without Gia cashing in on family legacies and connections – a courageously daunting & admirable directorial debut.
Emma Roberts & Jack Kilmer in Coppola’s Palo Alto.
Jason Jack Underwood: Palo Alto has been praised for its unique and organic structure, how much of the film’s form was found in the editing room?
Gia Coppola: A lot of it. The form I always knew that it was going to be with this ensemble piece. I admired movies like American Graffiti, and Dazed and Confused. Bilinear shortcuts where they’re kind of more these vignetted characters, and you live through the story. You get the storyline kind of following these character’s lives. I liked that, but I obviously discovered a lot in the editing room. It was really insightful for me to learn so much. I felt like you kind of discover what you movie is in that process.
JJU: Palo Alto has been referred to as what could perhaps be the most honest and relevant portrait of adolescence in ages. They say that despite what we set out to make, the film always ends up making itself. In what ways has Palo Alto evolved from your initial vision?
GC: It’s always hard to remember because you know it’s been a while since that first process. It’s so much of a collaboration that with this one idea I had in mind, everyone else comes together and they add all of these extra layers that I just couldn’t even have ever done on my own. That’s what is so fun about making movies, just how collaborative it is. And to be open with that, I think, was really important to learn.
A surreal take from Palo Alto.
JJU: You’ve mentioned how lucky you were to have had such a talented and dedicated cast, and that at times you felt that they knew their characters inside and out even better than you. Are there any particular moments where an actor took the character to a place that you hadn’t yet journeyed to as a director but were excited to see them explore for the film?
GC: Yeah I think Zoe Levin brought a lot of soulfulness to that character which could have easily been cliché and I liked how much emotion she brought to that, and sadness. I learned a lot through all the characters, Nat Wolf who played Fred, knew it was important to keep Fred funny, and that he didn’t view himself as menacing. He just thought he was being funny. I learned a lot about subtlety through them.
Nat Wolff & Zoe Levin in Palo Alto.
JJU: What was your experience like assembling the core crew for Palo Alto? Did you choose to work with individuals you’ve worked with before, or did you have to seek out people in hopes to collaborate with them on this film.
GC: We were a very small low budget film and I was very nervous about doing this, so I wanted to work with the people that I’ve worked with, and are comfortable with on my smaller projects and let this just be an opportunity where it’s just on a larger scale. In that sense it was great, because we were like a family and we all cared so much about this—because it was all our first movie. So it was a really great environment. I was very happy that that’s the way we did it.
Coppola on the set of Palo Alto.
JJU: The film beautifully illustrates the power in showing rather than telling, and the subtleties within human interactions that are so innately poetic. How did you approach the scenes where this element was crucial?
GC: I guess maybe just from my photography background I find I have always just been very interested in observing things, and never really much of a talker so I like to just hang on things a little bit longer. I feel that just in photography you can learn so much about a scenario just by one single image and looking at that.
Jack Kilmer & Emma Roberts in Palo Alto.
JJU: I imagine at some point every artist finds their own personal way to mentally and emotionally prepare for a project. Sometimes it’s music, and other times it’s visiting a place that once inspired us. What helped get you ready for shooting Palo Alto?
GC: I pull a lot of photographs; I like to communicate with everyone by showing them pictures, and sometimes music. A lot of other movie references. But with Palo Alto, it took so long to get our financing, that I was sort of going through all of the emotions half expecting it wasn’t going to happen anymore because it was just too heartbreaking to invest so much and to just have it fall apart. But then it was also really hard for me to just let go, so when we finally got the money and all of a sudden I was on my first day of shooting I was kind of shocked and felt under prepared. I really think though in a sense that there’s really no way to prepare for your first movie and you just gotta go in there and get as much coverage as you can, and figure out in the edit what you have.
JJU: From start to finish, what would you say proved to be your biggest hurdle for Palo Alto? As you’ve said, you had difficulty getting financing; would you say that was the most trying obstacle?
GC: Yeah definitely. I think that right now it is extremely hard to get movies financed, and then another hurdle is getting it distributed. I’m very fortunate that I got both, but you hear about amazing directors today and old school directors that can’t even get financing for their movies because independent movies don’t really exist anymore. It’s a new world, and you’ve got to try and figure out how to work within it.
James Franco, who stars as Mr. B wrote the the book of short stories Palo Alto — which the film is based on.
JJU: Limitations aside, what would you most love to do next?
GC: I feel very excited by a lot of different things, and I have a few different ideas and so I’m trying to challenge myself and write more, but it’s hard for me. I feel very open to everything. I don’t know what would be the most ideal. I don’t know. Limitations aside? Yeah I don’t know.
You can purchase tickets for Palo Alto at the Enzian Theater by visiting their website.
Jason Jack Underwood is a professionally trained photographer and filmmaker. You can learn more about him by clicking here.