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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 should start at the beginning. The opening sequence of the film struck me in a number of ways. Can you talk about what you were thinking with this?
I just was thinking that I wanted to do a portrait of this guy...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 cars that they can't drive in the traffic; I imagined he had to go out the desert. I wanted to describe the state the character was in - he was going in circles. I think the nice thing in film is to be able to use visuals to tell stories with metaphors.

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

Yeah, the opening...
Yeah, it was a snapshot of this guy - a moment of time, to show the state he was in. When I wrote it, I didn't expect how long we were going to stay on it, but when we were filming it, I wanted it to go long enough to 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 a filmmaker tend to move towards the smaller and the more intimate. In this film specifically, I noticed that there was a real sense of stillness and a quiet. The sounds were so palpable; you could hear breathing in pools and skates on the ice. How much 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 and songs in every scene; I just wanted to approach everything as minimally as do a really minimal portrait of this guy. Even with the camera work, I wanted you to not be aware of the camera -to feel natural. It was important to make it feel like you were alone 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. I think that all those little details make it come to life. I wanted to experiment on how simply we could do something.

How did you write that? It felt like the first ten or fifteen minutes had four or five sentences.
Yeah, in the first 20 minutes there was barely any dialogue. It starts out with him alone, 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 writing it. I also felt that a lot of things would be in real time, like with the ice-skating and with the twins... I thought that that would go on long enough, that you could understand that things aren't exciting to him. I wanted the audience to experience it and have the take a quiet reflective moment, because that's what he's doing. In life there are so many distractions - we're always on our blackberries and phone - I just wanted to take a pause.

It was really fascinating to watch. There aren't a lot of films that are okay with just being quiet - which I personally loved.
Well, thank you.

Switching to your role as the director, I know that you started out in costume design. Does that influence your aesthetic?
Yeah. I think all of that influences the aesthetic. I spent a lot of years as a photographer, which shapes how I look at things. I think all of those experiences - every experience, really - gets brought into the process.

Do you use mood boards?
I do. I should get them more organized. For all of my films, I put together a book of photographs, images, and notes - things that inspire the project.

You were a photographer? Is that why you shoot on film?
I just really love film; I love the quality and look of it. I'm sentimental.

So Somewhere, the title of the film... Where did that come from?
It was actually not supposed to be the title. It was just this sort of vague idea that he wanted to go somewhere else, but he didn't know where exactly. It just the idea of being somewhere other than he is.

So after Lost In Translation and Marie Antoinette, why this story?
I knew I wanted to write a story about L.A. I lived here in my early twenties, and I wanted to explore how things had changed, and how they had stayed the same. And I when I was working on it, I was living in Paris and had just had my first child...

Is that where the father/daughter story came from?
Yeah. That and I had a friend with a 12-year-old daughter, and she and her husband were both in the entertainment business. I wanted to explore that more.

You grew up in "Hollywood royalty." How much of your 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 pretty removed from that scene growing up, but I think you always bring in your own experience. And when you have a child, you can't help but start to think about your parents. I brought all of that into the script.

Your brother [Roman Coppola] produced the film, and your father [Francis Ford Coppola] executive produced the film, you don't really follow the adage of not mixing family and business...
No. It's what my 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 pretty closely with him. My dad was the executive producer through Zoetrope, so he wasn't as actively involved in this project. But he's always there to give me advice when I need it.

Did you spend a lot of time at the Chateau growing up?
I'd spent some time there, but you always hear these stories about actors living at the Chateau. Even Stephen [Dorff] had stories about living here. I thought it was interesting to incorporate that into the film.

Did you have any other hotels in mind?
No. I knew it to be had to be here. My producers asked me if there was a ‘plan B,' and I was like, "No, there isn't."

Jumping back to Stephen 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 he would be really great in the role. I always had him in mind.

This was a departure for him.
Yeah, he's never played this kind of role. That's why I thought it was fun to think about him that way.

I read that he called this "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 emotion without 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 right away that she was Cleo. We offered her the role that day.

She brings a real level of maturity to the role.
Yeah, she was able to bring a lot to the role. She was great.

It seems like in all of your films you tend to write these very honest, not exactly loveable characters. I wouldn't even say that you're sympathetic, but there's not a lot of judgment there. How do you go about writing observationally?
I try to be empathetic, writing from their points of view. But it's true, I knew the character wasn't very likeable, but that's part of how Stephen came to mind because he's a really sweet, genuine guy, and has a lot of heart, and he brings that. 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 but have something about them that you can't help but like.

Anything in the queue now?
No. I want to write another script and keep working in this low-budget and personal way. I have an idea, but I'm not sure what it will turn into. When [Somewhere] comes out, I'll get back to writing. I find writing - especially starting - is always hard.

Do you ever think you'll do a big budget thriller? Or an action film?
I can't see doing that, but I always like trying different things, so who knows? But I don't have any plans for that. I like things that are emotional and character-driven. So that doesn't really appeal to me right now, but I like being open to trying new things.
Folayo Lasaki is Marketing Manager at Film Independent.


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