Interview with Roman Coppola

BATD ON Jan 03, 2013 AT 10:17 am

by Spencer Bright

Roman Coppola

As briefs for short film scripts go it couldn’t be more glamorous than ‘make sure it takes place in a W Hotel anywhere in the world’, and perhaps more challengly, ‘features an Intel Ultrabook laptop.’

As both companies were the sponsors of the Four Stories film competition you can understand why; though beyond the corporate branding it was a serious attempt to find an innovative new generation of film makers.

Roman Coppola through his company, The Directors Bureau, was enlisted to head the judges panel and enticed to make his own short film which turns out to be a mini-masterpiece satirising his own world in ego and image obsessed Hollywood – all taking place in a W Hotel naturally – and features his cousin Jason Schwartzman and unusually, himself in front of the camera.

Roman may be best known for his Italian heritage monicker thanks to his dad Francis, director of some of the greatest movies of all time, but he’s no lightweight. He co-wrote The Magic Kingdom with his director pal Wes Anderson, which features in this year’s Golden Globes nominations and may well get an Oscar nod. He and Wes also wrote the inventive The Darjeeling Limited and The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou.

Roman has also recently completed directing his second movie, A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swann III, starring his boyhood pal Charlie Sheen. The movie has taken over a decade to realise in between a career directing TV commercials and music videos for the likes of the Arctic Monkeys and Fatboy Slim, as well as playing an active role in his director sister Sofia’s stellar career.

Roman’s life has literally been immersed in film. He was born 47 years ago in France where his father was writing the script for Is Paris Burning? His childhood memories include months living in The Phillipines while Apocalypse Now was being shot – and where he became friends with Charlie Sheen whose dad Martin starred in it and had a real life nervous breakdown while shooting it – and living in Sicily during the filming of The Godfather.

‘I remember those movies in terms of the place I was, the environment rather than scenes in the picture itself. I was 11 or 12 when we were in the Phillipines, which is an age you recall things vividly. Charlie’s family was also living there. I remember some of the big napalm explosions. For a kid that’s very memorable.

‘The group of people you are living with become like relatives, so the photographers and the art directors become aunts and uncles. In Sicily I remember the sea urchin we ate that people would catch on the beaches. They’re the sort of memories you remember in life.’

He thought about casting Charlie Sheen in ‘Charles Swann’ before his very public meltdown. That added its own complications, making it difficult for financiers and insurers to commit. But Coppola finally won through. ‘Contrary to what everyone expected Charlie took this project very seriously. He was punctual, knew his lines and commited to the project.’ Sheen clearly didn’t have to do much homework on one aspect of his character’s personality, being a ladies man. He plays a graphics designer looking back on past failed love affairs and Coppola is honest to admit that his own life story is part of it, ‘Though more a fantasy version of myself,’ he says.

As for the fledgling film makers in the Four Stories project he sees great promise. That’s something you might expect him to say, but having viewed them myself I’d say they were of an unexpectedly high standard. Not all worked, but the ones that did were effective, notably Oscar Is Typing by Amy Jacobowitz, a suitably stylish romance of a couple who meet on the internet trying to see if they match up to their cyber promise in the real world. And the one Brit among the finalists, Adam Blampied with his metaphysical tale Godfont, has an original mind that promises much in the future.

Coppola meanwhile is a man who seems satisifed with the niche he has created for himself, bravely choosing to follow his artistic vision before commercial considerations. The film world needs more people like him.

* Roman Coppola collaborated with Intel and W Hotels on ‘Four Stories’ to discover rising filmmaking talent; view these films online at www.youtube.com/fourstories

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