Thoughtful Words: A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Roman Coppola

Trevor Hogg chats with Roman Coppola about his Oscar lauded family, Moonrise Kingdom and his latest cinematic offering A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III…

The Coppola Family: Roman, Eleanor, Francis Ford and Sophia

When the 2013 Academy Awards come around Roman Coppola has an opportunity of joining his grandfather Carmine, father Francis Ford, sister Sophia, and cousin Nicolas Cage in making an acceptance speech.  “It’s rare that we’ll talk about movies in the abstract though nowadays what happens is during the holidays all the screeners come from the various guilds and the Academy,” replies Roman Coppola when asked whether films are a topic of conversation during family gatherings.  “Around Christmas time we’ll have a movie marathon and there will be a lot of conversation about the movies that we’re watching; that has become in recent years a little bit of a tradition.”  As for getting some fatherly advice from the man responsible for The Conversation (1974), The Godfather Trilogy (1972, 1974, 1990) and Apocalypse Now (1979), Coppola remarks,  My dad likes to read a lot.  He’s always talking about what’s on his mind; there’s always so much to learn in terms of stuff in life, not so much practical things about movies but that can be part of the conversation.  My dad has a lot of advice and understands movies deeply; he believes that a director should always stand close to the camera and that performers get a special connection with you when you’re right there.  That’s a little bit of advice I put into my film CQ [2001].  My dad understands there’s an obsession on movie sets where something isn’t quite in continuity. ‘He used his left hand not his right hand.’  He’s blasé about adhering to that; he believes that you should match upwards meaning make it better rather than saying, ‘I can’t do that because that’s not the way they did it in the other shot.’ Forget continuity and make it better; he has a lot of little nuggets of things like that.”  Sophia Coppola, who won an Oscar for writing the script for Lost in Translation (2003), helped motivate her brother to pursue an independent and personal approach to filmmaking.  “Sophia is so in touch with who she is through her work that’s inspiring to see her movies.   Sophia does what she thinks is right which is often her own unique take on things.  ‘Hey, I’m going to do it the way I think it should be done.’  With my movie [A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III] when I showed it to her and other friends they all said, ‘This movie is so you.’  I thought, ‘Wow!  I’m doing something right and that was what I was hoping for.’”

Roman Coppola, Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward and Wes Anderson

A creative partnership with Wes Anderson (Fantastic Mr. Fox) has led Roman Coppola to receive a co-nomination for Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards for Moonrise Kingdom (2012).  “We’ve gotten to know each other over the years and initially we met through Kit Carson [Paris, Texas] who’s a mentor for a lot of filmmakers. Bobby Yeoman [Bridesmaids] is a mutual colleague that Wes and I share, and of course Jason [Schwartzman] has appeared in Rushmore [1998].  We had become friends and during Life Aquatic [2004] it so happened that I was able to be helpful and do so some second unit.  Slowly over the years we’re finding more rapport and reasons to do things with one another.  Doing Moonrise Kingdom together was an incredible experience; it has been appreciated by so many people and it’s fun to see that happen.”  The story of two young campers (Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward) who run off together stars Bruce Willis (Die Hard), Edward Norton (Fight Club),  Bill Murray (Groundhog Day), Frances McDormand (Fargo), Tilda Swinton (Michael Clayton), and Jason Schwartzman (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) has resonated with film critics.  “It’s hard to say,” remarks Coppola as he contemplates what has made the movie so appealing.   “I would be speculating but it is made with a lot of sincerity and heart.  It’s a genuine tale.  It’s about young love and that’s sensation of falling in love when you’re an adolescent; people relate to that and obviously it’s a wonderful cast that embodies all of those roles.  It’s mysterious. There are a lot of movies that don’t click that are wonderful movies.  I’m very happy that it has.”

A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III (2012) features Charlie Sheen (Platoon) as a 1970s graphic designer who experiences a mental crisis after his girlfriend (Katheryn Winnick) breaks up with him.  It definitely came out of a personal experience of having broken up with someone and so those feelings that I was feeling and the mindset I was in – very dazzled and your brain gets on a roller coaster.   I thought that would be an interesting starting point for a movie. Working on the film and all the time it took, because it took several years to figure it all out, definitely by the end of it I had certainly evolved past the breakup I had experienced.  All I can say is that it had something to do with it but it’s less about that.  It’s more about being excited about telling an interesting story.”  The story evolved.  “The spirit of it is there,” he observes.   “Frankly I’m delighted with the way I was able to do it.  It was much more homemade and different than what I expected.”  The dream sequences such as being hunted by beautiful native girls led by the ex-girlfriend or being bombed by  the Secret Society of Ball Busters as well as Sheen driving a car which is painted with fried eggs on one side and bacon on the other is not extension of the quirky screenwriting style developed with Wes Anderson.  “It’s hard for me to see that.  On the surface [the casting of] Jason and Bill [Murray] perhaps give a feeling of connection.”  Mary Elizabeth Winstead (The Thing) is also cast in the picture.   “She’s fantastic.  I love her.  There are certain people who you meet and as soon as you meet them you feel like that you’re going to have a long friendship or have a deep connection.  I thought she was so great and loved meeting her.”

With all the publicity surrounding Charlie Sheen and his departure from Two and a Half Men, Roman Coppola was not concerned of it having an adverse effect on the production.  I didn’t think about that at all.  I thought about how talented he is as an actor and how much I thought he could do a great job in the role so to me it was the thrill to think, ‘Wow!  I’ve got such a great and perfect person to portray this role.’  I’m proud of what he did.”  The American moviemaker is proud of a particular cinematic moment.  “There was a sequence in the hospital scene where Bill Murray and Charlie are discussing his shabby finances and it’s all done in one take.  It was fun to block that out and I operated the camera.  I used a particular dolly for my film, an Elimac; it’s Italian made.  Some people would think it archaic but I think it’s a great tool.  I couldn’t have done that shot without that exact tool.  I bought the dolly on eBay and it made the shot happen for me. The intimacy of being in the room with those two actors riding the dolly and seeing it all unfold is a wonderful memory.”  The writer-director admires the talent of Bill Murray.    “It is hard to describe.  Bill is so larger than life.  He’s a tall guy.  When Bill enters a room it glows with his presence.  He is so funny.”  Coppola observes, “For me, my film Charles Swan III is far out and crazy in it’s way and I feel that sometimes when something is a little off it’s rocker, a little weird that people can be guarded at first and feel like, ‘Wait.  Am I interested in this?’  I hope people can go with it and judge it after they have experienced it rather than before; that would be a wonderful lucky break if I had that opportunity.”

Many thanks to Roman Coppola for taking the time for this interview.

To learn more, visit the official Facebook page for A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III and read our review here.

Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada.

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