Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Palo Alto (Rhoades)

Gia Coppola Makes Her First Movie -- “Palo Alto”

Interview by Shirrel Rhoades

Director Gia Coppola sounded quite young on the phone, pausing to take deliveries, make asides, yet remain excited to talk about filmmaking. I assured her we weren’t going to discuss her famous family -- grandfather Francis Ford Coppola, aunt Sofia Coppola, uncle Roman Coppola, cousin Jason Schwartzman, and other cousin Nicolas Cage. Instead, I was curious about her debut film, “Palo Alto.” It opens tomorrow at the Tropic Cinema.

After all, not every 27-year-old high-school dropout gets to direct a major film based on a book by an A-list movie star like James Franco. But Gian-Carla Coppola is no ordinary young woman.

So how did she come to make a movie? It takes more than “My dad’s got a barn; let’s put on a play.”

Getting her GED, Gia attended Bard College, where she studied photography. Feeling kind of burn out, she moved back to Los Angeles “where I was working as a bar back in a restaurant.”

One day she spotted actor James Franco at a neighborhood deli. She didn’t speak to him, but that night bumped into him again at a party. Her mother introduced them, and “he remembered me from the deli.”

She told him how much she’d enjoyed his early-on TV show “Freaks and Geeks.” And he told her about a book he’d written called “Palo Alto,” a collection of loosely related short stories based on his teenage years in that same-named city. Turns out, he was looking for someone to make it into a film.

Well …

“Pick the stories you like,” he said. “Write them in a screenplay format.”

She did. “Reflecting on my own teenage years, I felt I was close enough I could remember them,” says Gia.

James Franco liked her interpretation. He suggested, “Let’s make a test version. Get some of your friends together, take a cheap video camera, and see what you come up with.”

She did. “It was like film training,” she says.

Will this early version eventually appear as a Bonus on the DVD? “No way,” she giggles. “I hated what we made. I’m never letting that one see the light of day.”

However, James Franco thought it showed promise. He gave her the go-ahead.

The hardest part of making the film? “Getting the financing,” she admits. “At one point we had an investor, but he dropped out. Finally, James got fed up and made a movie just to get the money to finance it himself.”

So Gia kept it small. “I had to be a little more inventive,” she says. “The crew was my friends. I’d known Jack Kilmer since he was little. I’d known Emma Roberts; something just kept pushing us together. It somehow worked.”

Jack is the son of Val Kilmer. And Emma is the niece of Julia Roberts. And Gia … well, she has talent too.

 “Palo Alto” is a layered film bout teen angst. April (Emma Roberts) is the shy class virgin who babysits for her licentious soccer coach (James Franco). Teddy (Jack Kilmer) is a would-be artist, doing community service following a DUI accident. His pal Fred (Nat Wolff) is pushy and obnoxious, having hooked up with promiscuous Emily (Zoe Levin). As always, the question is who will wind up with whom.

After five years putting together “Palo Alto,” Gia Coppola is now writing, reading scripts, reading books. “I plan to keep making films,” she nods. “I’ve always communicated with pictures. Filmmaking allows me to play with music, set design, costumes, actors, writing.”

She likes that. It’s in her genes.


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