Acclaimed director and screenwriter Sofia Coppola has a new film entitled Somewhere that features Stephen Dorff and Elle Fanning as an unlikely father-daughter duo. Some of the story can be pulled from Coppola’s own upbringing alongside her famous father Francis Ford. But even though her childhood was one of the film’s many influences, this is a modernized tale of excess set against the backdrop of LA. When we spoke to the director about her experience making the film she had nothing but positive things to say about the cast and crew. She also discussed her visual and music choices and whether or not Somewhere falls in line with a certain theme that happens to appear in all her films.
Check out the interview…
When did you know that you wanted to be a filmmaker?
Sofia Coppola: I was going to art school and trying different things. I was interested in a lot of, mostly visual arts. I didn’t know what I wanted to do and then I made a short film and felt like it was a combination of all these interests of mine with design and photography and music. But it was really when I read the book The Virgin Suicides that made me wanna make a movie. I heard they were making a movie and I loved the book so much and had such an idea of how I thought they should make the movie. I just started working on a script and thinking it’d be interesting to learn how to adapt a book into a script. Then I got so into it that I finished the script and started pursuing the producers to consider me and to let me do the movie. It was really the wanting to protect this book that I loved.
Was there any hesitation to direct because of your dad?
SC: Maybe sub-consciously that’s why it took me longer to figure out what I wanted to do. But I was just, you know, as a creative person you’re driven to see what you have in your mind. It kind of nags at you. I think that’s what compels you, and you try to weed out all the doubts and things that can stop you.
How did you come up with the premise for Somewhere?
SC: I started with this character and wanted to do a portrait of this guy in this moment in his life. I think it’s about points in your life when you have to look at yourself and decide what kind of person you’re going to be. Which I feel like everyone has to look at sometimes. Also, I had just had my first daughter. And I was thinking about how having a kid changes your priorities and perspective. It’s also about a father-daughter relationship.
What was the film’s budget?
SC: This was around $7 million.
Working with a character who plays an actor, were you worried that the film would be compared to Lost In Translation?
SC: No, I didn’t really think about that. I just try to be open to what I’m interested in and not judge it. I think it’s such a different character and such a different world.
Can you talk about the casting?
SC: When I was writing the script Stephen Dorff came to mind. I knew him a little over the years. I thought he would be the right guy for this part. He’s the right age, and I think he’s a great actor. But we haven’t seen this side, you know, more sensitive side. I knew from life he was such a sweet guy and sincere, the character is so flawed he can be very unlikable. You needed somebody with a lot of heart to make you want to watch him for a whole movie. Elle Fanning, we just met her when we were putting the movie together. When I was writing I was thinking of a friend’s daughter, and when we met Elle I was taken with her instantly.
They have a lot in common with each other. Did that make the casting easier?
SC: They have all these coincidences. They discovered all these things they have in common. I just thought she was great, they look like they could be related. Before I cast her I did a rehearsal together to see if they had chemistry, and it turns out they have a lot in common and a cute relationship and dynamic.
What about the sets and the living arrangements for them?
SC: He stayed in the same room as O’Shaden just a floor up, so he was in his Johnny Marco character the whole time. It was funny in the morning he would come to set and tell me all the Johnny Marco moments that he was living in the hotel. He would stay up late and be kind of trashed in the scenes that we needed him to be – but then he really, the character as he evolves, he’s fresher. You can really see it, it’s subtle. It was important to me that they feel connected and not like they had met a few weeks before so I asked Steven to pick her up from school and take her to do stuff. We did improvs together in the hotel and I felt like when we were shooting then they had this rapport and private jokes and you felt like they had a connection. Because so much on set we did improvs with the woman who plays the mother of Elle. She’s only in one scene but although they barely say anything I think you can feel a whole dynamic between them because of all these improvs we’d done before.
Do you know many people like Johnny Marco?
SC: I based it on people I’ve seen and stories I’ve heard. It’s a very extreme lifestyle so I tried to imagine what that was like and relate to it in some ways. I don’t really feel like him because my life is so different than his. His is pretty out of balance.
Should we feel empathy for Johnny?
SC: I try to be empathetic towards a character because you want the audience to try and connect with them. I like young characters because when I was a kid I felt like I couldn’t relate to a lot of the ways they were portrayed.
Adults in your movies seem like overgrown kids. Is that intentional?
SC: Definitely he’s a kid. I see that a lot with my generation, a lot of guys not wanting to grow up. So I guess that’s something I’m aware of. With Marie Antoinette she was such a kid and kept isolated in this childish world.
Do you direct a child differently?
SC: I don’t think so. I think with all actors you want to be sensitive to them because you’re asking them to be vulnerable. She’s so smart that I never felt different that she was a kid. I guess you’re aware that you don’t want someone to be talking about something inappropriate around an eleven year old, I felt protective. But I felt protective of Stephen and all my actors.
Characters in your movies have a lot of internal conflicts, how do your actors respond?
SC: I think they like it because it was different than how they’re used to working, but I think it took getting used to. For Stephen it was a challenge because he couldn’t hide behind anything, he didn’t have any long dialogue or things to do. He had to really be totally vulnerable.
Does that make it more challenging for the audience?
SC: I don’t know. I like the idea that a lot of times in movies it takes a dramatic event like a disaster or someone held hostage for a character to change. I feel like in life there’s moments, small things, that strike you and motivate you to change. I wanted to convey that the drama is more internal. I don’t know if it’s harder for them. We talk about it so I’m very clear with them, I think they understand the character. I don’t leave them without clues. So we definitely work it all out and talk about it and it’s up to them to convey it. I think it is more challenging because you don’t have a line, you have to express it through a look. I thought they did such a good job of that, but I think it’s harder to do. I love the breakfast scene where Elle looks at the woman that’s there and you can tell the whole thing just by the way she looks at her.
Why can some people have a good experience and others not?
SC: I guess it’s up to the person. I can imagine if you became famous quickly and had your life switch, have girls throwing themselves at you all the time, people offering all kinds of things. I could see how someone might go out of balance for a little bit.
This movie brought back the Chateau of the 90’s.
SC: When I was writing it I was thinking about when I had spent time there which was in the 90’s when I was in my twenties. I was looking at how it had changed and how it was the same. But probably my references from it are from that era.
When you think back on those days what do you remember?
SC: I feel like in a lot of ways it hasn’t changed. But there weren’t weekly tabloid magazines, so people didn’t go there to be photographed and stuff. I think of the Chateau Marmont as this iconic Hollywood place with so many interesting people staying there and lots of stories. It has a kind of decadent feeling.
What about the dark side of it?
SC: That’s there too. Which makes it more interesting, I think.
Do you have any memories with your dad being there?
SC: Definitely when I was writing that part of the story I tried to think of memories and I remember it was exciting as a kid to get to go with my dad, occasionally, to places that kids don’t usually go. I tired to put some of that into the story, it connected to something real.
Is there memory in particular?
SC: I can’t think specifically, but I remember my dad stayed at Casinos when he would write scripts. And I remember going to visit and him explaining craps to me. It was fun because kids don’t get to do that.
What did Francis think of the Father-Daughter relationship in Somewhere?
SC: I don’t generally have a thing where I only show final cut, but on this one I wanted to show him when it was all put together. He was really touched by it, he really loved it and said to me that it was a movie that only I could make, and that I think we should make movies that only we could make. I appreciate that with other movies, when you see the person behind it, it’s not just anybody could have made it. We didn’t talk about specifics, that character isn’t based on him, but of course I put the kind of tender father-daughter moments that are significant to me in it.
Was it kind of nerve racking?
SC: Yeah, in one way he’s always very supportive so it’s not a scary environment. But of course I hope my parents will like what I make, like any kid.
Music always plays a huge role in your films.
SC: This one, the whole tone of the movie I wanted to be minimal so the music I try to do minimally. And have a lot of silence. When I did pick music, I pick music that feels right for the atmosphere of the story. I try to have the music be source music that the characters could really be listening to, so that you believe it could fit in that world. Usually when I do a movie I pick a kind of music or band to do the music. People have composers. On this one I asked Phoenix. With Virgin Suicides, Air. A lot of it relates to the music I listen to when I’m writing, and the mood of it.
What was it about Phoenix that made you pick them?
SC: I’ve always liked their music and that song “Love Like A Sunset” related to the feeling of the movie so I thought they would do a good job. A lot of times the music I’m listening to when I’m writing ends up in the movie or things relating to it.
Does the film have any visual signatures?
SC: I really wanted it to look like LA, and I thought about iconic LA movies that I love like Shampoo and American Gigolo – I wanted it to feel like an LA movie of today. Driving around in the bright light in the middle of the day and the view out the window of the palm trees and mini malls. It just feels very specific to me, to LA.
You let the camera stay on an image, longer than a director traditionally would. Why was that?
SC: Luckily I could just do whatever I wanted with this movie because we kept the budget small enough. I didn’t have a lot of pressure to make it more conventional. It was hard with the editor, we went back and forth with the timing, because I wanted to push it and really have you feel stuck in his life with him and experience what the was experiencing but then not totally bore the audience. It was hard to keep perspective with how long we could push things and how long was too much – it’s hard for me to tell because I’ve seen it too many times, it seems like forever. I’m so uncomfortable in the screenings, but I hope for someone seeing it the first or second time they can get into the rhythm and go with it.
Was Los Angeles a more welcoming location to shoot?
SC: You know, I’ve never filmed in LA before so I can’t compare it to anything. But I felt like we were able to do what we wanted to do with a small crew. My line producer probably shielded me from all the negotiation and stuff. I had a good experience shooting here, we had a great crew.
Is there anything that connects your four films to one another?
SC: I think so. It’s hard for me, I don’t have a lot of distance. I’m interested in themes about people kind of finding their identity within the setting they find themselves in – I think they all have that.
There’s a theme of dealing with emptiness. It’s like you can have what you want but don’t?
SC: I feel like that’s related to this idea that you don’t pick the world you find yourself in, and finding what kind of person you want to be and what you really want your life to be, it’s related to that. I’m interested in characters that are in transition or self- reflection. Usually in those moments there’s a feeling of isolation. I didn’t want to write about the moments in between when you’re feeling great because you don’t learn anything. I don’t feel compelled to write about that. It’s more of those times when you’re looking at yourself and trying to learn about that.
Somewhere is playing in limited theaters now.