Artist Profile: Gia Coppola

Her last name is synonymous with the film industry, so it comes as no surprise that Gia Coppola is following in her family’s footsteps with her directorial debut, Palo Alto, arriving in theaters May 9. Adapted from James Franco’s book of short stories of the same name, the movie captures adolescence in its rawest form through the intertwining lives of teenagers as they navigate the trials of virginity to twisted soccer coaches (played by Franco) to, what else, a gang bang. Milk Made sat down with Gia to discuss what it was like growing up near Sofia Coppola, her collaboration with Franco, as well as her experiences on set with her young cast and crew.

What was your first impression of James Franco?

I was a big fan of him growing up. I had heard a little bit about him. My mom had met him, and told me he was really interested in art and I’d think you’d enjoy him. I was at college at the time and then when I graduated I saw him at a deli and I was like giggling with my friends and later that night I saw him at some party and he was super nice and interested in what I was doing as a young graduate. I mean, I love that guy, he’s super supportive and he gave me the chance and stuck with me and believed in me so I owe him so much. He’s really inspiring that he just has such an amazing work ethic and is super intelligent so it always inspires me to work harder.

In Palo Alto, James Franco plays Mr. B, a high school soccer coach with an appetite for young girls. Did you have him in mind from the start to play that character or did he lobby for it?

I always wanted for him to be in it. I’m such a fan of his as an actor and wanted to work with him in that kind of capacity and obviously he can’t play a teenager, not really a parent to a teenager, and that character was really hard for me so I was excited to have a talented actor kind of help me with it. He played it very subtly when it could have played it very cliché and over the top and it was just nice for me to have him around. He’s a director as well, so whenever I got stuck, he would help me with blocking and he would tell other actors about the inspiration behind the stories so it was a nice asset to have.

Would you ever want to play a role in one of your films?

No. Well actually in Palo Alto we didn’t have enough extras in the party scene, so a few times my shoulder is in it and changing the sweater, so that’s about the extent.

Why did you choose the stories that you chose for the film?

I just chose what intuitively I connected to the most. I loved Teddy and April’s story the most as kind of this young love story but never actually being in the same room together, just kind of longing for each other and not able to articulate it when you have those kind of chances. They were really good characters and the dialogue was really realistic that I hadn’t seen in anything else so I was really in love with it when I read it.

Are there certain aspects of the characters you identify with?

Yea. In writing it, I had to figure out how to connect to all of these characters in order to understand where they were coming from, so I did my best to find a way to figure out what that was within myself. I guess you could say I connect with April the most just because she was a young teenage girl, there was the most material behind her character that I could work with and connect to.

How does your photography background come into play with the way you direct?

It was helpful in a lot of ways. I work with the team of people that I work with on my smaller projects, and I’m really close with Autumn and I could communicate with her just through pictures and show her the pictures that I like. Stephen Shore was my professor in college and I loved his photography and used him a lot as a reference. I felt very comfortable in that sort of department of things just because I was working with Autumn and I knew kind of really what I wanted and–I was just really nervous, just working with the actors was the hardest part.

What does your family think about you following in their footsteps?

They’re excited and they’re my family so they’re going to be supportive and it’s fun to enter their world.

You’ve previously worked with your Aunt Sofia Coppola.

I worked in the wardrobe department of her movie, “Somewhere."

How did working with your aunt influence how you direct and what you’ve learned and is there anything that you do that specifically came from her?

She really kind of paved the way for young female directors, and I don’t think I would have been interested or thought it was in my range had I not seen her do it and it was really nice just to kind of observe her and how she works and you don’t need to be this big forceful presence when making a movie, you can still do it in a way that’s truthful to your demeanor.

Is there anything you do alternately to try to separate yourself from her?

I feel we’re very different. I know from afar it seems we’re very similar but I admire her work very much. She’s like an older sister, as a young sister would look up to their older relative, but I’m really trying to figure out my own voice and who I am.

Dev Hynes is on the soundtrack and wrote the single “Palo Alto." How was your experience working with him?

He’s amazing, I’m a big fan of his work, so I was excited to have him on board, and pretty much liked everything he delivered. He’s really intelligent and he understood that these kids’ emotions feel like a big deal even though maybe in hindsight it’s not really a big deal; but it’s just as important to them and to convey that musically, and keep something that’s modern but also timeless.

You previously created short films for designers.

Yeah, when I was working as a bar back after college, I would make these short films with friends. Some fashion companies saw them and hired us to make more and I enjoyed it because it was an extension of photography but I had more things to play with and be collaborative with people that I like but it was stuff I was already doing but doing in the scope of fashion.

To what degree did your knowledge of fashion influence the costumes in the movie.

My mom was a costume designer when I was younger so I’ve always had the appreciation for clothes and it says a lot about who you are. I would just use the kids’ clothes most of the time, or my clothes and my friends’ clothes, and let them kind of dress themselves.

What has been your biggest challenge through this filmmaking process?

I think saying goodbye to this project and letting it go is really hard.

What do you think you’ve learned most from this experience?

I’ve learned so much, it’s exciting to have the opportunity where you’re faced with so many challenges that you grow as a person. There are so many things I can’t really pinpoint one.

What’s one thing you’re taking away?

I saw that the editing room is where you really discover what the film is and you see what you have and how to work with it.

What’s next?

I’m writing and I hope to do something with James again, so hopefully what I’m writing works out.

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