, like many of his famous family members, make movies that are very much "them". Even after only making two films of his own, it's obvious what a Roman Coppola movie is. Both CQ and his latest film, A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III, convey creative struggles through the aesthetic their dweeby character would probably love to live in. There's a handmade quality to the way they, and Coppola, see the world.
From the sounds of it, Roman Coppola would prefer to keep that personal touch in his movies. A few weeks ago we posted a story with him in which he discussed once working on an adaptation of , but in recent years, his interest in blockbuster filmmaking has declined, in fear of making a product, not a movie. Whether we see Roman Coppola make a Marvel movie or not, for now, let's hope he continues making movies like CQ and A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III more often.
Here's my discussion with writer/director Roman Coppola:
JACK: Like your first movie, CQ, you brought what seems like a nostalgia or parody of 60s/70s-styled camp to Charles Swan. Is that just an aesthetic you're fond of?
ROMAN: I don't know. I have an affection for all sorts of stuff, which I weave into my work. With CQ, for example, I was not an expert of the cheesy '60s work and whatnot, but I became very interested and learned about that genre. Simiarly with this film, the notion of that mid-70s era and the graphic design at that time was the que that got me interested.
JACK: You've said before that when you begin a film you have all sorts of notes, images, and flavors written down. What kind of notes did you have for this project?
ROMAN: Specifically, the images; there was the Maxell guy. He was that guy sitting on the chair and being blown away by the stereo, and that was a template for this character. I grew up in the Bay Area, so when I was 10 or so and went to downtown LA, I'd see these incredible billboards and these paintings of albums and Tower Records. You'd get filled with this sexy pop imagery, which I became very interested in. There were artists, Charles White the III and various others, who created that imagery, and I used many of those images in the film. That was a launchpad. Also, I used cool guys of that era, like Jack Nicholson, Brian Ferry, and those kind of people.
JACK: Is that experience you went through why you made the movie a period piece?
ROMAN: You know, in my mind, it is a period piece, but I didn't want to say specifically what time it is. People will say, "Oh, it's set in the '70s!" Yeah, it's a part of it, but not a big part. I don't like to have the movie be defined that way, because the movie is really about a guy going through a breakup which happens to be set there. That time period just gives it a flavor.
JACK: Plus, you could just say that's how Charles sees the world.
ROMAN: It is. In fact, I was very cagey about it, but now I'm very cavey. When people ask if it's the 1970s, I say, "maybe." I guess when you carry around a huge portable cassette player, it's a huge tipoff. I wanted to be muted about that, not so literal. I feel it touches on that time and place, but it is a character study about where the line is drawn between reality and fantasy. I like to be open to the possibility it could be set today.
JACK: One big difference between this and CQ is that you're not following a passive character. Is it easier to build a structure around someone reacting or a guy, like Charles, continuously creating problems for himself?
ROMAN: You know, that was on my mind when I started. For CQ, the character was very internalized, day dreamed, and wasn't so actively out there. Charles Swan is still a day dreamer, but he's quite out there in a big way, to the point he has a car with eggs on the side of it. It was a fun exercise doing a portrait of this guy who's really balls out and lives his life in a dynamic way. To answer your question, I can't answer which is easier with any authority, but I will say this was fun. There are a lot of people who admire CQ, which makes me very happy, because it is the type of movie that required a certain sensibility. I think, for this movie, it is more fun to see a guy wreck a car. Maybe it'll be more accessible.
JACK: Even after two movies, it's obvious that creative struggle is a major theme in your work. Is that just something you spend a lot of time thinking about and naturally comes into your work?
ROMAN: I agree there is a notion of creative struggle and that feeling, which is a part of my life. With a lot of my work, you are put on the spot to come up with ideas and you'll be waiting for them to happen. There can be some difficulties for those things to come in the right way, so I can relate to that. That is a perceptive insight, but I haven't really thought about it. Obviously character crisis and things going wrong is what a story is composed of, so when you're dealing with a creative character, I guess dealing with a creative crisis is what you have to do.
JACK: How do you handle a creative block?
ROMAN: If you're directing something, a personal work or a commercial or something, that's your work. There's no shame in where you get your idea. You have to remain open to wherever you get an idea from. It's your job to be the guiding force of what that idea should be and to think of the best one. That's just the job of that role, to navigate whatever difficulty. I'm not sure I'm answering your question, but I find when all the elements are there...when it's time to make something happen, you have all your actors, and they ask where you want the camera, it really comes down to that thrill and the moment you're on that's intoxicating, where you feel like you're making it happen. You're in the flow, where you're not really in your mind. That's the state you want to be in.
Not to toot any horns, but making this movie, it was very much my movie. I shot it in my home, used my clothes, shot in my office, I'm the photographer, and I cut the picture. I wasn't in the state of anyone lording over me or pushing me. I really had that full control. I was lucky to be in that position, because it's very rare to do it in that way.
A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III is now available on VOD and opens in theaters on February 8th.