Exclusive: Sofia Coppola Talks The Minimalism Of 'Somewhere'

by Erik McClanahan
December 21, 2010 10:21 AM
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Sofia Coppola's latest effort, "Somewhere," tells the story of a partied-out action star (played by Stephen Dorff) who hangs out at the chateau marmont, gets laid at will and basically lives a fleeting, empty existence, until he's forced to deal with his daughter (Elle Fanning) full time, and he reassess his life. There's not much else to the film, and we noted that in our review but that's what Coppola was striving for.

"I think after Marie Antoinette, I wanted to take a shift from what I’d just done that was so decorative, so many characters, I was interested in how simply you could tell a story," she said when we recently sat down with her to discuss the film. "Somewhere" certainly stands out in a year where some of the most highly-praised American films -- "Inception," "The Social Network," "Black Swan" -- feature complex narrative structures and almost wall-to-wall music. But Coppola likes it that way, as an audience member she finds it refreshing to see a film where music is used sparingly, like the score by Phoenix in "Somewhere," which is so ambient and subtle that it barely registers. "A lot of movies are bombarded with songs and I wanted to see how little we could use it," Coppola said. "It’s very subtle and it’s kind of woven in with sound design and little hints throughout... it’s not like the whole traditional score."

The Oscar-winning writer/director has a reputation for light scripts as well. "[Somewhere" was] short. Half the size of a regular, traditional script." Coppola went on to say she finds writing to be difficult, but she can't imagine directing a screenplay by someone else. "I wouldn't even know how to approach that," she said, "I can't say never, but I like making personal work that I can shape the whole thing." There is one thing that helps inspire Coppola to put ink on paper: distance. Living in LA prompted films set in Tokyo and France, but she was living in Paris while she wrote "Somewhere."

"I feel like I must have some distance from a place to be able to write about it. I don’t know, there are some songwriters who can only write sad songs when they are happy and happy songs when they are sad, so I guess there’s something about creativity that takes a distance."

Master cinematographer Harris Savides shot "Somewhere," and he was into the idea of making a movie in "a really sparse style," according to Coppola. "[He wanted] to do it in a simple way, using natural light." They looked at iconic LA movies -- Coppola really wanted to capture the feel of an LA movie. Oddly enough, though, Savides has just finished shooting "Greenberg" for Noah Baumbach, which also took place in modern-day Los Angeles. The two films "look different" though, according to Coppola. "It's cool that he could find such a different way to shoot both of them."

The conclusion to "Somewhere," while somewhat open to interpretation, does end on a hopeful note for the lead character: "Yeah, the end of the film was supposed to be a beginning of a new chapter in his life so it was sort of a metaphor for a certain lifestyle in his Château. He’s sort of leaving that life behind and starting something new," Coppola said. "I wanted it to be a hopeful note, a positive that he’s changing, but I did want to leave it to the audience to think about what specifics." She says even though the film is set in a very specific place, the themes are universal and "everyone can relate to the moments in your life when you have to decide what kind of person you’re going to be and which way you’re life’s going to go, it doesn’t matter that… it’s not exclusive [to] Hollywood."

Coppola, for now, is excited that the film is finally coming out, since it's been doing the festival circuit for a while. She was surprised and happy with the film's win at Venice this year (it took home the Golden Lion), and shrugged off any backlash that it was due to good friend Quentin Tarantino being head of the jury. Now that it is finally hitting US screens she wants to get back to writing again, but as yet isn't sure what her next project will be.

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More: Films, Actors, Somewhere, Stephen Dorff

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