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Sofia Coppola in Beverly Hills, Calif., last month. (Damian Dovarganes/AP)
Sofia Coppola in Beverly Hills, Calif., last month. (Damian Dovarganes/AP)

Johanna Schneller: Fame Game

Who is Sofia Coppola? Add to ...

Somewhere Else

Fade In:

EXT - DAY. Camera holds still on a dusty, flat landscape, featureless but for a circle of road. The sound of a powerful engine comes in from the left. A black sports car roars by. It rounds a bend and disappears. The engine sound dies down. Then it comes up again. The car roars by again. It disappears again. This goes on for a while, seven laps, or 12. Maybe more.

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CUT TO:

INT: MOVIE THEATRE - DAY. A female JOURNALIST sits watching Somewhere, the new film written and directed by SOFIA COPPOLA. The Journalist admires Coppola's films - The Virgin Suicides, Marie Antoinette, Lost in Translation - especially the latter. Coppola's life sounds enviable: 39, mother to two little girls, lives in Paris and New York with French rock musician Thomas Mars, and is part of a Hollywood dynasty that includes her father, the director Francis Ford Coppola; her cousins, the actors Jason Schwartzman and Nicolas Cage; and her ex-husband, the director Spike Jonze. The Journalist considers Coppola an artist, though stronger on mood than story. This opinion is not dispelled by the car scene above, which goes on so long that the Journalist has time to think, "Okay, I get it: We're going nowhere, fast," plus time to ponder, "What should I ask Coppola in our interview?" and, "This year I should finally pay my taxes on time," and, "I wonder if the universe cares whether I lose 10 pounds or not?" plus time to spare.

CUT TO:

VARIOUS INT'S AND EXT'S. Gradually, in lingering scenes, several of them silent, Coppola reveals that the hero of Somewhere, Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff), is a bad-boy movie star between jobs; that he lives in the iconic Chateau Marmont hotel on L.A.'s Sunset Strip; and that despite unlimited access to groupies, drugs, twin strippers, and other lavish treats, he does not really occupy his life. Until a visit from his lovely daughter (Elle Fanning) shakes him from his inertia.

CUT TO:

INT: BASEMENT OFFICE - DAY. The Journalist sits at her cluttered desk mulling over Somewhere, which she thinks could have be called Anything or simply Hmmm. She wishes Coppola had meted out a little more information - Is Marco a good actor? Was he always callow, or did fame make him so? - so she could care about him less abstractly. But she grasps what Coppola is exploring: the soul-dulling nature of celebrity. She thinks of other recent movies - Teenage Paparazzo, I'm Still Here - that do the same, and wonders, does the "fame" of the Jersey Shore cast and their ilk make everyone's blood run as cold as hers? Are cautionary tales about celebrity the new black?

The phone RINGS. It's Coppola. She's staying at the Marmont. Her voice is flat, teenagerish, with no inflection or affect. All her sentences are about the same length. She answers questions without elaboration. The Journalist suddenly sees that Coppola's scripts are so spare not because she's "arty," but because this is the way her mind works. "Oh," the Journalist thinks. "I better write some dialogue."

JOURNALIST: What compelled you to tell Marco's story?

COPPOLA: I was living in Paris and looking at L.A. from a distance, looking at how it was the same and different from when I lived here.

Coppola pauses. The Journalist waits for her to finish the thought, then realizes it is finished.

JOURNALIST: What did you find?

COPPOLA: Just more and more pop culture fascination. I was curious to look at the other side of celebrity culture. This character came to mind.

Pause.

JOURNALIST: Isn't your minimalist approach risky in today's market?

COPPOLA: As a creative person you want to push yourself to do things that are less typical. I'm aware that most movies today have more action and quicker pacing. I thought this style suited getting into the head of this character. I was trying to do an intimate portrait where you felt you were really alone with him. Shot in the pace of his frame of mind.

Gradually, over more questions and silences, Coppola reveals the following: She likes flawed characters, yet had faith that Dorff's "sweetness would come through." Fanning, who is "sweet and charming," took ice skating lessons before school every morning for weeks to learn the routine she performs on screen. The twin strippers in the movie, who live at Hugh Hefner's mansion, are "so sweet."

Stubbornly, perhaps foolishly, the Journalist tries for that interview Holy Grail, an anecdote. She asks about the Chateau Marmont. The hotel is a character in Somewhere, full of glamour, vice and mystery, populated by singing waiters, languid models doing photo shoots, and misbehaving entourages. The Journalist loves the place. She once stayed down the hall from investigative journalist Dominick Dunne, who was living there while covering the O.J. Simpson trial. She's also done many interviews there, Nicole Kidman in the lobby bar, Kirsten Dunst by the pool.

Coppola rewards her with her most thorough answers yet: The Marmont doesn't allow much filming, but since she's been hanging out there since her 20s, they agreed. She had to "use a small crew, shoot with natural light, be discreet and not interrupt what was going on at the hotel." They couldn't use trucks; they had to camp out on the floor where they shot. During one scene, where Marco runs into Benicio Del Toro, filming was paused because in real life, Del Toro had run into Cameron Diaz.

COPPOLA: Everyone has a Chateau Marmont story.

JOURNALIST: What's yours?

COPPOLA: I stayed there during the Lost in Translation promotion. I met Helmut Newton in the elevator one morning. He's a big hero of mine. I left the hotel and came back a few hours later, and his car was crashed into the driveway wall. [It killed him.]So we put that into the movie.

This burst of information inspires the Journalist to ask one last question.

JOURNALIST: Lost in Translation, Marie Antoinette and now Somewhere are all about a famous person trapped in a beautiful cage. Why are you drawn to that story?

COPPOLA: I think a lot of creative people revisit certain themes. My work has themes of finding your identity and looking at yourself. They're about finding yourself in a setting that you didn't choose, and then what kind of person are you going to be? I don't know why that's interesting to me, it's just something on my mind.

Their time is up. They exchange goodbyes.

CLOSE ON: The journalist's tape recorder, still turning, recording silence.

 

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