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Into the Library with Roman Coppola


The legendary director and founder of The Directors Bureau speaks to LBB’s Addison Capper about working with Spike Jonze on Fatboy Slim ‘Praise You’, his collabs with Jason Schwartzman, and how music videos defined him as a filmmaker

Into the Library with Roman Coppola

'The Creative Library' is LBB’s exciting new launch. It’s been months - years, probably - in the making and we reckon our re-tooled archive will change the way you work, whether you’re a company looking to store and share your work, or a marketer or creative looking for new partners or inspiration for your latest project.

This isn’t a dusty old archive. It’s an easy-to-search, paywall-free library where all our members can store and share all of their reels and creative work.

To coincide, we launched regular feature called ‘Into the Library’ where we catch up with the industry’s most influential directors and creatives to talk about their career highlights, past and present. Think of it as a reel showcase with a big dollop of personality. We interview directors and top creatives about their favourite commercials and music videos from their catalogues to find out how these works shaped them.

In the hot seat today, we are thrilled to welcome Roman Coppola, a director who needs little introduction. As a movie writer, producer and director, he is known for his work on the likes of The French Dispatch, Darjeeling Limited and Moonrise Kingdom. 

But as the founder of The Directors Bureau, he is also a keen custodian of commercials and music videos. He delves into the ones that mean most to him with LBB’s Addison Capper. 

Spring Summer - Oh Brother (2021)

This was a video I shot for my wife’s musical project Spring Summer. I tried to think of something ambitious, but something that we could still pull off in the thick of ‘shelter in place’ at the height of covid. I had a notion for a somewhat elaborate horror-themed story and decided that animation was the only feasible approach.
Most of the video was shot with just my wife and me using my iPhone (shooting four frames a second), and the band footage was a little micro-shoot at our office in LA against a blue screen. Jason [Schwartzman] makes a cameo playing the keyboards.
I enlisted the help of some wonderful colleagues at The Directors Bureau who were able to do the tinting, the cutting and pasting and the rotoscoping. They helped to really define the look and do the colour concepting of the piece.
One shot I’m proud of is in the beginning where you see my wife rising up out of a coffin. Since I was shooting by myself, I had her lay on the ground and then shot her from a low angle, then I got up on a step stool and went overhead to sort of simulate the perspective of her rising up. I love using all these camera tricks I learned in some of my early work on 'Bram Stoker’s Dracula', and I enjoy making work that is a bit theatrical. The spooky theme allowed my imagination to run free.

Paul McCartney - Find My Way (2020)

There are few artists in the world as significant as Paul McCartney, so this one was a real privilege. This was another covid video, so I had to figure out a concept which would work to shoot remotely as I couldn’t be physically present during lockdown.
The song was a single from McCartney III, in which he played all of the instruments himself. The record is very intimate, so I arrived at this notion that we could shoot him using an array of security cameras set up in his home studio where he actually made the record.
We found this cluster of high-quality security cameras that had pan, tilt and zoom functions, and we bought 50 of them and shipped them all to England. It was a bit stressful getting them through customs in time, and then remotely guiding the team in England with installing them and programming them. We had a map of his studio and we peppered the cameras everywhere, allowing us to get all kinds of shots in really unique positions that captured small details: one camera was by the bass drum pedal, one by the harpsichord, one next to the bass amp, and so on.
I woke up at I think three in the morning and remotely directed him in England. I was actually able to control the pan tilt zoom on the cameras with the help of a camera tech colleague who was in New York. One challenge was that we had footage from 50 cameras rolling constantly over the course of the day, so just ingesting the sheer amount of footage into our computers for dailies was a challenge.
Looking back on it, it was all pretty futuristic and exciting to be able to make something across the world and yet having it feel so intimate.

Chanel - A Day with Vittoria Ceretti - Métiers d'Art (2020)

Documentary is a form I haven’t really worked in much but enjoy. With any project, there’s always a vision or path which guides you, and then you have to use your intuition and sense of discovery to see what unfolds on the day—this is particularly what defines documentaries and it’s always a deep adventure to go on that ride...
Sofia [Coppola] is very connected with Chanel and was advising on their fashion show, so we had some incredible access and it was fun to see the Chanel operation from the inside.

I chose to approach the film as a portrait of Vittoria Ceretti, the face of Chanel and a very charismatic and charming young lady. We spent the day of the show with her and a very small crew, and I had the privilege of working with Jim Fealy, an icon in the world of cinematography. (He came out of retirement for the shoot.)

We shot with digital cameras but used some older lenses which gave it a unique feel, and we went about it in classic documentary style—more handheld, more available light, more found photography, and generally less crafted, which through Jim’s talents and eye had a feel that was very appealing to me.

I also had a little Sony camera as a backup that I could fit in my pocket. At a certain point, due to the very strict security measures, I ended up backstage but my producer, my focus puller, and all the support crew couldn’t get access. For whatever reason, I didn’t have my cell phone or any other means of communication, so there were a couple of hours where I was shooting solo material by myself on this little handheld prosumer camera. It was stressful at first, but then it became this wonderful, distinctive experience, different from a formal shoot where you have an extended team. I was able to let go and just wander around, capturing moments that spoke to me, and so much of the footage that ended up in the film was just from me walking around with that small handheld camera.

Microsoft - Wedding (2013)

This was a shoot in which I had a really great rapport with the agency creatives, and I remember that strong sense of collaboration and the great benefit of feeling trusted and empowered to be inventive and take chances.
There are certain things that I'm drawn to in the work I've done, especially in commercials—one is dance, one is stunts, and one is a sort of playful, slightly wacky sense of humour.
The stunts in this spot were supervised by a longtime collaborator, Eddie Braun. He brought in his team of experts and it was fun to learn about certain martial arts techniques. Another striking stunt we performed was a ratchet pull yanking a character across the floor.
One of my favourite aspects of what I do is the casting process, and on this project we had such a wonderful, diverse group of performers who I have come to rely on time and time again on several other projects since. 

Intel and W Hotels - Die Again, Undead One (2012)

This is one of my personal favourites. It’s a project we did in collaboration with Intel, W Hotels and Vice. They were rather open, and they said do something stimulating and funny, whatever you think is best.
This was an interesting project for me in that I had a sense of what was going to unfold, but I didn’t have a script and I wanted to be a little bit open to risk. My cousin Jason [Schwartzman] did me the favour of participating, so we sort of cooked up the fundamental ideas together and I told my producers what I needed: a sushi chef, a trumpet player, and a vampire. I would become the central character, a kind of outrageous version of myself, and improvise as I went along. The night before, I sketched some approximate dialogue out, but because Jason and I are so close and enjoy working with each other so much, we were able to riff and find the piece as we shot.
I have to compliment my producer Ben [Gilovitz], who really pulled it off wonderfully, acting on the little information I furnished him. In fact, he's in the spot as one of the hustlers with Jason on Santa Monica Boulevard.
It’s so easy to look back at things you did in the past and cringe a bit, but upon rewatching this, it made me smile. I’m not so at ease as an actor, but just jumping in as best I could and painting this wacky portrait of myself is a nice memory to visit, especially since I have this deep affection and regard for my co-star Jason. It was a fun dive into the unknown.

The New Yorker - A New Day Is Dawning (2010)

This was a wonderful project that a creative named Scott Dadich approached me with. It was to promote The New Yorker’s iPad app, and since Jason and I had friends at the magazine, we agreed to be a part of it. We did this for under $10,000 I recall, and it’s another example of a project Jason and I did in an improvisational mode, very informally, in a ‘make it happen in the moment’ kind of way.
Sometimes, a project tends towards a lot of discussion, meetings, and supervision, but in this instance, it was just, ‘Do your best. We’re grateful for you.’
We went to Jason’s home and just started shooting these different little scenarios we made up on the spot: him taking a shower, or waking up in bed, him on the couch naked—but really, we just riffed. Again, this is special to me as Jason and I have this wonderful, easy rapport where we can just get playful as we try a bunch of ideas.
It’s a nice reminder that there doesn’t have to always be rules and preparation. Sometimes if you have the invitation to do your best on the spot, you can make enduring work that’s unique and inventive.

Stella Artois - Le Apartomatic (2010)

Wes [Anderson] was unable to travel for this project, so I was in Prague to supervise the production and we collaborated through FaceTime and extensive email communication. Watching this spot again after the passage of time, it brought back very fond memories and how unique it was to work remotely in pre-covid times.
By shooting in Prague, our budget was amplified, allowing us to build a rather elaborate set. Many film set craftsmen use wood for construction and fake some of the details through theatre-craft, but in this instance the set was built of steel and the mechanisms such as the trap doors and spinning couches actually functioned as portrayed in the film.
Wes really has a knack for detail, and he guided every little nuance—from the way the leather outfit was tailored, to the actress’ hair and clothing. For my part, I tried to guide the team to execute things as close to the intended vision as possible.
A highlight was Rodolphe Pauly, the main actor. He’s a wonderfully eccentric performer and he always has surprising instincts. He would make these faces and react in a way that only he could. If you look at some of Wes’ recent films, he’s been featured in supporting roles. He’s also a filmmaker in his own right, and I would encourage anyone drawn to him to go look up some of the other films he’s done personally as he’s made some really wacky, imaginative films.
A funny little personal anecdote I have from this shoot is that my wife lent her bracelet for an insert shot. She had this very nice bracelet that I think I got her as a gift, which you can see when the young lady is flipping all the buttons. That was the last time we saw it, as it got lost after the shoot, so whenever I watch the film, I think, ‘Oh there’s Jenny’s bracelet!’

Phoenix - Funky Squaredance (2001)

This video has an important place in my body of work, and it was done for my now brother-in-law, Thomas Mars, the singer of Phoenix, who is married to my sister Sofia.
I really admired them, and I wanted to do something they would be pleased with, but the budget was very low, and the song itself is quite long and elaborate, so this made it all the more challenging.
These constraints invited me to get a little wild, and I tried thinking of how to make something in a new way. I used text and I told the story of how I conceived the idea and the act of making it, and I even tell a little story of how I came to learn about Phoenix.
I think it was informed by my love of video art that I was exposed to growing up in the ‘70s in San Francisco. This early exposure showed me that short videos as a form could be full of concepts and ideas, and more than just entertainment.
It really was a shift for me, and I feel like I really defined who I am as a video maker. It was done around 2000 so it's now falling into the past but is something that still means a lot to me, and probably the video I'm the most proud of.

Fatboy Slim - Praise You (1998)

This was another very fun video and only possible because of the new availability of diminutive, high-quality cameras.
Spike [Jonze] was quite busy at the time, so he asked me if we could do this together. He had been doing these kind of wacky spontaneous dances and the idea unfolded to teach a troupe of dancers a routine and do an unexpected public performance.
We cast the dancers from headshots, and I remember we chose the people whose faces we liked. Spike defined all the moves in one spontaneous moment, which we recorded, then Michael Rooney, the choreographer, became the coach to teach the routine to the cast, who weren’t dancers.
An interesting story to share is that we initially shot this at the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica. We had our little guerrilla group of five or six cameras, and we all hid and captured the dance routine. It kind of fell flat, and there were some passers-by that observed and were amused, but they didn’t really care, simply because there are so many oddballs and eccentrics habitually around the promenade. I remember being in the van after we shot it, and people saying, “Hey, we did it! Congratulations!” And Spike and I looked at each other and he asked me, “Did it work?” And I was like, “You know what? It didn’t really work. It just kind of happened.”
So, we decided to go to Westwood, by the movie theatre, and do it again. We got some pushback from our producer because we didn’t have permits, but we decided to do it anyway. It just so happened that as we pulled up and set up, the line of the theatre was starting to go in. We put our little boom box out there, and I think we surprised people so much, especially the management, that they didn't quite know what to do but accept it.
Luckily, it ignited and a moment just happened. All the people passing by or going into the theatre got really into it and started cheering. It was over in 15 minutes. We split, and then we knew we had something. It’s a thing that you can't plan for, only hope for, you know?
The lesson I learned was to be really trusting of your intuition. When we felt like it didn't work, we listened to that, instead of just saying, ‘well, we did our best’, and we tried again. Sure enough, it was quite successful and appreciated, and we won some MTV Awards. I’m really grateful that we had the presence of mind to go to Westwood and just try one more time. 

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The Directors Bureau, Tue, 18 Apr 2023 21:00:00 GMT