“I’m a California Girl at Heart”: The Places that Inspire Gia Coppola

Gia Coppola for The AlbumPhotography by Jonas Unger, courtesy of mytheresa.com

As she stars on the cover of new print publication The Album, the filmmaker and photographer reveals the locations that have shaped her and sparked her dreamy, sundrenched aesthetic

Gia Coppola is a California girl born and bred, and refers to herself as such. She grew up in bustling environs of Los Angeles, paying regular visits to the film sets of her grandfather, Francis Ford Coppola, and later her aunt, Sofia. Holidays were spent in Napa Valley, at Inglenook – an historic mansion, purchased by Francis and his wife Eleanor in 1973, following the success of The Godfather. The elegant 19th-century house is surrounded by acres and acres of verdant vineyards – the source of Francis’ now-famous winery – and made for an idyllic playground for his young granddaughter. Coppola describes the country retreat as the first place to have captured her imagination as a child – “just being alone in nature, reading a book or jumping on the trampoline”.

Coppola’s teenage years, meanwhile, were spent engaging in the usual adolescent pursuits – cruising around Los Angeles and its outskirts in her mother’s old Mercedes and hanging out with her friends in carparks for want of somewhere better to go. Such moments would later weave their way into her accomplished debut feature, 2013’s Palo Alto, a dreamlike homage to teenage ennui and the reckless exploits it so often inspires. The film was based on James Franco’s collection of short stories of the same name, set in the wealthy California suburb where the actor and writer grew up. Due to budget restrictions, however, Coppola shot the film in Napa Valley, making use of readily available locations like her teenage bedroom, complete with The Virgin Suicides poster. “I figured Napa Valley was similar to suburban life in Palo Alto,” she tells AnOther. “James also told me a lot about what Palo Alto was like for him and we decided the story was more about the emotions than the actual place. The title is really meant as a reflection that you can be anywhere and still feel the same things or relate to the characters.”

The film – with its beguiling cinematography and languorous yet poignant encapsulation of youthful desires and disillusions – proved Coppola a natural heir to her family’s filmmaking talent. Nevertheless, she duly earned her stripes before shooting, studying photography at New York’s Bard College before expanding her practice to include filmmaking. Her first endeavours were short fashion films made for the likes of Opening Ceremony and Rodarte, and she continues to traverse the boundaries of art and fashion today. Last year, for instance, she collaborated with Gucci for an exhibition of sundrenched photographs inspired by Peter Weir’s sumptuously shot drama Picnic at Hanging Rock, and she also features in Rodarte’s A/W18 lookbook – a series of portraits of inspiring women. Most recently, she appears as the cover star of The Album – a new print publication from luxury online fashion retailer mytheresa – starring in an intimate photo story by one of her favourite photographers, Jonas Unger, who followed her round her native LA for one week for the purpose. 

Now 31, Coppola is currently working on her anticipated second feature, The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll, a biopic detailing the tragic life of children’s author Dare Wright. Here, as The Album launcheswe catch up with the talented creative to hear more about the places that have shaped her, and where she goes for inspiration.

How would you say Los Angeles has made its way into your work?
Gia Coppola: I guess I’m a California girl at heart. It’s not intentional that my work reflects that, it’s just where I’m based so those are the locations that I use. But that being said, I do have a love and fascination with the history and soul of LA.

What was it like living in New York as a student? Why did you choose to study there?
I think it’s important to venture out of your comfort zone, to try living in new places. I knew of Stephen Shore’s work and that he taught at Bard – so I followed that. He taught me to love learning and to keep my eyes open because there’s inspiration in everything. New York though isn’t for me – I need more palm trees in my life.

Do you think you would have connected to Palo Alto as a story as deeply if you didn't have such a strong identification with California life?
I always felt the story was more about universal emotions of being young and we feel these things no matter where we live.

Where’s your favourite holiday destination to relax and why?
Napa Valley. I love to be with my family. It’s very peaceful and private there.

Where’s your favourite holiday destination for culture and why?
I’ve only been to Cuba once but I was so enamoured with it. You really felt a sense of community and vibrancy that was exciting.

What’s at the top of your dream “to visit” list?
I’d like to go to Mexico City.

Is there a particular place where you work most effectively?
It’s always so frustrating, I haven’t figured out a good routine. I’ve read a lot about how other writers worked and try to mimic it but nothing ever works for me. I’m constantly moving around and then usually end up being happy just sitting in my bed.

Where’s your favourite place to go to feel inspired?
Driving around, listening to music.

The Album, by mytheresa.com, is out now.

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