ED- The Eerie Digest is most humbled to introduce Producer Christopher Coppola to all our readers. Christopher, you are part of the most prestigious Hollywood family today that includes such names as Francis Ford Coppola, Nicolas Cage, and Sophia Coppola, and you are a well known producer and director in your own right. We understand that an early age your first foray into filmmaking was by creating films, starring your brother Nicolas Cage, with a Super 8 camera. Please tell us about this time in your life.
CC- Yes, there is a lot of talent in the Coppola family. I look at myself as the Coppola who makes drive-in genre movies as well as educational entertainment. My father was great educator, so I sorta combine a bit of my father and a bit of my uncle. When I was little, my brothers and I had to deal with a mother who was mentally ill. Our childhood was rough. I would do puppet shows, radio shows, rigged séances and super 8 films with my brother Nicolas as a form of escape. Some of our early Super 8 films were “The Unknown Circus”—a little circus appears at a foggy park. There’s a love triangle. My brother plays the jealous clown who kills the tightrope walker. Another film was “Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva” an animated spiritual dance flick and my favorite film was about Theseus wandering in the labyrinth searching for the minotaur and in the end finding himself. When my mother was institionalized my father took over raising us. That’s when we were schooled in the arts.
ED- As a teenager you also apprenticed to Composer Carmine Coppola for the movie ‘Apocalypse Now’ and went on to study music at the Redlands University. Please tell our readers about your studies and accomplishments there.
CC- During post production phase on “Apocalypse Now”, I tooled around with my grandfather helping him to write out parts. I enjoyed watching his score come to life electronically through various synthesizers and the Steiner electric trumpet. That was cool. It was the only time I actually dealt with my grandfather musically. He had the attitude that there could only be one composer in the family. I actually went on to compose myself. I was composer Barney Childs’ 16 year old protégé at the University of Redlands…I left high school because I couldn’t stand it. While studying with Barney, I wrote my experimental opera “Plato’s Cave” and my Dylan Thomas motet for wind quartet and percussion. I was very prolific, yet my grandfather never listened to any of it. Film composer David Shire, who was married to Tally, my aunt, at the time and composed the haunting piano score for Francis’s “The Conversation” did actually listen to my music. He said my music was neo-impressionistic. He couldn’t understand why Carmine wouldn’t listen. The egos in the Coppola family are huge probably another reason why there are a lot of successful Coppola’s. Everyone wants to be the top creative dog. Have their day in the spotlight.
CC In a nutshell, it is about Dracula’s widow searching for the descendants of Van Helsing to kill them. I wanted to make it arty though. I was a bit of a pretentious bohemian artist type fresh out of art school at the time. Dino DeLaurentis was the executive producer and I told him I was going to make a color noir film for him. I designed my shots after the EC morality comics which made use of the “God’s POV” and “Rat’s POV” but all he really wanted was “watermelons,” which meant big boobs. I was horrified. Now that I’m older I would have given him more “watermelons” in exchange for more art. As long as a genre film of this type delivers on the sex and violence front, a director can be as creative as he/she wants.
CC- I am really tired of talking about the whole “Deadfall” experience. The budget went from 8 million dollars to 3 million. Val Kilmer walked. We still had to pay the big names in the cast their big bucks, so my actual production budget was under a million. Never make a low-budget film with stars. They will do what they want regardless of what you tell them. They feel they are doing you a favor. I’d rather work with unknowns and so-called “has-beens.” I did “Red Dog” right after Mr. Kilmer left the show. I was depressed obviously. This project fell into my lap. I was able to keep the “Deadfall” crew together to shoot “Red Dog” while figuring out how to make the low-budget version of “Deadfal”l (something I wished I never did). In the end, I prefer my little film “Red Dog” over “Deadfall.”
ED- Two years later you ventured into television and directed a segment of ‘America’s Most Wanted: America Fights Back’. Tell us about this episode and it’s lead, John Walsh.
CC- I actually didn’t direct that AMW feature film. I directed 8 reenactment episodes, one of which apparently is Mr. Walsh’s favorite. I liked doing these because I felt I was doing a public service while honing my craft. I learned a lot.
ED- For the following two years you directed seven episodes of the TV show ‘Bone Chillers’, followed by one of ‘The Journey of Allen Strange’. Please give us the theme for these shows and how you interacted with the cast and crews for them.
CC- I only did one episode of Bone Chillers, the Werewolf episode.
ED- We then found you back on the movie set behind the camera for the films ‘Gunfighter’, ‘Palmer’s Pick Up’, and ‘Bel Air’. Please tell our readers all about these and also about your company, Plaster City Productions.
CC- I was really tired working in the Hollywood system. With the help of my producing partner Alain Silver, I made three independent films through my own “mom & pop” production company. I had total control and I liked it.
ED- Between 2000 and 2002 you directed episodes of two television series, ‘I survived’ and ‘100 Deeds for Eddie McDowd’, and the film ‘G Men From Hell’. Tell us about these productions and how you developed them.
CC- Tommy Lynch, a top children’s entertainment producer, was a fan of my guerilla action style he saw in my America’s Most Wanted episodes. He also liked the fact that I came out feature filmmaking, not television, so he brought me in as one of his episodic directors for all of his shows—”Journey of Allen Strange,” “Eddie McDowd, “and “The Jersey.” I really enjoyed working with kids and the close-knit circus family feeling of the tv crew. Tommy was definitely a champion of mine. I know there was an exec at Disney who didn’t like me or my style for some reason. Tommy wouldn’t get rid of me. In return, I arranged to shoot a huge fireball explosion in one of the “The Jersey” episodes…something Tommy always wanted. We’re both pyros. I love the 4th of July for obvious reasons. I was a work for hire on “G-Men From Hell.” I remember an agent telling me it was a cheesy story about two FBI agents who come back from hell to solve a mystery. They told me Robert Goulet was set to play the devil. ‘Nuf said, I was the man for the job. It’s a fun film. Michael Allred who created the characters in famous “Mad Men” comics was pleased with it. That meant something to me.
ED- You produced the films ‘White Nights’ and ‘The Creature of the Sunny Side Up Trailer Park’ in 2005 and 2006. What were these about and who were some of the actors in them.
CC- White Nights was a low-budget digital flick written and directed by Alain Silver. I put my name on it. Creature is one of my favorite CRC films which I actually both produced (along with Alain) and directed. It was one of the first state of the art HD productions. I like to start with a philosophical question in all my work. For Creature it was ” Can you ever know what is inside a monster?” It’s a story of two racist twin brothers, one black and one white, who have to learn to work together to defeat a monster. The monster turns out to have a little boy inside him. The idea being that even a racist was once an innocent little boy, but ignorance and influence can turn you into anything. I had my wife write the scrupt based on my idea. She was writing Childrens books at the time, I thought she would keep the child like innocence I was looking for. Obviously, I added all the gruff stuff later. It is quite funny as well. I’ve been told that people have a hard time understanding my work because my comedy and drama are so intertwined…they don’t know what kind of movie I made. Comedy and Tragedy are really intertwined to me. Creature is not really a horror film, but an epic drive-in fable with a message. Working with legendary tv stars, Frank Gorshin, Shirley Jones, Lynda Carter and Bernie Kopel was a real honor. Like I said, I enjoy working with great talent from yesteryear.
ED- This past year you produced five episodes of the television series ‘Digivangelist’. How did this differ from your earlier works?
CC- We did 8 episodes. We are gearing up for another 8. We start shooting this month. The Digivangelist show is a reality show with heart. It is the perfect blend of education and entertainment. I believe the digital arena should always be used as a tool for people to tap into the creative process and share their stories and voices with the rest of the world. Digital empowerment to bring us closer together. I worry that there is a danger our kids will be forever plugged into the digital technology (virtual video games, etc). I want them remain in charge, learn to use a cell phone as paint brush. I also want the elders not to be afraid of the new digital arena. I want them to learn how to use it so they can share their wisdom which our youth needs. Old School is terrified of New School and New School cares less about Old School. I want to heal that with the help of the digital arena.
CC- I will carry on with The DigiVangelist while developing other “reality shows with heart” Shows that cheer people for succeeding, not shows that laugh at people for failing, which is all too familiar with reality shows today. I will continue building my non-profit PAH NATION which travels the world to give hands on training to the “everyday person” so they can tell their stories via digital video. PAH stands for Project Accessible Hollywood. I am the most accessible Coppola in the entertainment business and love celebrating my fellow man, and showing “everyday people” they are celebrities as well.. I am currently working closely with the Shriners to develop a family entertainment that will help them raise money for the incredible medical treatment they do for our wounded and handicapped children in their amazing hospitals. We are gearing up to make a film on a real American hero Ted Williams, who was not only the greatest hitter of all time, but a war hero.. I think our kids should know who he is after the whole steroid era in sports. I also plan on doing a slate of low budget 3D movies in which grad students can work with professionals learning the trade. One of the first will be ‘Biker Macbeth” in which I will be directing and starring. A lot of people feel I am good in front of the camera and should do some acting. So I am going for it. Let’s see what happens.
ED- Christopher it is a true honor to have you interview with us and I am sure that many of our readers, and your fans, have loved to learn all about you. We sincerely want to thank you for your time for this interview with The Eerie Digest, and ask you to promise to keep our magazine, and it’s readers, up to date with all that you do.