Roman Coppola reclines in his chair in his cramped office at the Directors Bureau, the flourishing commercial and music video production company he co-founded with Mike Mills in 1996. He's discussing "CQ," his feature directing debut, which he calls a "first film about a first film" and "a big love letter to the cinema of the '60's."
"Largely it's meant to be a fun romp in that time and place and a chance as a first-time filmmaker to try a lot of stuff. I got to do a personal film, I got to do a car chase, I got to do a dramatic film," Coppola says. "And it is a little disjointed or crazy or whatever, but I think it celebrates that too."
"CQ," which opens Friday, follows Paul, a young American filmmaker played by Jeremy Davies, in Paris in 1969 as he edits a campy sci-fi spy flick titled "Dragonfly" by day and at night works on an intimate black-and-white documentary of his home life with his increasingly frustrated girlfriend, played by Elodie Bouchez ("The Dreamlife of Angels").
As Paul is drawn further into his work, reality and fantasy begin to blur. Long infatuated with the films, music and look of late 1960s Europe, Coppola suffuses "CQ" with nods to numerous films of the era, from kitsch like "Barbarella" to the poetic masterpieces of Federico Fellini and Jean-Luc Godard.
"CQ" "reeks of Roman," says Jason Schwartzman, Coppola's cousin, who plays a wunderkind director in the film. "He's always had a million fascinations, and he's found some way to put at least 2% of each of those fascinations in this film."
The Directors Bureau is housed just off of Hollywood Boulevard in an unmarked building, rumored to have once been Ed Wood's studio. A couple of dogs noisily roam the workplace, their barks and the adjoining office's phone conversations penetrating the thin walls.
Wearing a gray sports jacket and a light blue shirt, Coppola, 37, runs his hands through his hair and swivels in his seat as he ticks off some of the many films "CQ" references: "Modesty Blaise," "The 10th Victim," "THX-1138," "Diva," "Girl on a Motorcycle," "Last Tango in Paris," "Contempt."
Son of filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola and brother of director Sofia Coppola ("The Virgin Suicides"), Roman is a music video and commercials director, perhaps best known for the award-winning music video for Fatboy Slim's "Praise You," which featured Sofia's husband and "Being John Malkovich" director Spike Jonze.
Coppola has also directed videos for Moby, the Strokes, the Presidents of the United States, Wyclef Jean and Green Day (the Grammy-nominated "Walking Contradiction"). He has filmed eye-catching commercials for a slew of companies, among them the Gap, Levi's, ESPN and the Game Show Network.
Coppola had been wanting to direct a feature but hadn't found a project he felt would be distinctive. Because of his reputation and family name, he knew the film "would be examined more closely, and I wanted to really feel in my heart that it was something that only I could do, whether it was good or bad," he says.
He started with a title, "CQ"--Morse code for the phrase "seek you," a call for contact--a metaphor for trying to connect. Coppola was particularly inspired after watching the antic 1968 spy adventure "Danger: Diabolik" and thought it would be interesting to set a film in 1969 that imagined our present--at the time, the year 2000.
More ideas came from hearing his father's stories of working for Roger Corman in Europe in the 1960s, shooting extra footage to cut into films Corman had bought. "He was a young guy who got involved in this B-movie stuff, aspiring to do more personal type of work, but happily doing genre stuff," Coppola says of his father.
Coppola also found inspiration in what he calls "the sub-genre of artist-reflecting-on-their-life movies," films like "8 1/2," "Day for Night," "Stardust Memories" and "All That Jazz."
One other essential influence on "CQ" was the 1968 conceptual art film "David Holzman's Diary," a faux documentary account of a week in the life of a film student, which is a model for "69/70," the cinema verite film that "CQ's" Paul is making. L.M. Kit Carson, the actor who played David Holzman, appears in dream sequences of "CQ" as a dismissive film critic.
"It dawned on me that maybe I could make a movie that somehow was a fusion of those different types of movies I'm attracted to and somehow do it all--to make some kind of arty commercial film or commercial art film," Coppola says.
Targeting More Than Cinephiles
Despite "CQ's" film allusions, "I hope that it's appealing to not just cinephiles," he says. "It's filled with references and quotes, but it's meant to be taken as its own movie."
In the lead role of Paul, which he concedes some will see as his alter ego, Coppola cast Davies, whom he had first seen in "Spanking the Monkey." For the part of Felix DeMarco, a fun-loving, unwittingly arrogant hotshot director who is brought in to rework "Dragonfly," Coppola cast his cousin Schwartzman ("Rushmore").