In “Lost in Translation,” writer and director Sofia Coppola wanted a “preppy” and “well-educated” protagonist, so she chose Yale as the character’s alma mater. But while Scarlett Johansson’s character in the film was a graduate of what Coppola called an “impressive” university, yesterday marked Coppola’s first visit to Yale’s campus.
Film enthusiasts and members of the Yale community gathered in the Levinson Auditorium of Yale Law School Tuesday afternoon to hear Coppola at a Chubb Fellowship question-and-answer session mediated by Whitney Humanities Center director Maria Rosa Menocal. Coppola, a Golden Globe and Oscar winner for Best Original Screenplay for “Lost In Translation” in 2004 and the first female American director nominated for an Oscar, discussed a wide range of topics, from her views on filmmaking to her experience working with various famous actors.
Coppola spent most of the session describing her work on “Lost in Translation,” which starred Bill Murray and Johansson.
“Tokyo was definitely a place where I wanted to do a movie,” Coppola said. “I started with that and based it on time I’d spent there … I wanted the movie to be romantic but not sexual. It was meant to be innocent and fun.”
Yale students posed questions about making movies and the screen writing process. Coppola said editing is the “best part of filmmaking,” with shooting being fun yet exhausting, and pre-production being the hardest and the most worrying.
“Writer’s block is the worst, but procrastination is part of the writing process,” Coppola said. “For me, it’s always hard.”
She encouraged aspiring filmmakers to follow their interests and experiment.
“Make something you want to see,” she said. “Now that there are video cameras, it’s easy to get together with friends and make things you’re into. Also, take an acting class.”
Coppola also commented on the recent mainstream infatuation with independent films, noting that they can now be a “cliche that people are just trying to get business from.” She said she was personally motivated to create independent movies so she could hold the freedom of casting and editing with her own vision.
In 2004, Coppola’s vision received recognition at the Academy Awards.
“It was really surreal to be there, but it was exciting,” she said. “I never expected to be in a setting like that because of a personal little movie we made.”
During the talk, Coppola compared her method of filmmaking to that of her father, Francis Ford Coppola — director of “The Godfather” series — noting her more feminine point of view.
“I learned a lot from watching my dad,” she said. “He’s bigger and louder. I’m soft-spoken on set.”
Under the direction of her father, Coppola made an appearance in “The Godfather III,” where she received mouth-to-mouth resuscitation from Al Pacino.
“He had eaten a lot of garlic,” she joked.
Coppola’s upcoming projects include “Marie-Antoinette,” starring Kirsten Dunst and Coppola’s cousin, Jason Schwartzman. The film is now in post-production and due for release in 2006.
“Antonia Fraser’s book about her got me interested in the subject,” Coppola said. “I’ve never done a period movie.”
The audience, consisting of Yale students, faculty and Chubb Fellowship affiliates, were able to ask about 60 questions to Coppola.
“It was great that she came here,” Mike Drapala ’08 said. “She had a lot of interesting things to say, and she was very mellow.”
John Errico ’08 said he appreciated her words to those interested in creating movies.
“She gave a lot of practical advice in filmmaking and writing,” Errico said. “It was interesting to see a filmmaker not so much into film theory but concentrating on the actual act of filmmaking.”
Tiffany Pham ’08 said she appreciated Coppola’s openness.
“What I found most fascinating was that her personality came out,” Pham said. “She was sweet and soft-spoken, and what I liked most was how down-to-earth and unintimidating she was.”
The Chubb Fellowship is a program sponsored by Timothy Dwight College which honors three or four distinguished men and women every year. Chubb Fellows visit Yale to provide close interaction in a public lecture with students.