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Q&A: Sofia Coppola on The Virgin Suicides

Prominent directors discuss their breakthroughs in this weekend's "First Time Fest"

The Virgin Suicides
By Joshua Rothkopf |
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This weekend, a new NYC film festival, "First Time Fest," makes its debut. It's a showcase devoted to the movie director's first outing—as scary and euphoric as that can be. One sidebar, "First Exposure," invites prominent directors to discuss their breakthroughs. Among this year's guests is Sofia Coppola, who will present 1999's The Virgin Suicides. We reached her by email.

How thoroughly did making "Lick the Star," your 1998 short film, prepare you for directing a feature? And did your earlier work as an actor give you insight into how a director is supposed to behave on a set?
Making "Lick the Star" helped me think that directing was something I could do, which was a nice surprise. I had been on film sets all my life, but actually making one gave me the feeling that this was something I loved. And being in front of the camera helped me to be sensitive to actors—to appreciate how vulnerable you can be.

You adapted the screenplay for The Virgin Suicides yourself—and you've written all your subsequent films. How important to you is doing the scripts?
To me, it's part of making a film: dreaming up in your mind the movie you want to make. That's the starting point for me. I've never worked from someone else's script. I don't know if I'd know how to approach that.
 
Did you do anything on the set of Virgin Suicides that you regret now?
I definitely learned a lot and I'm sure I made mistakes. I remember the worst part was that we didn't have a lot of money budgeted for film stock, so the producers were always freaking out that I was doing these long takes of the girls hanging out in their bedroom. I guess that isn't an issue these days!

Was there anything about the job you didn't expect?

I remember how depressed I was after seeing the first rough cut. My dad had prepared me by telling me a movie's never as bad as the first rough cut. But mine was so bad, and I thought I had let everyone down who had helped me make it. And I didn't know how hard it was to shoot in a moving car. You don't think about these things when you're writing and I remember vowing to not do it again. But now, of course, I've done it a bunch.
 
Was there a moment after The Virgin Suicides was finished when you realized you were suddenly a real director?
Going to Cannes' Directors Fortnight and having the French press be so positive was exciting. For them to see me as having my own voice—and not just the "kid of"—helped me to continue.

The Virgin Suicides
screens Fri 1 at 8pm at Loews Village VII. Click here for tickets

Read our First Time Fest Q&A with The Unbelievable Truth's Hal Hartley

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