Interview with Christopher Coppola
You grew up in a family with a long history in cinema. How did you realize that creating films was for you?
Growing up, my father, Dr. August Coppola, was my first mentor. He was a
literature professor and author and he ingrained in all his children an
artistic sensibility. He was also a student at UR for a semester back
in the day. He had me watching Griffith, Kurosawa and Fellini and
listening to Stravinsky, Bartok and Puccini by the time I was five. I
never really questioned whether or not I would choose an artistic path. I
was directing super 8 films at an early age with my brothers and
composing music for them.
One of my first experiences in the film industry was directing
“Dracula’s Widow” with Dino De Laurentiis. It was a hellish experience. I
was young and pretentious, a bit of a hothead. I learned some hard
lessons about the industry as well as myself. I am process oriented
which doesn’t always fit the Hollywood mold.
Since then I’ve produced, directed and written dozens of films and
television shows. Paying attention to detail and constructing a visual
dialog with the audience is my focus. For example, I directed a short
for America’s Most Wanted about mobsters in New York. I had a shot of a
man making a pizza. In the next scene he was serving the pizza to the
mobsters but instead of the usual toppings there were bullets and broken
gun parts. Visually I was trying to convey that to these hardened
criminals murder was just as easy as eating a slice of pizza. Sometimes
it’s hard to let an original idea come to fruition in Hollywood. Visual
literacy isn’t always practical or appreciated. I’ve been teaching what
I know to this new digital generation which is more visual and less
interested in the written word.
HD AMERICAN PORTRAITS from Christopher Coppola on Vimeo.
How did you decide to attend the UR?
While I was a student at Beverly Hills High School I saw a brochure for a
music summer camp at the University of Redlands. I had already been
making my own super 8 films and enjoyed writing music for them. I played
piano, violin and percussion and wanted to learn music composition. My
high school had a terrible music program so I signed up for the UR
summer music camp for kids. That’s where I met composition professor Dr.
Barney Childs, my second mentor. I loved the music camp so much that I
decided to leave high school early to enroll at the UR. With Barney’s
help I was able to attend the UR at the age of 16 ½. I will always have a
special place in my heart for Redlands. It’s beautiful in the autumn
when the leaves change color and there is a sense of poetic melancholy
in the air.
You entered the University of Redlands music program to pursue composition; which professors inspired you to succeed?
When I entered the music program at the UR I didn’t really fit in. I
sulked around in a red sweater and red sneakers and listened to only
classical music. I remember the bulldog “jocks” made fun of me. Being a
biker they wouldn’t do that now.
In those days I would take composition paper and hang it all around my
dorm room. One day I started drawing on it. I got the idea for a
composition called the “Jungle Quartet.” I had a vision of my father in
the middle of the jungle with a typewriter. He was tapping out a story
surrounded by nervous animals. As the story progressed the animals
happily joined in. The pictures I drew turned into notes and before long
I had a complete composition. Barney loved the piece and my creative
process. Under Barney’s tutelage as well as Dr. Phillip Rehfeldt, Dr.
Louanne Long (still teaches at UR), Jim Fox and Kirk Sharp I really
blossomed as an artist and philosopher. I was very prolific. I
composed a quintet for woodwinds and percussion in honor of Dylan
Thomas’s Christmas in Wales, an experimental opera based on Plato’s Cave
as well as several philosophical and dream oriented tone poems. I also
made use of electronic music, experimental film and modern dance as
part of my performances. I remember I had a little town of Redlands fan
base that would come to all my concerts. Colleen Schwandt, a
well-respected local soprano, gave me my first commission to compose a
piece for her daughter’s wedding. I was truly honored. A couple years
later while going to film school in San Francisco, it was my music that
got me a California Arts Council cash award. I owe all this to the
University of Redlands.
What is Project Accessible Hollywood aka PAH Fest? What is the philosophy behind it?
Growing up in a family rooted in cinema was a great privilege because of
the artistic exposure I was afforded; however on the flipside, I
learned to dislike the exclusivity of Hollywood. A lot of movies are
made according to the film school “mold.” True creativity and stories
from the heart can become overshadowed by an emphasis on special
effects. I believe there is a storyteller inside us all, which is why I
created PAH Fest. It’s a way to bring film making to the common man. You
don’t need any prior experience or fancy equipment to participate.
Entrants are coached through the art of filmmaking using cell phone
cameras or pocket HD camcorders provided by the festival.
Participants are taught how to tell a story visually and engage their
audience by learning wide angles, close-ups and pans, subtle camera
tricks that can turn a story into a piece of art.
The festival is open to people of all ages. In the six years that I have
been hosting PAH fest we have held 44 events in various schools,
colleges and communities across the United States and have had hundreds
of entrants. PAH fest also tours schools for the blind. Our motto is:
“You don’t need vision to have VISION.” It builds the student’s
confidence to learn that they too can communicate using visual media.
Pacific Park, a memory from Christopher Coppola on Vimeo.
Any words of wisdom for students who are artistically inclined?
No matter what you do, do it well. Whether you make a $1 or $100 million
movie give it your best and respect the process. Make every project
your own. Part of going to a university is to blossom and find your own
voice. Take advantage of the resources you have in the time you are
What is the most satisfying part about being a director/producer/writer?
For me, it is more fun to work on a project than to see the end
product. I tend to get depressed when I finish a project. I like
working with people. I like to live in the chaos of the moment. That is
where the creative process thrives. It involves lots of work and no
sleep but in the end it is worth it.
You have a wide variety of artistic endeavors. Care to elaborate a bit more?
I’ve been producing a pilot called “Biker Chef.” Otto aka “Biker Cat” my
leather wearing Burmese and I host the show which is kind of like
Anthony Bordain meets Easy Rider meets Marco Polo. Hopefully, I will
land a deal from it.
Biker Chef Trailer from Christopher Coppola on Vimeo.
The show has me focus on getting to know locals who put passion into
their ingredients. For example, while in Albuquerque I met with Nancy
who raises her own goats and makes organic goat cheese and Don who grows
the best peppers in the world. I also learned pueblo bread-making in an
outdoor oven. The end result was a blue corn calzone with goat cheese,
Big Jim peppers, prosciutto, gorgonzola and provolone. I also made blue
corn posole and wild sangria with peaches, apricots and plums. Cooking
is the greatest act of love that you could do for your fellow human
beings. It’s hard work and people take that for granted.
Another one of my recent projects was bringing art to Wal-Mart
officially known as HD American Portraits. The project involved drafting
fine artists from various cities to do a 30 second digital portrait of a
Wal-Mart employee or a member of the community. The artist spends time
getting to know the person, their family, talents and hobbies. The
portraits play on the Wal-Mart channel continuously bringing fine art to
an environment where it is typically absent. The end result is
beautiful. These ‘ordinary people’ never realized they were a work of
art. As a “professional” artist and HD expert Wal-Mart wanted me to do
the first one. I also composed the music for the HD portrait. It had
been awhile since I dabbled in music. Surprised friends and colleagues
said I didn’t know you wrote music. Wow. I let them know about my days
at UR where I composed tons of music. Those were happy times.
Currently I have a reality show series “The DigiVangelist” which
features me seeking out the latest innovations in creative technology,
but making sure to keep the heart and soul of the human endeavor
intact. The show just finished airing on The Reelz Channel but can
still be seen on YouToo, a cutting edge social network channel and on
home TV via it’s cable and satellite affiliates
Digivangelist Episode 104 from Christopher Coppola on Vimeo.
The older I get my greatest passion has been teaching, creating an
environment like my selfless University of Redlands teachers gave me…a
place to discover your personal voice, creative potential and your worth
in the world. I like to say that I am the Coppola who combines
Education & Entertainment to help the “everyday person” blossom.
Perhaps one day I will do this for the University of Redlands, my alma
mater, which did the same for me.
For more, please see: